The family of a high school senior threatened a lawsuit Wednesday after their son — now ex-class president with a 4.4 GPA — was suspended over an altercation with a football player who allegedly sexually harassed the senior's then-14-year-old sister, reported KCAL-TV in Los Angeles.
Dominic Conti, 17, was suspended from Westlake High School in Ventura County, Calif., for five days, stripped of his elected office, and banned from all extracurricular activities following the incident with the player at a football game last October 11.
“They way they treated me was someone that has brought, like, a firearm to school,” Conti said at Wednesday's news conference.
The Conti family says it complained to the school administration about the player but nothing was done.
“I’m a victim of sexual harassment,” Conti’s sister, a Westlake freshman who didn’t reveal her name, told KCAL. “And you know what, [the sexual harassment] it is not okay.”
She said the player had been saying vulgar things to her and repeated his behavior, for the third time, on Oct. 11. “He begins asking me to do things to his private parts — many things to his private parts — and I begin to tell him no and I would never, ever do that,” Dominic’s sister told KCAL.
Her father, Larry Conti, said he and his son Dominic found a security guard and confronted the player.
“Are you the one harassing my little girl?” Larry Conti told KCAL he asked the player. The question is apparently what led to the very situation the Conti family finds themselves in today with their son suspended and stripped of his class presidency.
“That’s when [the player] lunged at me and my dad and he threw a punch," Dominic Conti added to KCAL. "In self defense, I pushed down his arm.” The football player was suspended for fighting — for two days.
In a meeting with Westlake's principal Ron Lipari, Conti said he told Lipari he never threw a punch. “I looked him in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. Lipari, I do not regret protecting my sister,’” Dominic told KCAL.
TheBlaze on Thursday reached out to Lipari, but the message was not immediately returned.
The Conti family filed a harassment claim and requested a restraining order against the football player in October; the player has filed the same legal action against the Conti son and father. All cases are scheduled to return to court in April.
There's an online petition defending Conti, which states:
Westlake High School senior Dominic Conti stood up to a member of the school's football team after the player had repeatedly sexually harassed Dominic's fifteen-year-old sister. Despite reports of the ongoing harassment to the school administration, no action was taken to reprimand the offending football player. When Dominic and his father confronted the player, the player allegedly lunged at Dominic who deflected the blow in self-defense. Consequently, it was Dominic who was suspended for five days and stripped of his position as Senior Class President.
And some students (and ex-students) are taking up for Conti on Twitter:
The Conti family believes Lipari and the school district are protecting Westlake's prestigious football program, KCAL said.
In August, the Westlake Warriors were embroiled in an alleged hazing incident involving freshman and senior players when the team traveled to Hawaii for a game. KCAL noted that one student was arrested for third-degree sexual assault after a parent complained to police in Honolulu, but charges were never filed.
Larry Conti said the players view themselves as above reproach. “I felt a little upset with the school [regarding Hawaii.] The boy was just a process, he is part of the culture of that school,” Larry Conti told KCAL.
TheBlaze on Thursday contacted Westlake's head football coach Jim Benkert, but the message wasn't immediately returned.
The Westlake football program is a formidable one. Benkert has been head coach for 25 years, winning many awards during his tenure and leading the squad to California Interscholastic Federation (Southern Section) titles in 1999, 2003, 2009, and 2011. The team won the Marmonte League Championship last fall. The program has spawned numerous players who went on to college careers, including at least four NFL players.
Dominic Conti is back in school but said he believes the suspension will hurt him when applying for college. The Conti family wants an apology from the Conejo Valley Unified School District, Dominic’s suspension removed from his record, and his reinstatement as class president.
The CVUSD board has reportedly refused to hear their case and now the Contis plan to take it to the California Department of Education. If there's no resolution at the state level, the family plans to file a lawsuit against the Westlake High administration and the school district for defamation and disclosing personal information about Dominic.
Conti family attorney Manny Medrano said Dominic's punishment sends a chilling message. “If your child, boy or girl, at this school, or frankly any school in the district, is the victim of sexual harassment, we’re not going to do anything, you’re on your own,” he said at the press conference.
Which wasn't devoid of drama, either, as a parent who identified himself as Marcus Evans arrived and verbally challenged the Conti’s claims, saying he witnessed the October altercation.
“They choked the little kid, the African-American kid,” Evans told KCAL. “He didn’t do anything. He was trying to get away from the dad.”
Medrano countered that the player was the aggressor. “And then subsequently it’s Larry Conti and his son who are taken into custody by the sheriff’s department,” said Medrano.
TheBlaze also contacted Westlake's assistant principal of athletics, Bennett Wutkee, who said he had no comment, as well as the superintendent of the Conejo Valley Unified School District, Jeffrey L. Baarstad.
The superintendent's office said Baarstad isn't taking calls about this issue and referred to a press release which states in part that "the results of our investigation differ from the version shared by the Conti family and we feel very strongly that the investigation and the actions taken as a result, by our administration and the Board, were fair and just."
Here's a KCAL interview with the Contis from last week: