EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 23, 2013

North Andover teen was issued summons after Boxford party

Lawyer warns of lawsuit against school district 'and those who lied'

By Jill Harmacinski
jharmacinski@eagletribune.com

---- — NORTH ANDOVER — North Andover High School senior Erin Cox was issued a summons for underage possession of alcohol when police broke up a Boxford party last month, although a police officer said she did not appear intoxicated.

In a lawsuit Cox and her mother filed earlier this month, they wrote that Boxford Patrolman Brian Neeley said “everyone at the party” was receiving a summons for being a minor in possession of alcohol.

That included Cox, 17, who said she was sober but went to the party to pick up a drunken friend. When her story went viral, she was celebrated as a national model for teens doing the right thing when confronted with drinking.

Cox, former captain of the varsity volleyball team, was demoted and suspended from playing five games after she said she picked up a friend at the Sept. 28 party, held at the 732 Main St. home of Dr. Bart Blaeser.

Officers from Boxford and three other communities were called to break up the party that night, according to a police report.

Neeley later wrote an email to Cox’s attorney and a North Andover school official saying, “Erin did not have the slightest odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from her person.

“She was polite, articulate, steady on her feet, and very remorseful for her decision to go to the residence but was only helping out a friend that had called her for a ride,” wrote Neeley in the email.

Boxford Police Chief Michael Murphy said he was aware Neeley wrote the email regarding Cox, but declined further comment because the case involves a juvenile.

Since her story went national, some have used Facebook and other social media to question whether it was the full truth. She and her mother have declined repeated requests for an interview.

Yesterday, her attorney, Wendy Murphy of Boston, issued a statement saying Cox “had not been drinking, had no intention of drinking and was at the party to help a friend.”

Murphy said Cox was also falsely accused of being “arrested at the scene,” including by a school lawyer.

“This lie has fueled retaliation and more lies and will be addressed in litigation,” Murphy said in the statement, which went on to say a lawsuit was planned against the school district “and those who lied.”

When police responded to the Boxford party, they found a large number of youths drinking alcohol and requested help from Georgetown, Haverhill and North Andover police. One youth at the party who was extremely intoxicated and vomiting profusely was taken to the hospital, according to a police report.

Police divided the partygoers into two groups: those 17 and younger and those 18 and older. The latter were taken into custody while the underaged called their parents for rides home.

The summons for being a minor in possession of alcohol required Cox to appear in juvenile court in Lawrence. A clerk yesterday said he was not authorized to give out any information pertaining to juvenile court cases.

Cox and her mother, Eleanor Cox, filed suit against the school district in Essex County Superior Court on Oct. 11. They sought an injunction against the school district, saying Cox had been “forbidden to play volleyball” with the varsity team and her status as captain was “rescinded.” Cox attempted to resolve this matter with school officials “to no avail.”

No court action was taken on the suit. Cox has until the close of business on Nov. 8 to refile the suit and have a licensed attorney file an appearance on her behalf.

Cox said in court documents she “did not consume or possess alcohol ... at any time.”

On Sept. 28, she worked at the Andover Inn, then went to an ice cream shop. She received a call from a friend in Boxford, saying she needed a ride home, according to the court documents.

Cox said she’d drive to Boxford and, when she arrived, would call her friend so she could come out. But when she dialed her friend, the call went directly to voicemail. Cox parked her car outside the house, blocking the driveway, and went inside the house to find her friend, according to the suit.

“The party was very noisy and crowded and when the plaintiff finally found her friend, she had difficulty convincing her to leave. Within 30 minutes, the police arrived. (Cox) immediately texted her mother and told her that the police were there,” according to the lawsuit.

When Eleanor Cox arrived, Erin was standing with Officer Neeley. “Neeley stated, ‘I know that your daughter is sober and has not been drinking,’” according to the court papers.

Neeley at that time told Eleanor Cox “everyone at the party” was getting a summons as a “minor in possession,” according to the lawsuit.

The following Monday, Cox had a normal day at school, and as captain played a varsity volleyball game on her home court.

On Oct. 1, Cox met with Jon Longley, athletic director, and Chet Jackson, assistant principal, who were both aware of the party Saturday night. Cox told them she’d gone to the party to help a friend and Boxford police arrived while she was there, according to the suit.

Longley said he was aware she was charged as a minor in possession of alcohol and “had been summoned to court.” Such a charge was in violation of the school’s “chemical health policy” and athletic regulations. “Without obtaining additional information he immediately suspended (Cox) from the volleyball team for five games and stripped her of her status as captain of the team,” Cox said in the suit.

Also, Cox was told if she didn’t agree to the punishment and attend four sessions with a health teacher about “chemical health,” she would be suspended for three more games.

Cox, in the lawsuit, said she was experiencing emotional distress, was embarrassed and was “falsely accused of an offense she did not commit.”

“The plaintiff’s mature handling of the situation should have been celebrated, not punished because it takes bold leadership among young people to help break the ties that bind vulnerable high school students to high-risk activities. Likewise, rewarding students who make tough choices NOT to engage in dangerous behavior helps to inspire other students to do the right thing,” according to the lawsuit.

The Cox family is no longer accepting donations for legal defense.

In her statement, Murphy said, “We have growing concerns that people may be using this case to exploit concerned citizens by asking them to donate money to the Cox family.”

She suggested that people who want to donate money should give to Mothers Against Drunk Driving or another group that deals with drunken driving.

“We have requested no money, received no money, and want no money,” Murphy said.

She added the lawsuit planned against the school district and “those who lied” will be based on a contingency fee relationship between the Cox family and their attorney, which means they are not in need of any legal defense funds.

Staff reporters Sara Brown and Mark Vogler contributed to this story.

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Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.