SAN RAMON (CBS SF) — A teen and his mother are seeking more than $25,000 in damages based on allegations in a lawsuit filed last week that a San Ramon school district and an Alamo church failed to deter child molestation by reporting it to police.
The lawsuit, filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court, names San Ramon Valley Unified School District and New Life Church as defendants. The plaintiff is a 16-year-old boy that was identified as one of three victims in a sexual abuse case.
The plaintiff was a victim in a case brought against Kevin Lopez, a former California High School head wrestling coach and a youth group program leader at New Life Church.
Lopez, 28, was sentenced in February to 10 years, eight months in prison after pleading guilty to eight felony counts of lewd acts on children between the ages of 14 and 15 and other related charges.
And, the lawsuit alleges, the school district and the church might have known Lopez was engaging in this behavior with minors before police were alerted, but didn’t respond to it.
The lawsuit maintains that the district instead conducted its own investigation into a complaint that Lopez had potentially molested children, and made no further action.
It was a concerned parent’s accusation that while Lopez himself was a student at the school, he hosted parties with alcohol for middle school-aged children and may have inappropriately touched some of the minors.
The plaintiff’s attorney, Robert Allard, said the school district “absolutely should have not conducted its own investigation” after reasonable suspicion was formed.
“First, they are not qualified to do so, as opposed to police officers,” he said. “Second, such an investigation is fraught with conflicts.”
Allard said because the district understands it may be sued, there’s a tendency to side with the teacher opposed to the child.
“That is exactly, it appears, what happened here,” he said. “Lopez was apparently able to convince the principal that the child of the complaining parent had an ‘axe to grind’ and therefore was not credible.”
And because the district’s investigation “tips off” alleged assailants, Allard said it’s the district’s job to allow police to take over these investigations.
State law does require that school officials notify Child Protective Services when they receive allegations of abuse.
The lawsuit also contends that New Life Church should have known, prior to the plaintiff’s molestation, that Lopez was spending too much time alone with minors, which was not authorized by church-sanctioned outings.
According to lawsuit, the plaintiff was molested from August 2013 through September 2014, and has experienced “great mental, physical and nervous pain and suffering” from the ordeal.
The lawsuit is seeking damages for sexual abuse of a minor, breach of mandatory duty to report suspected abuse, negligence of school district employees, negligence of the church and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“We hope to use this sad saga as an illustration as to why training on identifying predatory behavior should legislatively be required of all teachers,” Allard said.
He said he’s supporting a current push for legislation to ensure red flags aren’t missed.
“Too often we have seen that there were warnings signs all over the place and yet educators, as here, failed to heed them,” he said.
Representatives from the district or the church weren’t immediately available for comment on the lawsuit.
© Copyright 2015 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.