SAN FRANCISCO, CA - Police say a transgender teen who said he was beaten and sexually assaulted in a California high school bathroom has recanted the story.
The 15-year-old student at Hercules Middle/High School "admitted he fabricated the whole story" during an interview with a detective, Hercules police Detective Connie Van Putten said.
The teen, who is biologically female but identifies as male, had told officers he was leaving a boy's bathroom at the school Monday morning when three other boys pushed him inside a large stall and attacked him.
Officers took his statement and opened an investigation that included a sexual assault examination. But as the investigation continued, officers could not substantiate the facts of the boy's statement, including the time frame, and the he lacked any physical injuries to his head, face and hands, police said.
The student finally admitted he had made up the story during the follow-up interview with a detective Tuesday, Van Putten said. She would not speculate on why he had lied.
"We investigated this thing as a true crime. We went at it full force until we found out there was no crime," Van Putten said. "So people should know if they believe they are a victim of a crime, we are going to give them our full attention."
The change left open the possibility that the teen could be charged with making a false criminal report, she said.
Mario Trujillo, spokesman for the West Contra Costa Unified School District, said school officials are less concerned with punishing the student than making sure he gets the support he needs to feel safe and comfortable at school.
"We recognize that life is complicated, and at the end of the day this is a request for help," Trujillo said.
The student's made-up account came as school districts across California are bringing their policies into compliance with a law that took effect Jan. 1 guaranteeing students the right to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match the gender with which they identify.
Advocates who fought to get the law through the Legislature last year said the fact that the Hercules teen's story appeared to be untrue does not minimize the harassment that transgender students like him routinely face and the need for schools to work hard to address it.
"There is still an important piece of the story, which is that trans youth do face elevated levels of bullying and violence including physical assaults at school," said Carolyn Laub, executive director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network. "Even if this particular story isn't true, the school's response, to put in place plans for bringing the community together and addressing school safety and climate, is a good outcome."
Since November, Hercules High has been dealing with the fallout from an on-campus fight involving another transgender student and three girls that was captured in a cellphone video that went viral. The transgender teenager, Jewlyes Gutierrez, a biological male who identifies as female, was charged with misdemeanor assault and said she had repeatedly complained about being harassed at school before she fought back.
The West Contra Costa Unified School District also has been responding to criticism over its handling of sexual harassment involving students, including sexual assaults, inappropriate touching and verbal taunts. The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights launched an investigation of the district after a female student was gang-raped outside a homecoming dance at another high school in 2009, the year after another girl at a third high school was raped in a classroom by two classmates.
"West Contra Costa has had a lot of problems, but for today I'm glad that we don't have another problem, which would've been another problem that would've been a blight on this school district," school board President Charles Ramsey said Tuesday after police concluded the latest incident had been fabricated.
"We have to take the situation seriously because sexual assaults happen every day and they go unreported, so we can't minimize or trivialize the issue because one situation was false," he added.
Ben-David Barr, executive director of the Rainbow Community Center, which sponsors youth groups for gay and transgender youth in Contra Costa County, said that without further investigation, he was reluctant to believe the latest case had simply been invented and then recanted.
"I think we have to be really careful about what this recantation means," Barr said. "We don't know if he was pressured to recant, pressured by family, pressured by law enforcement. There is a lot of information we still need to know."
Barr said he also is concerned a fictitious incident would make it more difficult for young people to be taken seriously when they
have real problems.
"Whether this student recants or not, we know there is a significant amount of work that needs to be done in the West County school district and that it's not an environment where students feel safe," he said. "That's the bigger picture and the bigger issue."