Child Rape Victims Awarded $4 Million in California Lawsuit
Two grade-school victims of a predatory gym teacher have been awarded over $4 million in a civil suit against the Sacramento School District, in a trial that sharply questioned the district’s policies to detect and avoid sexual abuse.
- Girls molested in the school gym for four years
- School missed numerous signs of abuse
- Students not educated on how to report abuse
Abdol Hossein Mehrdadi, a gym teacher at the John Still Elementary School in Sacramento, groomed and molested one girl over the course of three years from 2003 to 2006, then started the process with another girl in 2007, according to a lawsuit filed in 2009. Mehrdadi, who has not been charged criminally, settled with the girl’s families for undisclosed terms, but the suit went forward against the school district for failing to protect its students.
Mehrdadi would take the girls to a small “room within a room” adjacent to the gym where there was no supervision or monitoring by the school, lawyers for the plaintiffs said. “He was allowed to basically separate children from the PE class, kind of under a ruse of cleaning a room off the gym,” says Gigi Knudtson, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “He started with grooming one of the children in second grade, touching her over her clothes, then under her clothes, then by the time she was in fourth grade he was taking her into the room and actually started raping her.”
The second victim said she was taken to the room once in 2007 when she was in first grade, where the teacher pulled her pants down and touched her rear end. A third victim, who was not party to the lawsuit, testified that Mehrdadi had massaged her chest, telling her he was teaching her how to make her breasts harder.
Somehow, the attacks were able to go on for over four years despite a number of red flags that should have drawn the school’s attention. The first victim began to have trouble urinating, a classic sign of sexual abuse. The rapes also became common knowledge among students after one opened the door to the room and witnessed an attack, but the information either did not come to the school’s attention or was not acted on. Finally, the jury found the school’s implementation of abuse policies to be lacking, to say the least. “Even though the district promised in its policy and procedures to teach these children things that are appropriate and not appropriate consistent with child abuse prevention, none of these children knew anything about that,” Knudtson says. “They were never told a safe place to go.”
The case got even more twisted. According to Knudtson, the first victim told her mother about the attacks, but her mother subsequently passed away and instead of helping her the girl’s step-father started molesting her as well. The victims were from an ethnically Hmong population and weren’t native English speakers, which, along with their young age, meant they didn’t have a strong grasp of the legal system and the institutions that could have protected them. In essence, they were especially vulnerable and relied on the school to keep them safe– and in that, the school failed, the jury found last week, awarding the first victim $3.625 million, and the second $400,000. The district is likely to appeal the awards.
Despite his settlement, Mehrdadi has denied the accusations, and is still with the district on paid administrative leave.