Crime & Justice

LA prosecutors decline to file charges in Venice High School sexual assault case (updated)

Venice High School in Los Angeles.
Venice High School in Los Angeles.

Prosecutors have declined to file criminal charges against 15 teenagers who were arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department in March for allegedly sexually assaulting two girls at Venice High School.

“There was insufficient evidence to file charges against these teens,” said Greg Risling, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office. He would not elaborate on why no charges were filed because the case involves juveniles.

The case attracted widespread attention, with some of the arrests taking place on campus.

LAPD investigators said they believed the assaults took place on and off campus, dating back to the end of 2013, Los Angeles police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said a the time. He said some of the incidents were forced sex acts, while others were consensual "but with victims too young to give consent."

Some of the sexual acts reportedly were videotaped and placed on social media.

“The actions that took place were not only damaging to the females, but also to the males,” complained Venice High Music teacher Wendy Sarnoff. “The way the arrests were handled on campus ... has affected these children’s lives.”

Some of the students were suspended and other were expelled from Venice High School, she said.
“Their lives were tremendously altered," she said. "That’s the sadness in all of this.”

On Wednesday, the LAPD stood by its decision to arrest the students.
“The investigation was done fairly, accurately and with integrity,” said Deputy Chief Bea Girmala, who oversees operations in Venice. “I stand by the investigators.”
She said sexual assault cases involving minors are "always difficult."

"We rely on victim and witnesses statements,” she said. “I don’t want this decision to have a chilling effect on those that believe they are victims of any type of sexual abuse.”
Sarnoff, the music teacher, said whether or not there was criminal conduct, she believes there was “sexual inappropriateness” in the case and blamed a lack of supervision.
“We have had one security guard on campus," she said. "The students are not properly supervised.”

One parent was perplexed by the decision, after all of the publicity surrounding the arrests. Los Angeles Unified School District interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines had called the arrests a "painful moment" for the district.
“Its surprising,” said Jackie Maritinez, whose son attends Venice High School. “But I don’t know what happened. We were sheltered from the facts of the case.”
“The allegations had me alarmed enough to show up at a community meeting,” she said. “But I just don’t know what happened.”
This story has been updated.