Trial for social worker accused of failing to report Fairview High School quarterback assault allegations starts with victim testimony

A former Fairview High School student who said she was sexually assaulted by the Boulder school’s star quarterback testified in court Tuesday during the first day of a trial for a social worker who is accused of failing to alert authorities to the reported assault.

The former student, who will not be identified by The Denver Post because she may be a victim of sexual assault, testified that she visited social worker Marilyn Lori’s office in Fairview High School in October 2018 and told the woman that her classmate, football standout Aidan Atkinson, had sexually assaulted her during homecoming about a month earlier.

Lori was required by law to pass that information on to law enforcement, but she did not, Deputy District Attorney McKenna Mayfield said during opening statements in the misdemeanor trial. Lori is charged with one count of failure to report child abuse. A second count she previously faced was dismissed.

Lori’s defense attorney, James Merson, argued in his opening statement that the student gave Lori vague and undetailed information about the alleged assault during the 2018 meeting, and that the information the student shared did not rise to the level of requiring Lori to alert law enforcement.

The former student, who was 16 at the time, is now 18 and has graduated from Fairview. She testified for nearly two hours Tuesday, and discussed how she’d gone to the counselors’ offices to try to speak with a staff member she knew well, but said she’d ended up talking with Lori instead when the first staff member was not available.

“I talked to her about how I was upset, and I wasn’t planning on telling her, but eventually I told her about how Aidan Atkinson had sexually assaulted me,” the student testified, adding later, “I told her about how he had touched me on the party bus and I was really upset about it because I thought he was a friend.”

After the student spoke with Lori in 2018, the allegations went unreported for almost a year, until another counselor at the school learned about the reported assault in August 2019. At that point, the counselor alerted police, who opened an investigation into Atkinson and later charged the teenager with sexual assault, attempted sexual assault and related charges.

Atkinson, who was charged as a juvenile, left Fairview after the charges were filed. His case is pending and his attorney did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.

The student told authorities she’d been drinking alcohol with a group of teenagers on a “party bus” during homecoming weekend and that Atkinson assaulted her on the bus and later at a restaurant, even though she told him to stop. She said she was too drunk to stand up or move away during the assault, according to an arrest affidavit.

On Tuesday, the student testified that she told Lori that Atkinson pressured her during the encounter.

“I told her about how Aidan kept trying to get me to say that what he was doing was OK,” she said. “And I was so scared. I didn’t know what to do.”

Merson pushed back on the former student’s account. He pointed to previous statements in which the student told authorities she’d given Lori a “vague” description of what happened, as well as other interviews in which the student said it was hard to remember some of what happened during homecoming because she’d been drinking heavily that night. In one interview, the student also said it was hard to remember exactly what she’d said to Lori.

“[She] had difficulty remembering what she even told Marilyn Lori that day,” Merson said during openings. “The evidence will show part of the reason she had so much difficulty remembering is because she has difficulty remembering the incident itself.”

On cross examination, the student said she’d been afraid to report the allegation against Atkinson because he was part of the popular crowd at school and was well-liked by teachers and staff.

The student testified she felt discouraged by the conversation with Lori, because the social worker seemed to fixate on the alcohol use that night, rather than on the alleged assault. But she said she clearly remembered the encounter with Atkinson.

“What happened with Aidan was super traumatic and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it,” she said.

Lori was employed by Mental Health Partners at the time, and embedded at Fairview as a part of a team of mental health professionals. She is no longer employed by Mental Health Partners.

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