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Questioning of wrong teen in molestation probe leads to lawsuit

August 29, 2011 |  8:42 am

A Burbank family has sued the Burbank Police Department and the Burbank Unified School District, alleging their teenage daughter was illegally interrogated after her identity was confused with that of a friend who reported an allegation of sexual molestation.

The lawsuit, filed in June in Los Angeles County Superior Court, also names several police department and school district officials and seeks unspecified damages, the Burbank Leader reported.

City and district officials declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but did say they have procedures in place to respond to allegations of sexual abuse.

On Sept. 7, 2010, the plaintiff, who was 16 at the time, accompanied a long-time friend to the counselor's office at John Burroughs High School to report that the friend was being molested by her older brother, according to the lawsuit. A short time later, Burbank police officers arrived, asked the plaintiff to hand over her cellphone and began questioning her.

The officers refused to allow the plaintiff to contact her parents, and then placed both students in squad cars in full view of classmates and transported them to the police station, according to the lawsuit.

Once there, the officers allegedly confused the identities of the two girls, and began questioning the plaintiff about her family, specifically what her father and brother looked like. The family also claims the officers asked their daughter what schools her younger siblings attended, saying that they would be brought to the station as well.

The plaintiff expressed confusion, stating that her younger siblings knew nothing about the alleged sexual molestation of her friend, and again asked to call her parents, the lawsuit states. Instead, police moved her to a smaller room where she was questioned for 30 to 45 minutes about her sexual history and knowledge, according to the suit.

Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff's 10-year-old brother arrived at the police station, and officers were in the process of retrieving her 12-year-old sister when they realized their mistake, according to the lawsuit. They called off the pickup of the third sibling, and eventually returned the teenager and her brother to their respective schools.

The lawsuit claims that officers failed to follow department policy and violated the plaintiff's civil rights when they didn't accurately confirm her identity. District administrators also allegedly made no effort to contact the children's parents amid their removal from school and questioning by police.

The three siblings have suffered "severe emotional distress and difficulty in school" in the wake of the incident, according to the lawsuit, which also claims that the children's parents have "suffered disparagement of their name in the community and have been affected by the stigma of child molestation."

The family claims that complaints to the city, police department and school district have received inadequate responses.

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-- Megan O'Neil, Times Community News

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