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LAUSD to pay in sex abuse case

Special needs girl to get $1.4 million total from district and boy who assaulted her in after-school program.

May 23, 2013|Richard Winton

Jurors awarded an elementary school special needs student $1.4 million after she was sexually assaulted five times by a male classmate during an after-school program in Chatsworth.

Santa Monica jurors made the decision Tuesday after an eight-day trial about how much the Los Angeles Unified School District should pay for the injuries the girl suffered because of inadequate supervision at the Superior Street Elementary campus.

The jurors apportioned about $731,000 of the damages to the district, with the remainder apportioned to the perpetrator, according to attorneys.

The boy sexually assaulted the then-fourth-grader behind a shed and tree, out of sight of a program supervisor, in spring 2010.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, May 31, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Sex abuse lawsuit: In the May 23 LATExtra section, an article about a jury's award of $1.4 million to a girl who was sexually abused by a classmate said that jurors had apportioned part of the money to the Los Angeles Unified School District and part to the perpetrator. The attorneys agreed in advance to the apportionment, not the jury.

"Because the victim was special needs, she was not able to express herself. L.A. Unified minimized her harm throughout the trial," said attorney David Ring, who with Louanne Masry represented the child's family. "The jury found that offensive."

Ring said the district "admitted fault, but they didn't want to admit the harm that resulted."

Greg McNair, associate general counsel for the district, said it was a difficult case "and our thoughts are with the victim."

"Although we had a responsibility to be prudent with taxpayer dollars and defend the school district's position in court, we hope that with the trial complete that the healing process can continue for the child and family involved," he said in a statement.

A spokesman for the school district did not return a phone call seeking comment.

With one staffer supervising as many as 100 students in the after-school program, the boy was able to take the then-9-year-old girl to locations on campus, where he forced her to submit to sex acts and perform sex acts, according to court records.

During the fifth incident in spring 2010, a teacher heard the two students behind a shed and witnessed an assault, court records show. The then-10-year-old boy was immediately taken to the principal and the police were called; he then admitted to the multiple sexual assaults.

The girl was "punched, pushed and kicked" by the boy before he sexually assaulted her each time, the documents said. Out of fear, the girl told no one about the attacks, according to the lawsuit.

On the eve of the trial, L.A. Unified lawyers admitted that the school's supervision was substandard after the low staff-to-student ratio was revealed, as well as the boy's troubled history in the after-school program.

The boy had previously been suspended from the program and had a long history of problems, including punching a child in the private parts after school, making sexually inappropriate remarks and showing his penis to other students, court records show.

Ring said the district, given the girl's special needs, had a heightened duty to protect the girl with "mild mental retardation." The girl, who is now 12, was left with the boy who school officials knew had a history of violence and sexual acts, court records show.

The girl's attorneys during the trial presented evidence that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder as a result of the repeated assaults. Despite intense therapy, "she continues to exhibit nightmares, aggressive behavior ... fear of males, flashbacks, crying spells" and other effects, according to court documents.

Ring said the jurors during the trial did not hear about the perpetrator's history or the district's action because they focused solely on what compensation the girl should receive for her injuries and damages.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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