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Ventura County

2 More Join Claim Over Alleged Abuse by Teacher

Oxnard district: Amended filing alleges another Camarillo High instructor discussed the case in class, worried it might cost her a raise.

June 13, 2002|JENIFER RAGLAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two more teenage boys have joined a multimillion-dollar claim alleging that school officials initially ignored complaints brought against a Camarillo High School science teacher accused of molesting several students.

Six boys and their families are now seeking up to $46 million in damages from the Oxnard Union High School District, Camarillo High School and several individual employees.

School district officials could not be reached for comment late Wednesday after Carol Woo, the district's attorney, reported the latest development in the case.

The original claim, filed by Ventura attorney Brenda Andrade on June 5, alleges that officials--from an athletic director to top district administrators--were warned on several occasions, as early as 1999, of inappropriate behavior by 30-year-old teacher Chad Pridgen and failed to investigate.

It further accuses district officials of conspiring to conceal evidence that might have helped the alleged victims' case, including destroying documents and withholding information.

The amended claim includes new allegations that school employees are continuing to harass the alleged victims by discussing the claim in class. Just last week,the claim says, a math teacher told her students that she disapproved of the legal action because it could take money away from the school and hurt her chances of getting a pay raise next year.

According to the claim, other students began chiming in, not realizing that one of the alleged victims was in the class. He felt humiliated and insulted and wanted to leave, but feared that would reveal his identity as one of the boys accusing Pridgen of sex crimes, the claim said.

In bringing up the issue in class, the teacher "sought to enrage the students against the suit contemplated by plaintiffs and dissuade potential victims from reporting misconduct," the claim alleges.

The teacher declined to comment Wednesday.

Attached to the claim filed June 5 is a transcript of investigators' interview with Rachel Hornbek, a junior varsity girls soccer coach who worked with Pridgen at the high school.

In the interview, she said several players on her team who were acquainted with boys on Pridgen's team told her that Pridgen gave students alcohol at his house parties and had a "regular habit of describing his sexual exploits the night before to them."

According to the claim, Hornbek relayed her concerns about Pridgen--which also included his tendency to leave the team practicing unsupervised--to Athletic Director Mike Smith.

In October, three months before Pridgen was arrested, she wrote a letter to Camarillo High Principal Sylvia Jackson detailing her concerns. The letter, a copy of which was included in the claim, said Hornbek had heard "reports that Pridgen shared sexually explicit stories from his personal life" with students.

Ventura County prosecutors have charged Pridgen with 39 felony and misdemeanor counts involving 11 teenage boys, all but two of whom are current or former Camarillo High students.

Sheriff's investigators say Pridgen used his authority as a teacher to coerce students into performing sex acts for him, from masturbation to oral sex. Court documents allege that from the spring of 2000 until January 2002 the teacher had students come to his Camarillo home almost every weekend for parties that included alcohol, pornography and sexual abuse.

Pridgen, who taught upper-level science courses and coached soccer and tennis at the school for six years, has been on unpaid leave since his Feb. 5 arrest. He is free on $500,000 bail, and a preliminary hearing is set for July 23.

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