A lawsuit against the Anaheim Union High School District has been amended to allege John F. Kennedy High School administrators concealed from parents and law enforcement the sexual abuse, molestation and harassment a former water polo coach now behind bars inflicted on two student-athletes.
Morgan Stewart of Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, the Irvine law firm that has gained fame for child sexual abuse cases against the Roman Catholic church, school districts, universities and sport governing bodies–including representing 180 victims of former Olympic women’s gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar in a $500 million settlement against Michigan State University–announced the filing last week against AUHSD, Kennedy High Principal Russell Earnest, Athletic Director David Jankowski, Co-Athletic Director Dean Wang, former water polo coach Eric Pierce, teacher Ian Sabala and former water polo coach Joshua Owens.
Owens, who is also a former lifeguard with the Long Beach Fire Department, pleaded guilty on Aug. 29, 2018, in North Justice Center in Fullerton to sexually assaulting three girls who were ages 14 to 16 when he met them through his part-time coaching job at the high school in La Palma. The sexual assaults happened at locations in Orange and Los Angeles and Orange counties.
He sexually assaulted one girl between September 2014 and April 2015, fondled and touched himself in front of a second girl between January and June 2016 and kissed the third girl multiple times between March and June of last year, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s office.
The judge sentenced Owens to six months in county jail. If he had been convicted without the guilty plea, he could have gotten up to three years in state prison. Owens “felt that resolving this case with a plea was in the best interests of all parties involved in this matter,” said his attorney, Jonathan Lynn, to City News Service at the time. “My client wanted to take responsibility for his conduct and give closure to the victims and their families.”
The suit alleges Earnest, Pierce, Jankowski, Wang and Sabala had prior knowledge of alleged abuses by Owens. Two years before Owens’ arrest by Buena Park Police Department officers, a parent reported the part-time coach’s alleged abuse of his daughter to Coach Pierce, states the complaint.
A year later, a former student notified Sabala that Owens was alleged to be abusing students, and the teacher, in turn, advised Jankowski, Wang and Earnest, claims the suit, which accuses all of the staff members of failing to perform their mandatory duty of reporting the alleged abuse to law enforcement.
“In today’s environment, to have five administrators and staff of AUHSD ignore their obligations as reporters under law is abhorrent,” says Stewart in a statement from his firm. “To have AUHSD then continue to employ Jankowski, Wang and Sabala, despite these failures to report, only reinforces that AUHSD tolerates the abuse of its students and rewards those who fail to report.”
The Weekly reached out to AUHSD for comment but have not heard back. This post will be updated should a response come.
Not only were Earnest, Jankowski, Wang, Sabala and Pierce never prosecuted for failing to contact police as required by law, all continue to work in school environments around minors, according to Stewart. “The fact that these individuals placed 14- and 15-year-old girls at risk, and continue to work around children, is a harbinger that should leave all parents afraid as long as their children remain in a school environment,” the plaintiff’s attorney said.
The complaint calls for a complete investigation by the California Department of Education, the California Attorney General and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. “It is time to hold districts and their administrators accountable,” Stewart says “and make them realize they cannot ignore clear signs of reported abuse of students.”
Last September, Stewart and other attorneys representing four female former student-athletes at John F. Kennedy High filed two separate lawsuits against AUHSD, Owens, girls water polo coach Bahram Hojreh, International Water Polo Club and USA Water Polo, alleging the men sexually abused the underage plaintiffs.
Besides being at Kennedy High employed by the AUHSD, Hojreh also coached water polo at the International Water Polo Club in Los Alamitos and was a member and agent of USA Water Polo, the Olympic governing body for water polo, according to court documents.
One of Owens’ victims was one of the three girls Hojreh allegedly sexually harassed and assaulted while coaching them at the International Water Polo Club, including at USA Water Polo sanctioned events, claims the complaint.
Hojreh is awaiting trial on charges including sexual battery, lewd acts upon a child and sexual penetration involving seven underage girls. The UC Irvine graduate and former member of the Men’s NCAA Division 1 water polo team from 1994 to 1998 pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in April.
As with Owens, Stewart alleges AUHSD and Kennedy High officials did nothing about Hojreh’s alleged predatory behavior.
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.