Thursday, April 19, 2018
Public safety

Students, social media reacting to news of Tarpon teen's arrest on sex charge

TARPON SPRINGS — Like some other students at Tarpon Springs High School, Ashley Robertson thinks the 15-year-old girl who accused Jared Alissandratos of rape this week is lying.

But there are moments, when she hears people talk about making "Free Jared" T-shirts or challenging the girl to a fight that Robertson pauses to reconsider her mistrust.

"I feel bad," Robertson said. "If it happened to me, and a lot of people said I was lying and stuff, I'd be devastated."

Robertson said she knows neither accused nor accuser well. But the elements of her reaction — doubt, surprise, second thoughts — were part of the heady mix of responses to the police announcement Thursday that Alissandratos, the scion of a well-known Greek Orthodox family in this heavily Greek city and a popular Tarpon High sophomore, had been arrested on a charge of sexual battery. He could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Charges against two other boys who police say may have "taken advantage" of the girl while she was intoxicated at a house party hosted by Alissandratos, 17, have also been forwarded for review to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, though no additional arrests have been made.

The emotional reaction to the incident and arrest have over-spilled the boundaries of this city of 24,000 on the Gulf of Mexico, inflaming observers online and through social media and even bringing attention from Twitter users claiming to represent the hacker consortium Anonymous.

According to a juvenile arrest affidavit, Alissandratos threw a drinking party at his father's house, where "the victim became extremely intoxicated and was taken to a room to lay down."

He joined her and began having intercourse with her, an act he "admitted" to police, the affidavit states, adding, "the victim was not able to give consent due to her level of intoxication."

Following Alissandratos' arrest this week, some Tarpon High students used social media to make critical and sometimes obscene remarks about his accuser. Police have not identified the girl, as is common in cases involving alleged sexual abuse.

In response, a Twitter user claiming to represent Anonymous issued a statement warning of retribution for those smearing the victim.

"While law enforcement continues its investigation we will be monitoring social media and other communication for attacks on this young woman," the statement read. "Attacks against her will be met with swift action."

The loosely affiliated members of Anonymous now include accused rapists in their portfolio of enemies, which also includes the FBI, credit-card companies and media organizations that cover the group unfavorably. When two football players in Steubenville, Ohio, were accused of rape last year, Anonymous hacked the football team's website, threatening to disclose students' personal information.

In an exchange of messages with the Times, self-identified Anonymous member "Priest" said retaliation against Tarpon Springs teens could come in the form of exposing students' drug and alcohol use to parents and school authorities. Friday evening, "Priest," posting to Twitter under the handle @Th3Pr1est, wrote, "Wow. The amount of drug use in Tarpon Springs is unbelievable. Oh, don't worry. We have it all documented."

A school official at Tarpon Springs High said the school's website was running normally Friday and showed no signs of being hacked.

Anonymous was not the only Internet presence to take an interest in the Alissandratos case. Eve Vawter, associate editor of the parenting blog mommyish.com, wrote an article with the headline, "Um, Excuse Me Tarpon Springs, But You Currently Have A Giant Rape Culture Problem On Your Hands."

Beyond the Internet, however, criticism of Jared Alissandratos and his friends was hard to find.

"I'm pretty sure she lied," said Tarpon Springs High School freshman Axel Thomas, 15, blinking into the mid-afternoon sunshine outside the school Friday. "I'm pretty sure Jared is innocent. … I know Jared."

Father Michael Eaccarino, dean of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, said he was familiar with several generations of the Alissandratos family. Jared's grandmother is a devout church member, he said. Both Jared and his father were winners of the contest to retrieve a white cross from Spring Bayou at the city's annual Epiphany celebration, an honor supposed to bestow good luck.

While the facts of the case will take time to sort out, Eaccarino said, the episode is a reminder of a basic religious concept: No one is perfect.

"We all have a journey, and along that journey, we all fall," Eaccarino said. "I don't care who it is."

News researchers Carolyn Edds and Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

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