Former video arts instructor Bradley Gardner was given the maximum sentence Friday, four years and four months in prison, for sexually assaulting two teenage female wards while teaching at a youth prison in Camarillo.
Gardner was the only person formally charged in a wide-ranging investigation of improper contact between employees and inmates at the California Youth Authority's Ventura School in Camarillo. His sentencing brings an end to the scandal, which led to the ouster of the school's top three officials and state youth authority Director Francisco Alarcon.
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Clark rejected a plea for leniency by Gardner's attorney, who asked the court to give Gardner probation or a lighter sentence. Jorge Alvarado argued that the 43-year-old showed remorse by confessing to detectives and pleading guilty to three charges of unlawful oral sex.
But Clark, who had read a psychological report that concluded Gardner is "quite disturbed," was unmoved. He said Gardner used his position of trust to take advantage of young females.
"Without question, Mr. Gardner does pose a threat to society," Clark said.
Gardner's guilty plea came in July. But Clark postponed sentencing so the defendant could undergo a 90-day psychological evaluation at a prison facility near Bakersfield. Prosecutor Linda Groberg read portions of the report that described Gardner as an angry, overly defensive man who blames others for his problems and holds grudges.
Although the report offered mixed support for probation, Groberg told the judge that the maximum sentence was justified. Gardner created opportunities to have sex with the girls, who were 16 and 17 at the time of the assaults, and preyed on the insecurities of the troubled teenagers.
In one instance, Gardner showed a sexually explicit video of himself to a girl. In another, he told a female ward he would teach her how to install coaxial cable and instead engaged her in a sex act out of view of supervisors.
"He wasn't lured by these girls," Groberg said. "He is still minimizing and not accepting any responsibility for his conduct."
Groberg also asked the court to consider letters sent to prosecutors by Susana Payne, who called herself a former friend of Gardner. In the letters, Payne detailed potential "additional conduct" by Gardner, Groberg said.
Alvarado asked Clark to disregard the letters, but Clark overruled the request. The judge stated, however, that he considered the information in the letters to be secondhand.
Outside the courtroom, Groberg said Clark imposed the right sentence.
"He's a teacher and these are very young girls who formed an attachment to him in his position of authority," she said. "And he totally betrayed that trust."
Alvarado said his client was stunned by Clark's ruling. Gardner thought he was doing the right thing by confessing his relationship with the two girls after initially denying them, Alvarado said. He also helped investigators looking into allegations of misconduct by other employees, the lawyer said.
"The judge did what he felt was necessary," Alvarado said. "But my client is devastated."
The 732-ward Ventura School, the state's only coed youth prison, has been the center of controversy since 1997, when state lawmakers accused the youth authority of covering up rapes of inmates by guards.
In one scathing analysis, then-state Inspector General Lloyd Wood found that the Ventura School had a "systematic problem" of lax management that allowed sexual misconduct by employees and inmates to continue.
That prompted the director of the state prison system to suspend the school's top administrators. In March, Gov. Gray Davis replaced Alarcon with Gregorio Zermeno.
Fifteen employees were also fired or forced to resign. Gardner was the only California Youth Authority employee to face criminal charges for engaging in sexual acts with the minors.
Six cases were referred to the district attorney's office for prosecution, but officials say they did not result in charges because of a lack of evidence and other legal problems.
Reforms instituted since then include screening all inmate assignments and restricting employees' ability to be alone with wards.