REDLANDS UNIFIED SLAPPED WITH SEX ABUSE LAWSUIT UNDER NEW STATE LAW. 3 former middle-schooler who were abused by a teacher 20 years ago are allowed to sue under extended statute of limitations
January 22, 2020
Redlands Daily Facts
Three victims of a former middle school teacher serving a 74-year prison term for sexual abuse sued him and the Redlands Unified School District on Tuesday under a new state law that extends the statute of limitations for certain sex crimes.
The victims, all former Clement Middle School students ranging in age from 11 to 14 when they were sexually abused by former English teacher Sean Ramiro Lopez, allege the school district was aware of Lopez’s conduct, and even investigated him, but did not remove him from the classroom nor report suspicions to police.
Another of Lopez’s victims, whose family is not party to the suit, allegedly died in 2012 due to the “horrific abuse” he suffered, according to the lawsuit. Morgan Stewart, the Irvine attorney representing the three victims, did not disclose the cause of death for that victim.
The abuse occurred from 1999 to 2001 and resulted in longstanding emotional trauma for the victims, including depression, anger and sleeplessness, and severe control and trust issues, according to the lawsuit filed in San Bernardino Superior Court.
Redlands Unified Superintendent Mauricio V. Arellano did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment Tuesday.
The lawsuit was the first filed against the district by Stewart under a state law, Assembly Bill 218, that took effect on Jan. 1 and extended the statute of limitations for reporting and filing claims of sexual abuse.
Stewart, who since 2013 has settled four sex abuse lawsuits against the district totaling more than $30 million, was instrumental in helping expose a nearly 20-year history covering up sexual abuse and predatory teachers at the school district at the expense of student safety.
The scandal fueled a yearlong investigation by the Southern California News Group that revealed, among other things, the school district and its lawyers thwarted criminal investigations of teachers suspected of sexual abuse, destroyed evidence, and ordered teachers and other staff to not cooperate with police in criminal investigations.
The Southern California News Group investigation also prompted sweeping reforms at the school district, including implementation of the Act Now initiative that includes measures to enhance student safety and a six-page policy mandating school resource officers at every high school, mandated reporter handbooks for all employees, and additional school counselors to focus on the “socio-emotional” health of students.
Lopez was convicted in 2005 of molesting and sexually harassing three teenage boys in his classroom and at his home and was sentenced in 2006 to 74 years in prison. He is serving his time at Mule Creek State Prison in Amador County in Northern California.
Lopez, according to the lawsuit, singled out vulnerable preteen and teenage male students and invited them to his home on the pretense they would be participating in a “paid medical study,” which actually was a ruse to sexually abuse them. Lopez told his victims the program would help increase their muscle mass and the size of their genitals, according to prior court testimony.
Additionally, Lopez would regularly invite students to his classroom during passing periods and lunch and carry on sexually explicit conversations. At Lopez’s home, the students would undress, allow Lopez to measure them, watch pornographic movies and masturbate.
“(Lopez) would photograph the minors and videotape them in a variety of sexual acts, including videotaping himself performing oral sex on minors and ‘licking his lips,’ while on camera,” according to the lawsuit.
Lopez’s suspicious involvement with students led to an administrative investigation at Clement Middle School during which Lopez and his students were all questioned. But despite having “clear knowledge that Lopez was a risk and acting sexually inappropriate with minor males,” the school and school district failed to call police and child protective services, remove Lopez from the classroom and recognize that Lopez was grooming his students for sexual abuse, according to the lawsuit.
“Clement (Middle) School was permitted to proliferate as a sexual abuse breeding ground for teachers and staff of Redlands Unified School District,” according to the lawsuit, which notes that in 2004 — three years after Lopez’s arrest — Kevin Patrick Kirkland was assigned assistant principal of the school.
Kirkland was convicted of sexually abusing four Redlands High School students from June 2014 through May 2016. The Southern California News Group investigation revealed that administrators at Redlands High School and the school district, despite multiple complaints about Kirkland, allowed him to remain in the classroom and continue having contact with teenage girls, despite his propensity to flirt, text and invite them to his home while his wife was away.
Stewart believes there are parallels between the Lopez case and other cases involving predatory teachers in more recent years, including Kirkland and former Citrus Valley High School teacher Laura Whitehurst.
“This is yet another horrific example of Redlands Unified School District’s historical failures in protecting children,” Stewart said in a statement Tuesday.
Asked to comment Tuesday, school district spokeswoman MaryRone Shell instead provided a letter sent to all Redlands Unified parents on Thursday, Jan. 16, informing them the lawsuit was about to be filed. In the letter, Arellano expressed sympathy for Lopez’s victims.
“His acts were despicable,” the superintendent wrote, “and we are truly sorry that these individuals have been carrying the burden of that abuse more than 20 years later.”
Stewart responded to Arellano’s statement in the lawsuit, saying his comments were “without basis” because the district had the opportunity to resolve the victims’ claims before the filing of the lawsuit but chose not to, demanded the victims not discuss the case with the media, and did not acknowledge that it failed to remove Lopez from the classroom and protect students.
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