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Lucia Mar ignored students’ warning about ‘predatory’ wrestling coach, Gloria Allred says

Former Nipomo High School girls wrestling coach Justin Magdaleno talks to his team at the end of a practice in January 2017. Magdaleno, who was not charged following a District Attorney’s Office investigation into alleged sexual assault, received roughly $63,000 in pay while on leave for about nine months.
Former Nipomo High School girls wrestling coach Justin Magdaleno talks to his team at the end of a practice in January 2017. Magdaleno, who was not charged following a District Attorney’s Office investigation into alleged sexual assault, received roughly $63,000 in pay while on leave for about nine months. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The Lucia Mar Unified School District ignored reports by students of an ex-Nipomo High School wrestling coach’s “predatory” behavior for about five months before mounting accusations forced an investigation, a new lawsuit filed by celebrity attorney Gloria Allred says.

The lawsuit is the second filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court by a student related to alleged sexual molestation and battery by former Nipomo High School Girls’ Wrestling coach Justin Magdaleno.

The complaint against the district claims that the most recent student to come forward was sexually assaulted, battered, humiliated, and retaliated against by Magdaleno from 2016 to 2017, including “brazenly” fondling the teen under the guise of demonstrating wrestling moves.

Lawsuits represent just one side of the story ,and the district has yet to file a response in court. Amy Jacobs, spokeswoman for the Lucia Mar Unified School District, said via email Monday that the district has received the complaint but cannot comment on the lawsuit.

Jacobs did not respond to a question of whether students had reported inappropriate conduct on the part of Magdaleno in spring 2017 as the lawsuit claims, which is approximately five months prior to the date the district previously acknowledged it had been made aware of accusations against the coach.

Allred on Monday emailed The Tribune a written statement that said that “every parent has a right to expect that their child will be safe when they attend a public school or a school-run program.”

“Our clients have suffered because this school district failed to protect them,” wrote Allred, who is also representing the first student to come forward.

‘A disturbing pattern’

District documents released to The Tribune in response to requests for Magdaleno’s personnel records and the district’s Title IX investigation show that at least 10 student members of the wrestling team reported that Magdaleno used excessive force on them during practice, inappropriately touched them, and made persistent demeaning sexual comments toward them.

Despite a Sheriff’s Office investigation that concluded Magdaleno should be charged with several counts of molestation of a minor, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute the coach, who quietly resigned from the school district.

As part of his separation, the Lucia Mar administrators agreed not to disclose details surrounding his departure to any future prospective employer.

In Allred’s latest complaint filed Feb. 28, she wrote that Magdaleno “exhibited a disturbing pattern of physically abusing and harassing members of the girls’ wrestling team at Nipomo High School and that he had sexually harassed and provided alcohol to minors at his previous place of employment, a neighboring school district.”

A police report exclusively obtained by The Tribune shows that former Santa Maria Joint Union High School District students came forward in 2014 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 while he was working at Pioneer Valley High School.

Allred’s lawsuit states that during the 2008 incident, Magdaleno displayed his buttocks to a female student during the trip, and “offered to flash his genitals in exchange for beer,” according to the lawsuit. After resigning from Pioneer Valley in 2009 — which Allred claims is related to the alleged incident — Magdaleno was hired by Lucia Mar in 2012.

“(Lucia Mar) ignored these red flags and instead allowed Magdaleno to control, bully, and sexually harass the female students under his care however he pleased,” Allred wrote in the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, the unnamed student began her freshman year at Nipomo High School in Fall 2016 and joined the Girls’ Wrestling Team. While there, she allegedly witnessed Magdaleno slap players’ buttocks, “continuing to linger in touching female minors” during demonstrations, swearing at and threatening students, giving unwanted massages, and making sexually inappropriate comments.

In one incident in one of the classes Magdaleno taught, the lawsuit alleges, he reached between the legs of a student wearing a dress who was also on the wrestling team “and lifted her up by her vaginal area and exposed her underwear to others.”

“The female student screamed for him to stop,” the lawsuit reads. “Magdaleno laughed and continued to assault her for a few minutes before releasing her.”

In another incident, the student who filed the most recent lawsuit alleges that Magdaleno forcefully hit her vaginal area “causing her to bleed and be in such pain that she could barely walk for several days thereafter,” the complaint reads.

After she and two other students reported Magdaleno again to administration in October 2017 — this time spurring a district investigation — Magdaleno allegedly directed other students on the wrestling team to retaliate against her, prompting another female student to write “snitches get stitches” to the teen on social media.

Even after student allegations against the coach piled up, the district allowed him to attend an overnight school trip with students as a chaperone. Allred’s student client was on the trip and claims Magdaleno “glowered” at her an entire day before district officials arrived to the retreat and placed him on leave.

A witness described Magdaleno as saying about the girl as he was leaving, “If I had a baseball bat, I’d kill that kid and her mom.”

In perhaps the most notable new allegation, Allred alleges that several students reported Magdaleno’s alleged sexual harassment and misconduct as early as spring 2017, but the district “failed to investigate ... or remove Magdaleno from his position of authority.”

Several district employees have told The Tribune about an alleged spring 2017 report about Magdaleno, which was allegedly swept under the rug.

The paper has requested records of all complaints against Magdaleno received by Lucia Mar; the district has provided no record of any communication with students regarding Magdaleno in spring 2017.

The student’s lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of general and punitive damages against the district and Magdaleno, as well as legal fees. A case management conference has been scheduled for July.

Other cases

For more than a year, The Tribune has attempted to compel the school district to release all records involving Magdaleno and its investigation into his conduct, filing a lawsuit in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in September over the district’s withholding of some records.

The district has released hundreds of documents in response to the Tribune case, in which a final ruling is expected this month.

But the Magdaleno case is not the only incident of alleged sexual abuse of a student by a Lucia Mar employee.

Last week, David Lamb, who drove a school bus for the district, pleaded no contest to charges related to sexually molesting a disabled student on his route over a period of about four months. He’s expected to be sentenced next month to 16 years in prison.

A Sheriff’s Office detective testified at a February 2018 preliminary that a Lamb’s district transportation supervisor conducted an internal investigation after receiving complaints from the girl’s family but cleared Lamb to return to his route, where the abuse allegedly continued.

“They didn’t believe (the alleged victim),” Menghrajani said of the school district. “(A supervisor) assumed the victim wasn’t telling the truth.”

An attorney for the family of the now-12-year-old girl said they filed a lawsuit against the district in the hopes it will encourage school districts to improve security footage on buses and more consistently report potential instances of sexual abuse.

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 27, 2017: Magdaleno is placed on paid administrative leave pending a second Sheriff’s Office investigation as well as an internal Lucia Mar investigation.
  • 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 Magdaleno’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. 27, 2018: A law firm for the Lucia Mar School District releases the Title IX investigative report on Magdaleno, which confirms that about a dozen students complained about his allegedly abusive behavior, including a witness that described him threatening to “kill” and student and her mother.
  • March 4, 2019: A second student-athlete sues the school district for allegedly failing to protect her against Magdaleno.
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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.
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