timberland biker boots Benefit of the Doubt
Something broke inside 17 year old Rose Soto when Marshall High teacher Mitch Whitehurst called attention to her pants.
“You know why they’re so great?” Whitehurst said as he walked behind her up an empty stairway, according to an account she would tell police and school officials. “It’s because of the zipper in the back. You just unzip them and boom we’re on it.”
When Soto mustered the courage to report him, it was the first time, records indicate, that Oregon’s largest school district received a detailed first person complaint that the charming educator and coach might pose a threat to students.
But there are no records showing that the lawyer who investigated the complaint for the district ever bothered to talk to Soto, and Whitehurst went unpunished.
Over the next 13 years, school and district officials would repeatedly protect Whitehurst and dismiss complaints from girls who said they were subjected to his leering, suggestive remarks or requests for oral sex, an investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive found.
After Soto’s report went nowhere, district officials discounted at least five other red flags about Whitehurst’s conduct, records show.
He ultimately left under a cloud and surrendered his license in 2016, but only after a male colleague complained that Whitehurst mistreated him. That man’s lawsuit alleging the district tolerated Whitehurst’s bad behavior cost the district $534,000.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reviewed police reports, personnel records and state and district investigations into Whitehurst and interviewed three student victims mentioned in those records. Two additional women who had never before come forward also agreed to be interviewed. All contended that Whitehurst subjected them to inappropriate conduct or forced himself on them when they were students dating back to the 1980s.
Whitehurst would not agree to be interviewed for this story.
Portland Public Schools educator Mitch Whitehurst, shown in a old Marshall High yearbook. Teresa Mahoney/Staff
Records and interviews show that the system protected Whitehurst, not children. District officials, including top lawyers, two human resource directors and at least three principals, downplayed complaints from students and staff as isolated instances, rumors or misunderstandings.
Employees designated to investigate complaints did not check basic facts that could have corroborated the accounts of students. They failed to look for other victims or to connect the dots between students and adults who raised concerns about his conduct at four different schools.
Complaints were kept confidential from all but a few top officials, meaning that principals had no way to spot worrisome patterns. And so, rumors that dogged Whitehurst for years seemed to be merely that.
Students who said they were exploited by Whitehurst suffered for decades. Soto said that having adults discount her story undermined her sense of self worth.
“I must not have mattered enough,” she said. They plan to hire an administrator to track all complaints of sexual misconduct, begin training staff members and conduct more thorough investigations when accusations arise.
The district acknowledges it did none of that in the case of Mitch Whitehurst.
“We clearly should have known better,” says Interim Superintendent Yousef Awwad. “We should have connected the dots and addressed the concerns around this particular teacher.”
School board members repeatedly asked staff members to scrutinize the Whitehurst case. But 10 months after their first request, no one has heeded that directive.
If they had, district officials would have found files revealing botched investigations and an enabling culture that repeatedly gave a rogue employee the benefit of the doubt.
MARSHALL HIGH SCHOOL: NOVEMBER 2001
Teresa Mahoney / Staff
That was the advice of Rose Soto’s closest friends when she confided about the Marshall High faculty member. He told her he made her his aide because she was “easy on the eyes,” she told The Oregonian/OregonLive this summer. He wouldn’t stop trying to date her.
And so, like most students who become the target of a school official’s sexual advances, she kept quiet.
It was November 2001, and Mitch Whitehurst had worked for Portland Public Schools for 19 years. He’d served mostly as an integration specialist a quasi counselor to promote positive school culture and help black students fit in. He was also a coach and gym teacher. By then, he was a dean, responsible for student discipline.