Audrie Pott family to sue teens and their families for 'wrongful death'

Audrie Pott's family plans to sue the three boys charged with raping their daughter and texting photographs in a bid to curb an 'epidemic of sexual assault and cyberbullying amongst teens.'

Eric Risberg/AP
Sheila Pott, mother of Audrie Pott, who committed suicide after she was sexually assaulted and a photo of the act was shared in text messages, stands by a photograph of her daughter and message board during a news conference Monday in San Jose, Calif.

Audrie Pott took her life last fall as a direct result of a sexual assault at a party and subsequent cyberbullying, as pictures of the assault were passed around school, say Audrie's parents, stepmother, and attorney.

Audrie's family spoke publicly at a press conference Monday to reiterate their claims about Audrie's death and to shed light on the issues of sexual assault, bullying, and harassment. They also announced plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit in the case against the three boys who were charged last week in the assault, their families, and the family of the girl who hosted the Labor Day party where the alleged assault occurred.

"This period has been difficult for us because the wounds are so fresh," Audrie's father, Lawrence Pott, said at the press conference. "We miss her every day, but now we must carry on and share her story so that this epidemic of sexual assault and cyberbullying amongst teens can be exposed and stopped."

Monday's press conference was the family's first public appearance since the three 16-year-old boys were arrested Thursday. Two were pulled out of classes at Saratoga High School, where 15-year-old Audrie also attended school, and one was taken from the school in Gilroy, Calif., where he had transferred.

The case has gained national attention in the past week along with two other situations in which electronic photos of sexual assault against a teen were apparently disseminated. Along with the Steubenville, Ohio, case, in which two boys were recently sent to prison for raping a girl – and whose crime was largely uncovered due to social media and texting of photos – there was this month's suicide by Rehtaeh Parsons, a Canadian teenager whose parents say she was driven to suicide after relentless bullying following a rape by four classmates.

In Audrie's case, her family and attorneys say that she drank Gatorade mixed with alcohol at a friend's party on Sept. 2. The friend's parents were away for the weekend. At some point, they say, Audrie fell asleep in a bedroom, and while she was asleep was assaulted by three boys whom she knew, who also took photos. At least one humiliating photo was posted online, they say, and others were circulated around the school.

Eight days later, Audrie hung herself.

At the press conference, Mr. Pott and family attorney Robert Allard said they were particularly troubled by a recent statement from the boys' lawyers, in which they said that "most disturbing is the attempt to link [Audrie's] suicide to the specific actions of these three boys."

"They will apparently have you believe that what they did and what Audrie did was just a coincidence," Mr. Allard said.

Audrie's stepmother, Lisa Pott, also read aloud from numerous things Audrie had written in the days following the alleged assault, many in private messages to friends on Facebook. Among other things, says Ms. Pott, she wrote: "My life is ruined.... The whole school is talking about it. My life is over....  I have a reputation for a night I don't even remember and the whole school knows."

According to Audrie's school newspaper, the Saratoga High School Falcon, claims by the Potts' lawyer that the photos went "viral" and the "whole school knew" are exaggerated. About 10 students, mostly those who were at the party, saw the photos, sources told the student reporters.

When asked about those reports, Audrie's family dismissed the notion that the actual number of people who had seen the photos mattered.

"In her mind, it was an epidemic, everyone was talking about it," said Ms. Pott.

The family members pleaded for more people who might know additional information – particularly about evidence that may have been destroyed – to come forward.

"They’ve reported 10 kids have seen these photographs – well, we’d like the names of those 10 kids," said Mr. Pott, noting that "there's a difference between being a witness and being a suspect."

Lawyers for the three boys have said that much of what has been reported in recent days is inaccurate. "We are hopeful that everyone understands that these boys, none of whom have ever been in trouble with the law, are to be regarded as innocent," they said in a statement.

Audrie's parents and stepmother, meanwhile, said that while the recent media attention has opened up old wounds for them, they're being as public as they can be in an effort not only to further the case against the three boys they blame for their daughter's death, but also to help raise awareness of these issues in other cases.

"As difficult as this is, we know that people can learn from it," said Ms. Pott. "No one should have to lose their daughter in this horrific way, and we wanted to start a dialogue so that these sexual assaults are no longer swept under the carpet."

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