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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Girl Says School Covered for Molester

TULARE, Calif. (CN) - High school administrators covered up for a predatory coach, claiming he was resigning for "health reasons," allowing him to coach a girl "privately," and have sex with her, for which he's facing a felony charge, the girl claims in court.

Jane Doe sued Robert Gonzales, Visalia Unified School District, Golden West High School Principal Nancy Powell and its Athletic Director Tom Buckley, in Tulare County Court.

Gonzales was assistant coach for the Golden West varsity basketball team on which Doe, then 17, was a player. Gonzales' girlfriend at the time was head coach Buffie Maze, who is not a defendant, but resigned with him, according to the complaint.

Powell, Buckley and other school officials learned in late 2011 that Gonzales had sent "inappropriate text messages, sexual in nature," to a team member, Doe says in the complaint.

"Thereafter, Principal Powell met individually with that player and that player's mother. Principal Powell was shown the text messages on the player's cell phone, and copied each message word for word," the complaint states. "Principal Powell also became aware of allegations that Mr. Gonzales had attempted to kiss one of the other players. When she specifically asked the girl if Coach Gonzales and another girl had kissed, the girl replied yes, they had.

"Principal Powell and Buckley investigated this matter further. Thereafter, at a meeting on or about November 4, 2011, in the Golden West High School cafeteria attended by Coach Maze, Principal Powell, Tom Buckley, and team parents, including plaintiff's parents, were told that Coach Maze was resigning 'due to health concerns' and that Coach Gonzales ... had 'chosen to resign.' That was untrue, and the leadership at Golden West High School knew it was untrue because Coach Gonzales had actually been fired by Principal Powell based on what was learned during the investigation. Nevertheless, in a breach of their duty to plaintiff that same day a letter was sent to 'Girls Basketball parents and players' restating the falsehood about 'health concerns.' That letter dated November 4, 2011 is attached hereto as Exhibit 'A'." (Ellipsis in complaint.)

The complaint continues: "Sometime after the November 4, 2011 meeting and the coaches' resignations, Golden West High School Vice Principal Adolfo Reyes approached one or more of the team members and asked if other players might be potential targets or at risk from Coach Gonzales' advances. Reyes asked, 'Who do you think his next victim will be?' Reyes was told that plaintiff seemed vulnerable to Mr. Gonzales' advances.

"Even with this information gathered by the upper administration of Golden West High School, neither plaintiff's parents, nor plaintiff was ever warned or notified of the real reasons for coach Gonzales' dismissal or of the known potential danger to plaintiff."

Doe's parents, unaware of what actually had happened, and of their daughter's vulnerability, hired Gonzales and Maze "to privately and separately coach and train Claimant in preparation of the upcoming season," the complaint states.

Gonzales picked up Doe between 4 and 5 a.m. and drove her to practice. "During these trips, Coach Gonzales would persuade plaintiff to engage in kissing and petting in his car," the complaint states.

By early 2012, "Coach Gonzales was able to ingratiate himself to plaintiff, prey on plaintiff, and have continued contact with her," the complaint states. "Ultimately Coach Gonzales picked plaintiff up at Golden West High School during her lunch, took her to his home and had sex with her and then took her home. Robert Gonzales was later arrested and is currently charged with a felony, sex with a minor."

When questioned by police, Principal Powell "admitted that Coach Gonzales was in fact an employee and she had dismissed him on November 3, 2011, for reasons of inappropriate contact with girls on the basketball team," the complaint states.

Had Doe's parents known the truth about Gonzales, "they would have immediately broken all contact with him and never allowed plaintiff to be anywhere in his vicinity, but they trusted Golden West High School's continuing support of Coach Gonzales," the complaint states.

Doe transferred schools and went into counseling.

She seeks compensatory and punitive damages for failure to warn, failure to supervise and train, fraud and deceit, infliction of emotional distress and sexual battery.

She is represented by Joseph Altschule in Visalia.

(Doe's complaint is not unusual. School administrators and school boards around the country often allow sexual predators to resign and move on to another district, to avoid the bad publicity the school would face did administrators do their mandatory duty and report the child sexual abuse. Courthouse News reported on a similar story, with multiple victims, on Wednesday.)

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