Army and Navy Academy Molestation Suit Settlement Should Haunt Johnnie Crean

The scene of the crime. (Screen grab from KPBS)

A $1.75 million settlement with the sexual molestation victim of the Army and Navy Academy’s former headmaster is the latest black mark from the long, strange and disastrous reign of Johnnie Crean, the son of late Santa Ana Heights travel-trailer trailblazer John Crean.

At the time of the crimes, the younger Crean was chairman and CEO of the all-male Carlsbad military academy from which he graduated in the 1960s.

Attorneys from Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, the Irvine-based firm that is known for successfully taking on the Roman Catholic Church, the Los Angeles Unified School District and Michigan State University/U.S. Women’s Gymnastics on behalf of molestation victims, represented a former Army and Navy Academy cadet who was sexually assaulted by then headmaster Jeffrey S. Barton.

On June 5, 2017, Barton was convicted on six felony counts of forced sex with a minor and later sentenced to 48 years in prison.

Manly, Stewart & Finaldi brought a lawsuit that alleged their client, identified in court papers as John BB Doe, was a student and a minor at the academy in May 1999, when Barton drugged the boy and sodomized him in a bathroom on campus.

Johnnie Crean

Johnnie Crean was the chairman of the Army and Navy Academy board of trustees as well as the chief executive at the time.

“This settlement represents additional evidence of the dark history of sexual abuse that has existed at the Army and Navy Academy for many years,” said John BB Doe’s attorney, Vince Finaldi. “It is time for this institution to end its culture of abuse, protect the children entrusted to its care and stop defending the abusers in their employ.”

Finaldi’s firm also represented Delco Hunter Hagan in a 2017 civil suit against the academy. Juan Munoz, who was hired to run the campus military programs, sexually assaulted and molested Hagan, who was a student and a minor at the time. (Barton was also the headmaster then.) A jury sided with Hagan, who was awarded more than $1.8 million.

At the urging of John Crean, the founder of the RV company Fleetwood Enterprises and a longtime Orange County philanthropist and Republican Party donor, his son Johnnie attended the Army and Navy Academy, which was founded in 1910. The younger Crean later conceded he had not been a great student, chafing at authority and the military routine and often landing in trouble. After five years, when other classmates had risen in military rank, he graduated in 1967 still a private.

However, in the late 1980s, Crean responded to a plea from the academy for help in raising money. Armed with a hefty donation from his father, he joined the board in 1991 with a former classmate, according to board minutes cited by the Los Angeles Times. Crean took over as the academy’s CEO and board chairman in 1994, and a year later he recruited three other classmates to become directors.

Crean, who also ran his own RV company, became a striking fixture on campus, driving a red Bentley with the license plate “RICH DAD.” But he would come under fire for his management style.

In May 2001, 28 faculty members sent a letter to the board of directors protesting the “capricious decisions of Johnnie Crean,” which included his opposition to building an endowment for the school in favor of directing a portion of money left at year’s end to employees in lieu of raises, a strategy the academy’s own attorneys warned could run afoul of tax laws, according to court documents.

Jeffrey S. Barton

That same year, the school’s female admissions director sued Crean for alleged sexual discrimination and harassment. Margarite M. Daniel alleged that over a seven-year period, Crean stared at her breasts, asked non-job-related questions about her marital and child-bearing status, suggested she had slept with the academy president to keep her job, suggested she sleep with an academy board member to keep her job, and humiliated her by standing behind her and blurting out publicly that her ass could boost enrollment.

The academy paid an undisclosed sum to settle Daniel’s case. 

A lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court in February 2003 accused Crean of being unsafe, reckless, bizarre, erratic, violent, vulgar, despotic and paranoid, the San Diego Union Tribune reported at the time.

In seeking to oust Crean and his slate of directors from the board, the plaintiffs–a group of parents and the academy’s new president Stephen M. Bliss–cited a case that became legend in Orange County courtroom circles. Crean was arrested in early 2002 for bringing a loaded, 9 mm Glock semiautomatic pistol into the Santa Ana courthouse. He dismissed it as a “senior moment,” but he was eventually convicted of a misdemeanor. 

The suit claimed a hot-tempered Crean also carried a concealed weapon at the academy. Among his edicts that further endangered cadets and threatened accreditation was adult chaperons being barred from living in the dorms that housed nearly 300 boys. This led to a ” ‘Lord of the Flies’ mentality” where drug use, hazings and theft were rampant, stated the complaint.

Crean at one point “laughed and joked about an incident on campus that involved his nephew having very young and very naked girls in the nephew’s dorm room,” wrote Carol Hannasch, the academy’s director of Parent Affairs, in a sworn declaration.

In a lengthy e-mail sent to Bliss and other directors, Crean predicted the lawsuit would be “fun,” adding that, “It seems to me a school which takes boys who have a hard time figuring out rules might well be best run by adults who have overcome such issues, rather than persons who never did anything wrong.”

However, Superior Court Judge Thomas P. Nugent ordered Crean and his six-member board from firing or disciplining employees pending the trial’s outcome. But there never was a trial outcome because a settlement was reached in July 2003. Among the stipulations: Crean and his board would have to step down.

Bliss, a retired Army general, was first put in charge on an interim basis, and he went on to serve 12 years as the academy president under a new board. The academy sports stadium was named after him.

However, Bliss was replaced in January 2014 in what was lingering fallout from the Barton sexual molestation scandal.

Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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