A former Niagara Wheatfield Senior High School student who pleaded guilty to raping a classmate was granted a year on interim probation Wednesday, giving him a chance to earn youthful offender status.
Elias Q. Dowdy, now 19, was three days short of his 18th birthday when he raped the girl in his Town of Niagara home on May 28, 2018.
He pleaded guilty to third-degree rape on May 23 before Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon, who imposed Wednesday's preliminary sentence. If he violates probation, he risks up to four years in prison.
The case led to a major blowup on social media, after the girl and her mother complained that Niagara Wheatfield administrators did nothing to keep the pair apart at school during the 2018-19 school year.
"I don't think anyone should have to go to school and see the person who's ruined/changed their life," the victim told The Buffalo News in a text message May 30.
No order of protection was in effect until Dowdy pleaded guilty in late May, according to his attorney, Assistant Public Defender David E. Blackley.
"Not once did he confront her about this," Blackley told Sheldon.
Nevertheless, the situation led to a walkout from the school by about 100 students on May 31. The same day, the district announced it had removed Dowdy, who was a senior, from school.
On June 6, the district announced that high school principal Michael Mann had been placed on administrative leave, pending an independent investigation.
That came the day after a crowd of parents at a Board of Education meeting demanded Mann's resignation. At the meeting, Superintendent Daniel G. Ljiljanich said Mann should not have suspended students who took part in the walkout.
Ljiljanich could not be reached Wednesday for an update on Mann's status.
The mother spoke against youthful offender status for Dowdy before the sentencing.
"Elias Dowdy raped my daughter, admittedly raped my daughter, and has continued to torment her ever since," the mother told Sheldon.
After the mother referred to social media posts claiming the sex was consensual, the judge asked to see the mother's phone, which contained some of the posts.
The judge read aloud a post attributed to Dowdy's brother: "That girl had the right to say no ... it was consensual but they're making him out to be a monster. All them people need to take a nosedive off a bridge."
"You need to put a muzzle on your family and friends," Sheldon told Dowdy. "You need to tell them the truth, that it wasn't consensual. Quite frankly, if I sentenced you today, I would deny you youthful offender status."
After reading the probation rules aloud, Sheldon told Dowdy that if the mocking online continues, "The only person who's getting into trouble is you, and it would help a lot if you told them the truth."
"I am very sorry for what I have done," Dowdy said, reading aloud from a piece of paper.
"The trauma inflicted upon (the girl) could have been avoided," the victim's mother told reporters. "Niagara Wheatfield must come up with a policy so this never happens again."