CHADRON, Neb. | Parents of a Chadron State College student who died by suicide have sued the college and the Nebraska State College System for failing to prevent the dating violence they believe led to their daughter’s death.
Lissette Larios Roohbakhsh and Nelson Larios filed the case in U.S. District Court this week, claiming the college acted with “deliberate indifference” to reports of dating violence between their daughter, Fatima Larios, and her boyfriend.
Fatima Larios, a member of the Chadron State softball team, was found dead in a high-rise dormitory Jan. 31, 2015. Her death was ruled a suicide.
The 17-page suit alleges that the college failed to investigate reports that Larios was being abused by her boyfriend. Teammates and coaches noticed bruises and changes in behavior and reported their concerns to officials at the college, according to court documents. Chadron’s Title IX coordinator did not interview those who reported their concerns and did not monitor Larios’ well-being despite “actual notice and observed evidence of … abuse.”
The college, the suit says, had a duty to take reasonable steps to investigate and prevent dating violence on its campus. Larios’ parents allege the school should have ensured that their daughter understood her rights and options and had access to confidential counseling. Campus security should also have been made aware of the abuse, the filing says.
Instead, the college mailed and e-mailed a copy of campus policy regarding dating violence to Larios. Larios’ softball coaches were copied on the e-mail, a breach of confidentiality that the suit alleges may have discouraged Larios from addressing the dating violence. Reaching out to Larios by mail and e-mail also may have increased her risk, the filing says, because abusers often read victim’s mail and e-mail as a form of control.
“As a result of the defendants’ deliberate indifference to reports that Fatima was a victim of dating violence on Chadron’s campus, Fatima was subjected to further physical and emotional abuse … thereby suffering a hostile educational environment,” the court documents read.
Larios transferred to Chadron State College from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., enrolling in August 2014 to attend the same college as her boyfriend. The suit alleges that residence hall advisers and staff were aware of numerous arguments between the couple, some of which prompted advisers to threaten to call the police.
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Two softball teammates also noticed large bruises on Larios, and when they inquired, she confided in them that her boyfriend was abusing her. The teammates reported their concerns to an assistant softball coach, who also had observed bruises that appeared to be hand prints, and the complaint worked its way up the chain to athletic director Joel Smith and then to the Title IX coordinator in November 2014.
The documents allege that after Larios had received the e-mail regarding dating violence, evidence shows that she was still being abused. No one called the police or took any other action.
Larios’ family didn’t discover the allegations of dating violence until October 2015 — nine months after her death. Last year, the family filed a complaint against Chadron State College with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. In an article written by the family for Huffington Post, the family said the Office of Civil Rights agreed to investigate the matter.
“We’re relieved that someone is finally paying attention, and we’re determined to make sure no other student, and no other family, has to go through what we did,” the family wrote in the article.
Chadron State College responded to the suit with a written statement Thursday.
“The loss of Fatima Larios in 2015 was a tragedy for her family, her friends and teammates, and for Chadron State College. The college shares her family's grief and mourns Fatima's passing. Chadron State College is aware of a lawsuit Fatima's parents recently filed in the U.S. District Court for the state of Nebraska concerning her death,” the statement reads. “CSC is confident in its personnel and its policies, so it will remain focused on educating its students while it vigorously defends itself. Chadron State College certainly understands and appreciates litigation-related inquiries, but it does not intend to comment further on this matter.”
The Chadron Record has submitted a Freedom of Information Act Request to the Department of Education regarding the complaint and possible investigation.
Chadron State College is also embroiled in two other suits, both over employment termination, in Dawes County District Court.