'She's going to have to pay for what she did'
The mother of a former Lakeridge High School dancer told a federal court jury Wednesday that she and her daughter were threatened by a parent volunteer and told by school officials to keep quiet after reporting that hazing and bullying had occurred during a team initiation.
"I came to Suzanne (Young) and I said, 'I need to talk to you,'" Taissa Achcar-Winkels testified on the second day of what is expected to be a four-day trial in U.S. District Court. "I spoke to her about my concerns about (my daughter) being retaliated against.
"She said, 'You know Taissa, (your daughter) broke the code of silence. You don't break the code of silence on PDT. She's going to have to pay for what she did, and the seniors are going to make her pay."
(On Friday, Young told The Review that she "categorically denies saying anything like that.")
Achcar-Winkels said she and her husband also had several telephone conversations with Lakeridge Principal Jennifer Schiele and then-Athletic Director Ian Lamont after reporting the hazing incident. She said they were repeatedly told to keep quiet about their daughter's allegations in any communication with people associated with the Pacer Dance Team.
Opening an investigation into the hazing was "one of the options presented to us," Achcar-Winkels testified. "But the only one that protected my daughter from retaliation would be to not do an investigation. We were guaranteed that she would be protected by the administration. I don't believe they did what they could."
Schiele, Lamont, Superintendent Heather Beck and the Lake Oswego School District all face a claim of negligence in the federal lawsuit. So do former dance team coaches Kayla and Ashley Nordlum and Young, a former parent volunteer who helped with team finances and photos.
In addition, Kayla Nordlum faces claims of false imprisonment, a violation of First Amendment rights and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiffs are seeking economic and non-economic damages, as well as punitive damages for what court documents call a "malicious, oppressive and/or reckless disregard for plaintiffs' rights."
The federal lawsuit was filed two years ago by Lake Oswego residents Ray and Taissa Achcar-Winkels, who claim their daughter and other incoming freshmen were hazed at a series of "team bonding incidents" that culminated in an August 2014 team initiation.
The former dancer, who is identified in court documents only as "S.A.," was 14 years old when the alleged incidents took place. She is now a high school senior at Lakeridge.
On Wednesday, Achcar-Winkels testified that her daughter was accepted onto the Pacer Dance Team in May 2014 but made the decision to quit in September of that year because of bullying and retaliation that occurred after she told officials about the Aug. 9 initiation.
The girl told jurors on Tuesday that she was bullied and harassed not only by other dance team members, but by the coaches as well. Eventually, she said, she believed her entire school had turned against her.
"I was bullied, I was retaliated (against). After I spoke up, the principals, the administration did nothing," she said. "They just let the girls keep bullying me. I had a really hard time. No one checked to see if I was OK."
Even three years later, she said, the bullying hasn't stopped. Just last Saturday, she told jurors, she found obscenities written in lipstick on her car windows.
After the hazing
Lily Schauffler, a former dance team technique coach, was the first person outside of her family that the freshman dancer told about the initiation. Schauffler testified Wednesday that a few days after the Aug. 9 event, the dancer asked to meet with her. Schauffler said that she and her mother met with Achcar-Winkels and her daughter, and that the girl told her the details of the hazing that had occurred.
Schauffler testified that she told Kayla Nordlum about what the dancer had told her on the condition that the girl could remain anonymous. She and Nordlum then decided to inform Lamont about what they'd been told, Schauffler said.
Schauffler, Nordlum, Schiele and Lamont then held a meeting with the dance team to discuss the school district's policy about hazing.
"When Jen and Ian came to the meeting, they decided to not acknowledge that the hazing had happened," Schauffler said. "They just discussed the definition of hazing, even though we had already discussed that it had already occurred."
Schauffler also testified that Nordlum threatened her position as a coach on the dance team if she didn't give her the name of the dancer who complained about the initiation. After the team returned from an overnight trip to Sunriver — which was held a few weeks after the initiation and which Schauffler did not attend — she said Nordlum was "convinced that the hazing allegations were 100 percent made up."
Schauffler said Nordlum told her that the team was aware that Schauffler knew who had spoken up, and told her, "I honestly think they will be uncomfortable around you until they know."
Soon after, Schauffler quit the team.
Nordlum's actions during the Sunriver trip are also at the heart of the trial. The Achcar-Winkels claim the coach forced dancers to stay in their rooms by blocking doors with duct tape — until parents objected.
But Luke Reese, Nordlum's attorney, said his client put the tape on the doors because she was concerned that girls were going to sneak out at night, an explanation she shared with parents via email.
Reese said Achcar-Winkels' own emails to Nordlum were always complimentary and supportive of her actions as a coach. But Achcar-Winkels testified that she only said those things because of how she was instructed to behave by Schiele and Lamont.
In a September 2015 deposition, Achcar-Winkels admitted that the statements, among others about Nordlum and the Pacer Dance Team, were untrue. But she clarified that position in court on Wednesday.
"They were not untrue statements," she said. "They were statements to keep my daughter protected."
The jury trial, which is being conducted in the Portland courtroom of U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman, is expected to continue through Friday.