One day in spring 2013, a 15-year-old girl didn't show up for classes at Miami Jackson Senior High. Her parents sought help from someone who seemed trustworthy: a police officer named Juan Cecchinelli who worked at the school. The teen returned home the next day and later confided in Cecchinelli that she'd been sexually assaulted after running away.
Instead of helping, though, Cecchinelli allegedly began sexually harassing her himself. "I wanna b doing u, but u to dam young!!" he allegedly wrote in a text message to the girl, who had saved his contact info in her phone as "Police Friend."
The officer resigned in the midst of an internal affairs investigation — though he was never criminally charged — and the teen received counseling. But her ordeal wasn't over. She says she was victimized a third time a year later, when the story was reported by WPLG Local 10, which posted an internal affairs report that contained enough information for her classmates to figure out her identity. After two weeks of harassment, the teen dropped out of school and went to live with family outside Miami.
"I was being bullied," she tells New Times. "I was even trying to take my life away because I felt embarrassed. Everybody was pointing fingers at me."
Four years later, she has filed a lawsuit against both the Miami-Dade County School Board and WPLG. In a circuit court complaint, she claims the school board failed to adequately train its police force in the preparation and release of internal affairs investigations. As a result, the suit argues, WPLG's link to the report violated a state law that forbids publishing the name, address, or other identifying fact or information of a sexual offense victim.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez says officials have not yet been served with the suit; she adds that the district has policies and procedures in place to protect the identity of all students. WPLG news director Bill Pohovey says in an emailed statement: "We do not, and did not, identify any victim of sexual assault."
But Luke Lirot, the lawyer representing the now-19-year-old former student, says even if the station didn't directly ID her, the internal affairs report contained enough information to make her identity crystal clear. The report used her initials and her teacher's name, when fewer than ten students had that teacher.
"The law gives you a civil cause of action," Lirot says. "If people start talking about those private sexual tragedies in a way that causes you additional pain, then they can be held liable for that."
According to the lawsuit, the girl had shown the graphic text messages to her teacher after Cecchinelli called her into his office and continued to make disturbing comments about the assault. "I mean I offered you some dick and you didn't want it so you doing good!" one of his texts read.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The teacher reported the incident, and the internal affairs report was opened. The City of Miami chose not to pursue charges. Cecchinelli told investigators he couldn't recall whether he sent the messages, the report says. None of her classmates really knew what had happened until May 2014, the teen says. Then one day she got to school and "everybody in my class was talking about it."
She says she filed the lawsuit in hopes something similar doesn't happen in the future.
"I wouldn't like other girls to go through what I went through," she says.