By Terry Miller
Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) has had more than its fair share of bad news in the past few years: like declining enrollment and campus closures. However, recently a disturbing story caught our attention when a custodial worker at PUSD was implicated in an inappropriate situation involving minors.
A California Superior Court jury recently awarded $887,416 to a young woman who was coerced into an on-campus sexual encounter facilitated by an employee of PUSD.
The case centers on “A.S.” a 14-year old minor high school student at the time of the occurrence on Jan. 13, 2015 at Pasadena High School in a nine-page complaint filed on Jan. 6, 2019.
The law firm retained by the minor’s parent—Ivie, McNeill, Wyatt, Purcell & Diggs (IMW)—obtained a jury verdict of $887,416.00 against PUSD on Sept. 11, 2019 after a one week trial in Van Nuys. The jurors voted 11-1 in favor of the plaintiff. The trial was conducted by W. Keith Wyatt and Kristen Wyatt from IMW.
Pasadena Independent contacted the director, W. Keith Wyatt, Esq., for details on the case and subsequent ruling:
“The case involved claims of negligent supervision by school district personnel which resulted in a sexual encounter between plaintiff and another student on the campus of Pasadena High School (PHS) on Jan. 13, 2015. Plaintiff A.S. was a 14 year-old freshman at PHS when she participated in an inappropriate sexual encounter with an older (17 years old) male student in an auditorium at the school. The encounter included sexual intercourse.
“Plaintiff did not contend that she was raped, but she did contend that she was pressured into engaging in the sexual encounter by the male student and by PHS personnel. A PHS security officer, Billy Coleman, facilitated the sexual encounter by removing plaintiff from her 5th period class, taking plaintiff to the auditorium to meet the male student, and opening a locked auditorium where the male student was waiting for plaintiff.
“The male student had made arrangements with the school security officer to get plaintiff out of class and bring plaintiff to him. The school security officer had a reputation for facilitating inappropriate conduct by students.
“PUSD admitted that it negligently caused plaintiff’s damages sustained as a result of the Jan. 13, 2015 incident and that plaintiff did not have any comparative fault or causation for her damages.
“As a result of the incident, both students were suspended from school. However, plaintiff became the victim of threats, bullying, and slander from other students such that she feared returning to a regular high school environment. She completed her high school education at an alternative school.
“IMW contended that plaintiff lost four years of the important social interaction and maturity which come from having a normal, four-year high school experience. IMW also contended that plaintiff experienced a loss of trust from the institutional betrayal which caused the incident. The jury awarded the plaintiff damages for past, present, and future emotional distress.”
As of Tuesday, PUSD still had Coleman listed on the PUSD employee roster, albeit now at Sierra Madre Middle School, even though “the school security officer had a reputation for facilitating inappropriate conduct by students,” according to the complaint. And yet it took nearly four years for the district to discipline the security officer.
Meanwhile, Superintendent Brian McDonald, who has now returned from medical leave, sent a letter to the community to address the reports of the civil case concerning one of PUSD’s employees. The letter read:
“Regarding an incident that occurred in early 2015, a District security guard employee was accused of negligent supervision that allowed two high school students to be unsupervised on a school campus. This resulted in the two students engaging in consensual inappropriate conduct on campus which resulted in a civil case being filed against the District by the parent of one of the students. The matter was adjudicated and a judgment was made against the District.
“Back in 2015, appropriate discipline was taken against the District security guard based upon the information the District had at the time. However, in light of the recent judgement, the employee has been placed on administrative leave and is not currently on any district site.
“Although this is a personnel issue involving employee confidentiality and we are limited as to what we can discuss because of privacy laws and district policies, rest assured that the District is actively evaluating the matter and will act appropriately. We are deeply concerned about the issues and conversations surrounding this civil case. Our highest priority is the safety and well-being of our students.
“I am glad to be back at PUSD after recuperating from surgery and will communicate with you shortly on other matters.”