Skip to Content

Father of transgender teen attacked in school says attackers should face criminal charges

By Chandelis Duster and Justin Gamble, CNN

(CNN) — The father of a Minnesota transgender high school student who says she was beaten in school said Thursday he wants the students who beat or harassed his daughter to face criminal charges.

Mark Walztoni tells CNN his 17-year-old daughter Cobalt Sovereign, a junior at Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, was in the school bathroom last Thursday when a student started calling her transphobic slurs. While she was leaving the bathroom, Walztoni says his daughter said she was surrounded by that student and two others, who began following Sovereign down the hall, and when she turned around to ask them to stop, she was punched in the mouth.

During the attack, according to Walztoni, Sovereign’s jaw was broken in two places. She had a compound fracture and lost teeth, leading to reconstructive surgery. Walztoni says the students responsible should face criminal charges.

“There has to be repercussions for their actions. And if they are not charged for some reason, which is our fear, then that is just going to further escalate their behavior because when you get away with stuff, you continue to do stuff,” he said. “There needs to be some kind of punishment and there needs to be some serious discussion as to whether those kids should be able to come back to the same school.”

He also says he was notified about the incident from a social worker at the school and was told by school officials to notify the police, adding he was displeased the incident “wasn’t treated as an emergency.”

Walztoni also tells CNN he is unsure if his daughter will be safe going back to school and wants to see changes.

“It’s unacceptable. The whole transphobia and homophobia thing is, in my opinion, so 20th century, or it should be a thing of the past. And it’s clear that the climate is getting worse in this regard,” he told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on “The Source.” “We have a tremendous amount of community support here and Cobalt feeling very loved but it’s you know it’s the kids that are there today aren’t safe.”

Sovereign tells CNN she has never met or seen the students who attacked and harassed her prior to the incident. She said she has faced harassment in the past but “nothing even close to this extent”. Sovereign also said using the restroom as someone who identifies as non-binary has always been an issue for her.

“I try to use any general neutral or family restroom options if they’re available but when I’m not given that option I … use the men’s restroom because it’s what makes everybody around me the least amount of uncomfortable and making other people uncomfortable is something that I tried not to do. It’s from one of my worst fears,” Sovereign told Collins.

The Minnetonka Police Department said in a statement to CNN it is investigating an attack that day at Hopkins High School as “a possible hate crime,” but said “details remain limited as the case was reported to police after school had ended for the day.” Hopkins High School said it is investigating “an act of violence” that “involved a student who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community.”

“We will address any issues that compromise the safety and inclusivity of our school environment,” the school told CNN in a statement. “We support and stand by any group that is marginalized, including our LGBTQ+ scholars and staff.”

Minnetonka Police Chief Scott Boerboom tells CNN Sovereign’s mother reported the incident to the police department the day it happened and he was not made aware of it until the following Monday.

Boerboom says he would have preferred the school notify the police as soon as the incident occurred.

“We would arrive at the school, we would meet with the victim, Cobalt, we would talk to the suspects, identify the suspects, get their side of the story, talk to the victim. And then we are required to notify parents at that time,” he said. “By having us contacted at the onset, we can assess it as first responders and we have access to EMS or medical services.”

Boerboom also says a video of the assault exists, and he has seen it. He says his department filed a subpoena for the video from the school, in line with policy. In the video, he says, one boy is seen assaulting Sovereign in the hallway. There were two other boys nearby, Boerboom says, who were not involved in the physical assault.

The attack comes amid a rise in anti-LGBTQ legislation and as advocates say LGBTQ students have faced an uptick in threats and violence. It also comes nearly four months after the death of Nex Benedict, a nonbinary 10th grader in Oklahoma who told police about being beaten to the point of blacking out during a confrontation in the school bathroom. 

Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, executive director of GLSEN, a non-profit group working to end intolerance and homophobia in K-12 schools, said the attack is “a heartbreaking reminder of the violence and discrimination that trans youth face daily.”

“GLSEN stands in solidarity with Cobalt and their family, and we call on their school officials to take immediate, concrete steps to ensure the safety and dignity of all students,” Willingham-Jaggers told CNN in a statement. “Hate has no place in our schools, and it’s our collective responsibility to create systems where every student can thrive without fear.”

Minnesota state Rep. Leigh Finke, a Democrat and the first out transgender lawmaker in the state’s legislature, condemned the school and police for their responses to the incident. Finke said violence against transgender youth like Benedict and Sovereign will “continue unabated until accountability and responsibility is accepted.”

“The response of Hopkins High School and the Minnetonka Police so far sends the same transphobic message to (…) the world: do as you will and if no one decides to take it public, you’ll get away with it. Is that the message that we want to send?” Finke said in a statement.

“We want to see Hopkins High School and Minnetonka Police, and every school and police department in the future to do what is right and take immediate action, not because people are looking, but because transgender folks everywhere are entitled to live a life free of fear, and violence,” Finke added.

CNN’s Andy Rose contributed to this report.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN – National

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

CNN Newsource


News Channel 3-12 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content