Newsflash: Cheerleader Denied Justice (Again)

In a Texas case I wrote about on the Ms. Blog in October, Hillaire S. was 16-years-old in October 2008 when she was taken into a dark room at a house party by four high school athletes, one of whom raped her while another held her down. When three students in the hall heard Hillaire’s cries of “stop,” they broke through the locked door as the athletes fled through a window, breaking it in the process. The rapist, Rakheem Bolton, fled into the woods without his clothes, then returned to demand them and threatened to kill everyone at the house.

Three months after the rape, a grand jury chose not to indict Bolton or his accomplice, Christian Rountree. In private interviews I learned that Bolton’s family pastor was on the jury, and that his cousin, Thomas Tyler, is also a powerful member of the city council, under the employ of District Attorney David Sheffield, who presented the case.

Later in the year, another grand jury indicted the perpetrators, and Bolton pled guilty to simple assault in September 2010. Bolton was let back on the campus of Silsbee High School between the conflicting grand jury rulings, just in time for basketball playoffs. Hillaire refused to cheer for Bolton when he approached the free-throw line. The cheer she refused to say? “Two, four, six, eight, ten, come on Rakheem, put it in.”

Superintendent Richard Bain and other school administrators kicked her off the squad for refusing to cheer for her rapist, so Hillaire’s parents sued the school for violating her right to free speech. An appeals court dismissed her case, finding that, as a cheerleader, she was a “mouthpiece through which the school could disseminate speech–namely, support for its athletic teams.” They also found that Hillaire’s refusal to cheer for her rapist “constituted substantial interference with the work of the school,” even though her protest was silent. Hillaire’s attorney, Laurence Watts, filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on December 23, 2010, but Monday the court decided not to hear the case. On top of that, Hillaire’s family is now obligated to pay the school $35,000 for legal expenses incurred.

While it’s not surprising that the Supreme Court didn’t call the case up, considering that they hear only a small fraction of cases that are petitioned, the callousness and potential unconstitutionality of the lower court ruling should have caused the justices to at least consider it. Craig, Hillaire’s outspoken father, has said that his daughter was raped, then “raped again by the school district, and raped by the D.A., and raped by the appeals court.” Now he can add the Supreme Court to this list.

Caroline Heldman has spent the last seven months researching Hillaire’s case in Silsbee, Texas. A longer story on the case is available here.

Image from Wikimedia

 

About

Dr. Heldman is an Assistant Professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She specializes in the presidency, race, and gender. Her research has been featured in the top journals, and she is a commentator for FOX News and Al Jazeera English. Dr. Heldman co-edited, Rethinking Madame President: Are We Ready for a Woman in the White House?(2007). She is active in rebuilding efforts in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans and co-founded the New Orleans Women’s Shelter.