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‘I’d kill that kid’: Report on Nipomo coach reveals sexual harassment, bullying and threats

Former Nipomo High School girls wrestling coach Justin Magdaleno talks to his team at the end of a practice in January 2017.
Former Nipomo High School girls wrestling coach Justin Magdaleno talks to his team at the end of a practice in January 2017. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

When a Nipomo High School wrestling coach was placed on leave in October 2017 amid allegations of sexual assault by several students, staff members present heard him say about his accuser, “If I had a baseball bat, I’d kill that kid and her mom.”

Death threats were among multiple serious allegations reported to Lucia Mar Unified School District officials by roughly two dozen students and staff members, a large majority of whom reported that ex-coach Justin Magdaleno inappropriately touched and even hurt his female wrestlers during practice, made profanity-laced and sexually graphic comments to students and staff and had long been a source of harassing behavior at the school.

The allegations were revealed Wednesday when the school district — in response to a lawsuit filed by The Tribune — provided the newspaper with the district’s final internal investigative report into allegations against Magdaleno, as well as a “written warning” letter sent to him two weeks before he was placed on leave in October. The records were requested in October 2017 and had been withheld by the district until now.

At least one and as many as 10 students have formally accused Magdaleno of sexual assault and harassment, with one student accusing him in an ongoing civil lawsuit of digitally penetrating her and other criminal physical contact.

But in the weeks leading up to Magdaleno’s paid suspension, district administrators appeared to want to keep the accusations against him quiet.

Despite listing specific examples of inappropriate touching, sexually harassing statements about teenagers’ bodies and retaliatory behavior attributed to the coach in the warning letter, Assistant Principal Matt David also assured Magdaleno that the letter and allegations wouldn’t be included in his personnel file.

A district spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday regarding David’s letter, and other allegations contained in the district’s investigative report.

Magdaleno could not be reached for comment Thursday. Greg Myers, an attorney representing him in a civil lawsuit filed by one of his alleged sexual assault victims, did not return a request for comment.

Warning letter

Magdaleno quietly resigned from the school district on June 30 with an agreement that the district would not reveal the allegations against him to any potential future employers.

After allegations against Magdaleno began to pile up in October 2017, the district placed him on paid administrative leave on Oct. 27 while it conducted its investigation concurrent with a criminal investigation by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office forwarded its findings to the District Attorney’s Office in April, recommending that prosecutors file child molestation charges. After about three months, however, the DA’s Office declined to pursue the case, citing lack of evidence.

A police report obtained by The Tribune also showed that Magdaleno had been accused of inappropriate behavior at a previous teaching and coaching job in Santa Maria.

In 2014, former Santa Maria Joint Union High School District students came forward with allegations that Magdaleno supplied teens with alcohol and may have inappropriately touched one of the female students during a camping trip at Lake Nacimiento in 2008.

Santa Maria police took the report and claim to have forwarded the case to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, which says it never received the report. As a result, the allegations were never investigated, and Lucia Mar officials, who say they were not aware of the past accusations, hired Magdaleno in 2009.

On Oct. 13, 2017, Assistant Principal Matt David sent Magdaleno the warning letter saying that the coach’s “physical behavior creates a perception of inappropriate conduct and your verbal behavior can be considered sexually harassing and intimidating.”

Specifically, David warned Magdaleno against inappropriately touching students’ buttocks during wrestling demonstrations, making sexual comments about students’ buttocks and publicly shaming students who quit the wrestling team.

David Instructed Magdaleno to immediately cease physically sparring with wrestlers, have a female coach present at all times and keep a door to the girls wrestling room open during practice.

David wrote that “the following changes will occur without addressing the team, or individuals, about the concerns brought to administration.”

District investigation

An internal Lucia Mar investigative report signed off on Dec. 15, 2017, shows that additional student complaints continued to come in following David’s warning letter to Magdaleno.

The report states that Magdaleno resigned from the coaching position on Oct. 18, days before a criminal complaint was filed with the Sheriff’s Office, which then began its investigation.

Given the seriousness of the allegations, district officials decided to place Magdaleno on administrative leave. Magdaleno was reportedly chaperoning a field trip to the Los Angeles area at the time, and an alternate staff member was sent to relieve him.

Three staff members who were present on the trip told investigators that Magdaleno was furious at his accusers. He allegedly was witnessed saying, “It’s better if I leave because if they are on this bus, I’d kill them;” “It’s taking all of me not to kill her;” and “If I told my mom, no one would ever find (the accuser) because she can make people disappear.”

In interviews with 12 of Magdaleno’s student athletes, teens reported that the coach cursed continually, glared at them, humiliated them in front of others, gave people nicknames based on their body parts, and “is closer to wrestlers than a coach should be.”

Here are some excerpts from district officials’ student interviews:

  • “She decided to quit the wrestling team because Mr. Magdaleno touched her in class.”

  • “She avoids him as much as possible.”

  • “Mr. Magdaleno stands outside his door with dark glasses on, and while she and her friends can not see his eyes, she can feel him watching her.”

  • “Magdaleno made her uncomfortable by being ‘too touchy.’”

  • “He scares people by threatening and humiliating people.”

  • “A student stayed at his house and he told the team to keep it a secret.”

  • “She has caught him looking at her legs when wearing shorts and she will never let herself be alone with (him).”

  • “She understood that there had to be contact but she didn’t understand why he would linger after demonstrating moves.”

  • “She alleged he responded, ‘I figured you have enough cushion back there.’”

Staff members of the school and district also reported harassing and other inappropriate behavior to investigators, including these statements written in the report:

  • “Many staff have come and shared information about alleged harassment by Magdaleno.”

  • “(Assistant Principal David) believes that many other teachers just think, ‘Oh, that is just the way he is.’”

  • “(Staff member) believes that there is a disconnect between administration and teachers that prevents teachers from going to administration with concerns regarding other teachers.”

  • “He has nicknames for other staff members (redacted) and (redacted) does not understand why other staff tolerate it.”

  • “Mr. Magdaleno is extremely serious about wrestling and does not let students miss practice to get caught up on work.”

  • “She feels he does not respect women.”

  • “(Magdaleno) told (the teacher), ‘Your students listen to you because you have a nice ass.”

In his interview with administrators, Magdaleno refused to answer questions about his departure from his Santa Maria job, saying that at some point he was made aware “of a parent alleging he was dismissed for ‘dating a student or something like that.’”

Magdaleno denied any actions that could be interpreted as sexual harassment, but admitted using foul language, as well as giving derogatory nicknames to female staff members such as “Oompah Loompah” and “Short Tree Stump.”

Though he said he was unaware of making any student athletes uncomfortable during physical wrestling demonstrations, he admitted using moves he called “vagina in the face,” he said, because the students used the term.

Lastly, Magdaleno denied ever threatening harm to any of his accusers.

UItimately, the district concluded that Magdaleno did frequently use profanity and made derogatory comments of a sexual nature, made derogatory comments to colleagues, inappropriately touched the buttocks of his female students, and made retaliatory threats against his accusers.

Timeline of events

Here’s a look how events in the Magdaleno case have unfolded over the last decade:

  • August 2007: Justin Magdaleno begins work with the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District as a long-term substitute teacher.

  • Summer 2008: Magdaleno attends a camping trip at Lake Nacimiento, where he allegedly provided teenage students alcohol and “inappropriately touched” one child.

  • June 2009: Magdaleno leaves Santa Maria Joint Union High School District because it “was not a proper fit for me.”

  • September 2009: Magdaleno is hired at Nipomo High School as the wrestling coach and science and government teacher.

  • Fall 2013: Magdaleno forms the school’s first girls wrestling team.

  • February 2014: Student reports the alleged 2008 camp incident to Santa Maria police. Though a memo drafted by the department says the case was referred to the SLO County Sheriff’s Office, that agency says it was never told about the case.
  • October 2017: New allegations of sexual harassment and assault are made against Magdaleno by as many as 10 members of the girls wrestling team.
  • October 13, 2017: Nipomo High School Assistant Vice Principal Matt David sends Magdaleno a “written warning” to stop physically sparring with students, have a female coach present at all practices, and keep the door to the girls wrestling room open at all times. The letter is to be kept from Magdaleno’s personnel file.

  • Oct. 13-20, 2017: District continues to receive additional complaints against Magdaleno.

  • Oct. 18, 2017: Magdaleno resigns from his position as wrestling coach.

  • Oct. 20, 2017: The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office receives a complaint against Magdaleno and begins a criminal investigation.

  • Oct. 23, 2017: Magdaleno is relieved of his duties during a school-related field trip and placed on paid administrative leave.

  • Oct. 25, 2017: Lucia Mar School District initiates Title IX investigation. Two dozen students and staff members are interviewed through Nov. 6.

  • Dec. 15, 2017: Lucia Mar investigation is completed. District concludes that Magdaleno violated several district policies related to sexual harassment and physical contact
  • April 5, 2018: The Sheriff’s Office completes its investigation and forwards its findings to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office, recommending prosecutors charge Magdaleno with child molestation.

  • June 30, 2018: Magdaleno quietly resigns from the Lucia Mar Unified School District, receiving roughly $63,000 in wages and benefits for his time on leave, as well as a $32,000 severance package, and an agreement that the district would not disclose allegations against Magdaleno to future potential employers.

  • July 9, 2018: The District Attorney’s Office declines to file charges against Magdaleno, citing doubt that it could prove the allegations.

  • Aug. 16, 2018: Celebrity attorney Gloria Allred files a lawsuit against Magdaleno and Lucia Mar in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, seeking damages for one of Magdaleno’s alleged victims, a former student athlete. A court hearing is scheduled for December.

  • Aug. 31, 2018: In response to a Tribune public records request, Lucia Mar publicly releases Magadaleno’s separation agreement, as well as a message to parents of students saying the district is committed to student safety.

  • Sept. 17, 2018: The Tribune files a lawsuit against Lucia Mar for the district’s refusal to disclose records of complaints against Magdaleno as well as the district’s response to allegations. A court hearing is scheduled for December.
  • Sept. 26, 2018: Lucia Mar Unified School District releases its internal investigative report on Magdaleno

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Matt Fountain: 781-7909, @mattfountain1
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