Boy, mom file suit over him having sex with teacher
SEATTLE, Washington (Court TV) -- The case involving 13-year-old Vili Fualaau made headlines when police arrested his 35-year-old sixth-grade teacher and lover, Mary Kay Letourneau.
At the time, he claimed he was madly in love with his infamous paramour and didn't consider himself a rape victim. He even lived with his former teacher after she was sentenced to an 89-month suspended sentence and had a second child with her. The renewed relationship was eventually discovered and Letourneau was sent to prison for violating the terms of her suspended sentence.
But now, his lawyers say, he has taken a downward spiral into drug abuse, scrapes with the law and depression, which he blames on his officials at his former school and in his hometown. Fualaau claims they failed to protect him from Letourneau, whom he now considers his abuser.
Fualaau, today 18, and his mother, Soona Vili, have filed a civil suit against Highline School District, Letourneau's former employer, and his hometown of Des Moines, Wash. They are asking for over a million dollars for lost income, medical costs and pain and suffering.
The relationship between Letourneau and her then-student raised many eyebrows in the small community in Washington state.
In fact, the pair was actually caught together under suspicious circumstances in a parked car on June 18, 1996. When police came to the car in a marina parking lot, Letourneau was jumping into the front seat and Fualaau was pretending to sleep in the back. The officers soon became suspicious and consistently asked Fualaau if any "touching" had taken place.
The boy denied it and Letourneau lied about his age, saying he was 18. She claimed Fualaau was a family friend and was spending the night at her house when she and her husband got into an argument. She said he ran away upset by the yelling and she had gone after him to find a place to sleep until her husband went to work in the morning.
Both teacher and student were taken to the police station and the boy's mother was called. When an officer asked what should be done, Fualaau's mother told him to, "return him to Mary," and Letourneau drove Fualaau home. His mother later said she wouldn't have allowed her son to be returned to Letourneau if the police had told her the teacher had lied about Fualaau's age and explained what was happening in the car when the police pulled up.
In another incident, at some point in Fualaau's sixth-grade year, school employees saw him driving Letourneau's van in the school parking lot, but failed to report the incident to authorities, according to the suit.
At around the same time, school custodian Jeff Smith admits he found the two in the elementary's bathroom with the lights off. Letourneau told him at the time that Fualaau was having an "attitude problem" that she wanted to discuss with him in private. Smith told his supervisor about the suspicious incident, but neither reported it to the school's principal.
Several other unreported incidents occurred, including when a fellow teacher found the pair slow dancing in front of other students. Letourneau claimed it was for a Valentine's Day party and that she had danced with all of her pupils. A different teacher claimed Letourneau once left during a meeting to counsel a troubled student and when she returned she "smelled like sex." Fualaau claims they had oral sex.
The final clue the school overlooked came when Letourneau told Principal Anne Johnson she was being stalked and harassed by the father of a student. During the conversation, Letourneau casually mentioned the man had referred to Fualaau as her, "little boyfriend." Many say the man was a former suitor and was jealous of Letourneau's new love interest.
In addition to hard evidence, rumors abounded among the teaching staff about the relationship of the teacher and student who often spent long evenings together under the guise of working on a school yearbook.
Fualaau claims in his suit that these incidents should have tipped off school and city officials to the true nature of his relationship with Letourneau. His attorney, Cyrus Vance, said if someone had acted on their suspicions, "Mary would be somewhere else, and Vili would be someone else."
Vance also claims that the school was taken by the vivacious blond and gave her free reign over the classroom, despite the fact she was often late and had trouble keeping her students under control.
He points to the incident in which the two were parked in a marina parking lot as proof. He says though no one officially reported what happened to Fualaau's school, Lt. Jim Thompson heard about it through colleagues and related the details to his wife, a school security officer. She, in turn, told Ron Unke, head of security at Highline, but he says he assumed the police had done what was necessary and did not pass the information along to the school's principal.
Vance says the Des Moines police force is also culpable. A crucial piece of evidence in his case is a memo sent by the second in command, Lt. John O'Leary, to the acting supervisor of the detective unit.
In it he writes that because, "what is left for interpretation is the actions of the persons contacted," additional steps should be taken. "We would like a detective to re-contact the young boy and attempt to interview him and have him explain more clearly what was going on," he also writes. But the follow-up interview never took place and if it had, Vance argues, Fualaau may have been more inclined to reveal the sexual nature of his relationship with Letourneau.
The negligence the school and city showed in investigating Fualaau's case, Vance argues, has left the young man completely broken. He is unable to hold down a job because people recognize and ridicule him as the boy who once slept with his teacher. He has also been hospitalized and treated for depression.
Letourneau herself contributed to his slow recovery by sending him tapes and notes from jail begging him not to join in the lawsuit with his mother, while claiming she still loves him and asking that he marry her. She's sent him tapes with love songs from N'Sync and Boys to Men with school-girlish talk of her bangs.
At one point on the tape, she says that if custody of their two children goes to his mother, "there will be a murder in the family." Experts who have interviewed Fualaau, who has also been diagnosed with learning disabilities, have said he doesn't understand the full nature of his abuse and is very confused.
Defense attorney for the Highline School District, Michael Patterson, denies that anyone at the school could have possibly known about the relationship Letourneau and Fualaau tried so hard to hide. He says until now the pair has done everything possible to be together without detection, with the boy even hiding in his former teacher's closet when people visited her after her arrest.
In addition, he says, until very recently Fualaau denied he and Letourneau had ever had sexual contact on school grounds or even while he was a student at the school. In all of his interviews and even in a book he wrote for a French publisher, he had always claimed their relationship turned physical after his sixth grade year ended and he had moved on to another school.
If anything, he says, the boy's mother is to blame for ignoring obvious signs, abusing her children and allowing Fualaau to spend the night at Letourneau's home. He also said she is responsible for his emotional distress as well, by pushing her son to give interviews with the press and profiting from his media coverage.
Finally, he says, Fualaau is no innocent victim. It was he, Patterson argues, that pursued her, not the other way around. He points out the fact Fualaau was very sexually precocious and that the boy admitted that in the second grade he would go under bleachers to peek under teachers' shorts. Though he condemns her conduct, he says Letourneau, "just wasn't strong enough to say no."
Defense attorney for the city of Des Moines, Anne Bremner, disagrees with Patterson's assertion that Fualaau was the aggressor, but agrees that it was impossible to know what was really going on between Letourneau and the boy.
She says the police have to walk a fine line between crime prevention and protecting a suspect's constitutional rights. She points out that the incident in the marine parking lot is not an example of police ignoring a crime, but instead shows they went beyond the call of duty. She says it was a "Terry stop," which means police approached Letourneau based on reasonable suspicion.
Normally in these types of stops, Bremner says, officers have only 20 minutes to prove a crime took place before they must let a suspect go. But in this case, the officers broke that rule and drove the two to the police station out of concern for the boy's welfare. However, their hands were tied when Fualaau's mother told them to release him to Letourneau.
Bremner also pointed out that no one, not even the boy's mother, knew the true nature of their relationship. "Des Moines police had contact with the pair for less than two hours; Why should we be responsible?" she said.
Finally she points out that Fualaau had consistently said before he and his mother filed the suit that he and Letourneau didn't have sex until after the marina incident.
"Law enforcement positions are stressful enough without having to worry about being sued every time an arrest is made, and every time an arrest is not made," Bremner said. "This burden, if adopted by the court, will impose a threat to individual freedoms that Americans now enjoy."
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