An attorney for Billings School District 2 is seeking the release of confidential criminal justice records to help the district decide how to respond to a $750,000 claim related to the rape and death of a student.
The claim has been filed by the family of Cherice Moralez, a Senior High student who committed suicide in 2010 after her former teacher was charged with raping her.
Moralez’ mother, Auliea Hanlon, alleges in the claim that the school district is responsible for her daughter’s death due to the negligent supervision of the former teacher, Stacey Rambold.
The claim, filed August 31, 2010, was mentioned last month during a hearing before District Judge Susan Watters. The hearing was held to consider a motion filed by the school district seeking the release of confidential criminal justice records.
An attorney for the school district, Geoffrey Keller, and Hanlon’s attorney, Shane Colton, told the judge that the school district needs the confidential police and prosecution records related to the rape case against Rambold in order to evaluate Hanlon’s claim.
Watters has yet to rule on the request.
Hanlon has also filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Rambold in District Court, but the school district is not named as a defendant in that case. The lawsuit is pending.
When the lawsuit was filed in February last year, Colton said it was the “only formal action at this time.”
Under state law, claims such as Hanlon’s against a governmental agency must be submitted to the agency before a lawsuit can be filed. The agency is given 120 days to respond.
The school district recently released a copy of the claim in response to a request for public records by The Billings Gazette.
The claim states the school district “has a duty and an obligation for policy review and change” after the rape and death of Moralez.
“We allege that School District 2 is, in this particular tragedy, responsible for negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, supervision and retention, and negligence,” the claim states. “Specifically, the School District missed several opportunities to prevent the sexual grooming that eventually led to the assault of Cherice Moralez. We further maintain that the severe emotional distress resulting from the sexual assault led to the tragedy of Cherice ending her own life.”
The criminal case against Rambold began in April 2008 when Moralez, who was 14 years old at the time, told a church leader that she had been having an affair with a teacher. Rambold was placed on administrative leave while the school district and the Billings Police Department launched separate investigations.
Rambold resigned in July 2008 and later surrendered his Montana teaching certificate.
Rambold, a business and technology teacher, was hired by the school district in 2004. According to the district’s internal investigation, several complaints had been filed against Rambold regarding his behavior toward female students.
Following the Moralez complaint, the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office charged Rambold on Oct. 31, 2008, with three felony counts of sexual intercourse without consent.
Prosecutors alleged that Rambold, who was 48 at the time, had sexual contact with the ninth-grade girl three times between October and December 2007.
Moralez took her own life on Feb. 6, 2010, less than three weeks before her 17th birthday.
After the girl’s death, Rambold and prosecutors resolved the criminal case through a deferred prosecution agreement. The agreement reached in July 2010 states the case would be dismissed in three years if Rambold completed sex offender treatment and adhere to other requirements during that period.
As part of the agreement, Rambold made a written confession to one of the felony charges.
Prosecutors said the agreement was the best they could achieve in the criminal case following the girl’s death.
At the recent court hearing in the civil case, the attorneys told Watters that a “potential resolution” to the claims against Rambold and the school district was being discussed. They said the school district was requesting the confidential criminal justice records, which are not subject to public disclosure without a court order, so the district could review all available information.
The attorneys also told the judge that they have reached an agreement to extend the 120-day deadline for a response to the claim.