A Question of Rape

It couldn't happen inside a nice suburban school like Jersey Village High ... could it?

Several days after the incident, Connor held a meeting with Deirdre, her parents and an assistant principal at the Jersey Village police station. During the meeting, according to Deirdre's parents, Connor yelled at the girl, told her he didn't believe her story and that she could be prosecuted for perjury if she were lying. The girl's parents both claim that Connor told them point-blank that he "wasn't in [Deirdre's] corner."

"I couldn't believe he was doing it," says Donnie.
Connor would not comment on the specifics of the meeting, but he did touch delicately on the subject of truth-telling.

"In investigations in general, and this is a general statement, whether it be any individual that we might deal with out here, we deal with them on the basis of assuming that we're getting the truth from them," the officer says. "So if we find that that's been compromised, the possibility of perjury always exists in the system."

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Connor allegedly made another comment that raised doubts of his fairness among those on the girl's side. According to Donnie and Sterlene Donahue of Justice for All, Connor told them -- on separate occasions -- that the boy admitted that Deirdre had said no but he thought she meant yes.

Asked to respond, Connor drops his no-comment stance.
"I don't have any recollection of making a statement of that nature," he says.

The town of Jersey Village is tucked into the junction of Beltway 8 and U.S. 290 like a softball in the webbing of an outfielder's mitt. To the north sit a smattering of modern subdivisions that form almost as impenetrable a barrier as the lanes of asphalt, giving the impression of a gated community without the guards.

Founded in 1956 on an old Jersey cattle dairy farm about 20 minutes northwest of the Loop, the town attracted middle-class families who wanted that suburban safety net and an easy commute. The majority of the houses are brick; even a number of the mailboxes are encased in bulky brick structures. With its own police department and healthy land values, Jersey Village likens itself to an outside-the-Loop West U. The houses may be less pricey, but the demographics are about the same -- all but a handful of families are white.

Jersey Village High School, part of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, opened in 1972. Relatively modern by most standards, it's the second oldest high school in the district, which has undergone explosive growth the last 25 years. Like many suburban schools, Jersey Village boasts an expansive campus with ample parking lots and tree-dotted lawns, though with almost 2,700 students it still feels crowded when classes let out. Located in a little-traveled corner of town, the setting nevertheless has the idyllic feel of another age.

While many of the students hail from Jersey Village, the school also draws from surrounding subdivisions and older neighborhoods, some of them lower income. Jersey Village High today is well-integrated when compared to its surroundings, and by all reports racial tensions at the school are minimal. Still, says one former town employee, the attitudes of many of the residents toward people of color are anything but enlightened. "Black people are thought to be promiscuous," she says. "You would hear that from [residents]."

Both Deirdre and the boy she says assaulted her are black. Deirdre's supporters, especially her parents, say that this view factored into the willingness of authorities to believe their encounter was consensual. ("Jersey Village is very prejudiced," says Deirdre's mother Jackie, whose volatile temper contrasts sharply with her husband's more measured demeanor. "There's no ifs, ands or buts about it.")

As harmonious as the atmosphere on campus appears to be, the school is no more removed from the hazards of modern life than its inner-city counterparts. Ever mindful of ways to improve security, principal Allen Meek plans to install video surveillance cameras by year's end to monitor potential problem areas, as will the other Cy-Fair high schools.

"We're lucky that we do live in a nice, quiet community," says Meek, a bearish man with a full beard and an academic manner. "And people don't come into this area, because we're not on the main thoroughfare. But in society today, when you have 2,800 human beings in any setting -- any setting, I don't care if you're talking about a church -- you'll have a small percentage of that group that are going to do things and make mistakes."

What sort of things and mistakes?
"There will be sexual encounters," says Meek, alluding to the recent incident. "There will probably be a little theft. There will probably be all sorts of things that happen in the real world, regardless of where you are."

Even rape, though Cy-Fair ISD spokeswoman Donna Shrake says she can't recall a single instance of a reported sexual assault in any of the district's schools during her entire career.

"I've been with the district 22 years, and I've never heard of it," Shrake says.

Shrake has forgotten at least one incident -- in 1991, a Jersey Village High sophomore was arrested and charged with raping another student in a school stairwell, an episode that made its way into the Chronicle. The victim reported the rape three days after it occurred at the urging of a counselor. Shrake says the district has no record of the case.

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