Verdict Overturned in Student Sex-Abuse Case

     (CN) – A girl who was sexually abused by a middle-school teacher can sue the Los Angeles Unified School District for negligent supervision, a California appeals court ruled.
     As described in court documents, Elkis Hermida, 28, was a math teach at Thomas Edison Middle School in Southeast Los Angeles in 2010, when he initiated a six-month sexual relationship with a 13-year-old girl who went to the school.
     In October 2010, the documents say, Hermida invited the student, identified only as S.M. to be friends on a social networking site.
     Soon, the two began exchanging direct text messages on their cell phones, and over time the messages turned sexual. In the meantime, in December 2010, S.M. turned 14.
     Soon, according to a civil lawsuit filed by her parents last year, the relationship grew even more inappropriate.
     On three occasions, the girl’s parents said, Hermida kissed S.M. while they were alone in his classroom. He later told S.M. that he wanted to have sex with her.
     A short time later, Hermida and S.M. had sex in a classroom, and they had subsequent sexual encounters at a local motel.
     In addition to the sexual contact, Hermida and S.M. exchanged nude photos.
     In May 2011, one of S.M.’s friends told a teacher about the relationship.
     Hermida was promptly arrested, and he later pleaded no contest to one count of lewd acts upon child and was sentenced in July 2011 to three years in prison.
     S.M.’s family sued the Los Angeles Unified School District for negligent supervision of a teacher. She claimed that the district did not act on “red flags” and stop Hermida’s behavior.
     One of S.M.’s classmates testified that Hermida would touch the hands of female students during afternoon tutoring sessions.
     Those sessions also were frequented mostly by girls, according to Hermida’s colleague, Fraulein Manligas. She added that some of her female students told her they thought Hermida was cute.
     Hermida admitted that he often hugged girls as they entered his class and stated that nobody from the school said anything about it.
     The attorney for the victim’s family then presented a school safety expert, Davis Cowles, who testified that the district failed to place a priority on the potential for teacher misconduct, and if it had, “this whole thing may have been avoided.”
     
     The district argued that it had no notice of any ‘clear acts of sexual misconduct” committed by Hermida, and later argue that S.M. herself was at least partly responsible for the sexual abuse she experienced.
     In 2013, a Los Angeles jury rejected S.M.’s claims that the district was negligent in supervising Hermida.
     On appeal, her family argued that trial Judge Lawrence Cho erred in allowing evidence of the girl’s prior sexual history to be admitted, information they claim bolstered the district’s argument she was at least partially responsible for the illicit relationship.
     On September 16, the Second District California Court of Appeals tossed the trial court’s decision and ordered a new trial.
     “On appeal, the District continues to maintain that a minor student who is the victim of sexual abuse by a teacher bears responsibility for preventing that abuse.” Judge Richard Kirschner wrote.
     “The District was wrong in the trial court and is wrong now,” he said. “There is no case or statutory authority or persuasive reasoning supporting the notion that students sexually victimized by their teachers can be contributorily responsible for the harm they suffer.”
     “Although evidence of plaintiff’s sexual history was purportedly offered only on the issue of damages, her history was discussed throughout the trial,” he wrote. “This evidence and argument about it is highly prejudicial and warrants reversal even if considered in isolation.”
     S.M. attorney, Frank Perez, said he and his client were both grateful for the appellate court’s decision.
     “Our client needed to be vindicated and needed to hear it is not her fault. The jury, due to what we now know were … wrong rulings, affirmed the shaming and blaming of a child victim,” he said.
     Representatives of the school district said they are reviewing the decision and declined further comment.
     

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