ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — When Brandon Holbrook met his alleged 14-year-old victim, he had just come off a five-month suspension from the Mehlville School District’s substitute teaching list, according to court documents filed this month.
The district removed the 30-year-old from its substitute teaching list in November 2021 after Maura Benson, who happened to be a former student there, reported him to the state’s Courage2Report anonymous hotline for raping her.
Then, without explanation, the district put him back on its substitute teaching list in April 2022, according to the district’s response to a lawsuit the 14-year-old’s family filed against the district.
And, one month after that, St. Louis County police said Holbrook taught a class his alleged victim attended at Bernard Middle School.
He then sexually assaulted her at her home on at least three occasions between Aug. 8 and Aug. 22, according to court documents.
He was never convicted. He died from a Fentanyl overdose at the St. Louis County jail in October.
The school district does not comment on pending litigation.
Benson called the district’s response to the victim’s lawsuit “disgusting.”
“Students should not be forced to protect themselves when that is the job of those who were supposed to protect her,” she said.
Benson shared her story with the I-Team in November, saying she spoke to a St. Louis County police detective who told her the school no longer employed Holbrook.
The county police detective also told her to report her rape to St. Louis police because it allegedly occurred in the city, but she said she didn’t want to relive the story for another detective and believed Holbrook was no longer teaching children.
In its response, the Mehlville School District acknowledged that it did inform St. Louis County police that it had removed Holbrook from its substitute teaching list.
The district also stated it is not responsible for the assaults because they happened off school property and during the summer, when Holbrook was not working for the district and when the victim was not a student.
The I-Team compared the school district’s calendar to the time frame of the alleged assaults, and they occurred between Aug. 8 and 22.
August 22 was the first day of school.
In its response, the district also stated the victim “unreasonably failed to take preventative or corrective opportunities proceeded by defendants as to avoid harm.”
Benson said that sounded like “victim blaming.”
“Knowing now that they allowed this to happen despite what they knew makes it even worse,” Benson said. “And they're trying to blame this poor girl despite the fact that they knew information and they were withholding it. And that just breaks my heart for her, because victim blaming is a whole other type of trauma on top of the trauma that this horrible man has already given her.”
Holbrook is also accused of using school resources to find his victim’s house, an allegation the district has also denied in its response to the victim’s lawsuit.
Strengthening the system
The Courage2Report tip line is an anonymous way people can report concerns about school staffers.
Since it launched in May 2019, 2,138 tips just like Benson’s have come into the Courage2Report system.
The Missouri Highway Patrol has identified contacts at 3,000 schools to send the information to. The patrol also tracks when emails to those districts bounce back as undeliverable due to staffing changes and enters new contact information, according to spokesman Mike O'Connell.
Courage2Report staff also track whether the schools and police departments that get tips have checked the Courage2Report portal to make sure they received the information and follow up if the portal has not been accessed, O’Connell said.
School districts and police departments are then asked to tell the Missouri Highway Patrol what they have done with the information within 30 days of a tip. But they do not have to.
So, the Highway Patrol has only heard back from police and school districts on 47% of the tips it sent them.
That stat didn't sit well with State Rep. Sarah Unsicker, a Democrat that represents parts of St. Louis and St. Louis County, when she heard it as part of an I-Team report in November.
Now, she is looking for a cosponsor on a bill that would require schools and police departments to report back to the Missouri Highway Patrol about what they did with the call.
Representative-elect Phil Amato has agreed to partner with Unsicker on the legislation, once in session.