By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press
CLEVELAND, Texas — A lurid cell phone video circulated among students in a small Texas town has led to the arrests of 18 people, including high school athletes and adults, accused of sexually assaulting an 11 year-old girl during a series of attacks last year.
The investigation began Dec. 1 after a friend of the girl told a teacher he had seen the video of one of the alleged attacks, said Stacey Gatlin, a spokeswoman for the school district in Cleveland, about 45 miles northeast of Houston.
The district's police chief questioned the girl and her mother and discovered the video had been shot off school property over the Thanksgiving Day holiday break. School district authorities were not able to recover any cell phones that had video of the alleged attack and the investigation was turned over to police, Gatlin said.
Investigators determined the video was taken at an abandoned mobile home on the northern outskirts of the city, according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by several Houston media outlets. The girl told investigators she was raped at the home on Nov. 28.
That day, the girl was first assaulted at a house near the mobile home. She was told she would be beaten up if she didn't submit, according to the affidavit. When the aunt of one of the alleged attackers returned home, everyone, including the girl, fled. The group then moved to the mobile home, where the sexual assault continued, according to the affidavit.
The mobile home, which sits next to a small, white building that serves as a Baptist church, is surrounded by overgrown weeds, junk and other trash. Inside, debris covers the floor and a stove sits in the middle of the living room. Neighbors said it has been abandoned since being damaged by Hurricane Ike in September 2008.
Court records allege the girl was raped on at least three different occasions last year. Besides the Nov. 28 attack, indictments in the case say there also were attacks on Sept. 15 and Oct. 25. Each time, at least two individuals were involved in the attacks.
The indictments say the girl was attacked by at least three individuals on Nov. 28. But the records do not clarify how many individuals in total are alleged to have attacked the girl that night and both police and Liberty County District Attorney Michael Little have declined to comment on details of the case, citing the ongoing investigation.
Thirteen adults and five juveniles have been arrested in the case so far. The juveniles are students in the Cleveland school district. The others range in ages from 17 to 27.