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Disclosure of sex abuse suit prompts firing

A Wilson High coach allegedly had a sexual relationship with an underage girl at his previous school.

July 08, 2008|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

A girls' volleyball coach at Woodrow Wilson High School in El Sereno was fired after officials learned about a lawsuit alleging he had a sexual relationship with a student at a Catholic school, where he resigned under pressure.

Wilson Principal Roberto Antonio Martinez said he terminated Renato "Ray" Lopez Jr., 44, from his coaching position for the Wilson Mules volleyball team after learning of the allegations involving a female student at the coach's prior school, Sacred Heart of Jesus High School in Los Angeles.

Martinez said he was unaware of the allegations until he was contacted by The Times and that he did not know if anyone checked the coach's references with his previous employers. Martinez said Wilson High's athletic director knew Lopez and that the school district had done a criminal background check.

Martinez said that as a non-teaching staff coach, Lopez was never supposed to be alone with his student athletes.

The dismissal comes after a series of recent arrests of Los Angeles Unified School District administrators, coaches and teachers for allegedly molesting students and possessing child pornography.

Details about the latest case came to light in a lawsuit filed by the female student, now 23, in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Sacred Heart of L.A. In the lawsuit, she states that she was a 17-year-old junior in 2003 when she began the more than year-long sexual relationship with Lopez, who was more than 20 years her senior.

The relationship apparently continued through the girl's senior year when he coached her in volleyball, basketball and softball.

She also worked for him at an El Sereno trophy shop he owns.

Lopez refused to comment on the litigation when contacted at the shop. "I have nothing to say," he said. In his resignation letter to Sacred Heart, he adamantly denied the allegation and said nothing had occurred between him and the girl.

Sacred Heart investigated the allegations after two other female students reported the sexual misconduct to the school in November 2005. Lopez denied it but was placed on administrative leave.

The young woman, who The Times is not identifying because of the nature of the allegation, initially denied the relationship with Lopez, but after further questioning by officials acknowledged the sexual contact.

Lopez was never charged criminally.

The young woman initially told archdiocese officials that she was 18 when the sexual relationship began. Archdiocese officials reported that allegation to the Los Angeles Police Department's child sex crimes unit in November 2005.

The young woman told police that she was 18 when the sexual acts began. But she later alleged in her deposition that Lopez had molested her when she was 17.

"She didn't say she was 17 to the police because she didn't want him to go to prison back then," said David Ring, the young woman's attorney.

J. Michael Hennigan, an attorney whose law firm represents the archdiocese, said a retired FBI agent, Paul H. Breen, who investigated the accusations against Lopez for the archdiocese, "deemed the allegation credible."

"We wanted to terminate him because credible is our standard for termination," Hennigan said.

Sacred Heart Principal S. MaryDiane Scott told Lopez in December 2005 that the archdiocese wanted to fire him but said that she was willing to support him if nothing sexual had occurred between him and the student. According to the principal's notes, he replied, "Sister, nothing happened."

Top archdiocese officials in March 2006 told the school principal that she had to "let the teacher go," as parents complained that more than four months had passed without any information from the school about what was going on with the case, according to e-mails obtained in the litigation.

Lopez was allowed to resign by the principal on March 9, 2006, after more than a decade at the school.

In January, the young woman sued the school and archdiocese alleging sexual exploitation, negligence and infliction of emotional distress.

Ring said she filed the suit in part because she was concerned that he was coaching at Wilson.

The archdiocese attorneys in March denied all the allegations of misconduct on the part of the school or archdiocese.

--

richard.winton@latimes.com

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