L.A. The school coach’s sexual abuse was a pattern, prosecutors say

When she walked into the athletic training room six weeks into the school year, the Birmingham Community Charter High School cheerleader assumed the treatment for her sprained ankle would be the same as always.

But instead of the usual icing, stretching and taping, the 17-year-old said a trainer the students called “RT” started massaging her leg with oils. He started at her calf and then moved up her thigh, she said.

The girl, who The Times is not identifying because she has alleged a sex crime, said she was lying on a table in a busy training room with other students at the Lake Balboa school. She was wearing a hoodie and shorts with a towel draped over her midsection.

“It went through my thigh and under the towel. He got under my underwear, moved it and started touching me inappropriately,” she told The Times. When she told him she needed to leave, he asked, “Was everything okay?”

A few hours later, she broke down at home and told her parents. They immediately went to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Van Nuys station to report the incident.

On Sept. 21, Richard Alexander Turner, 64, was arrested on suspicion of breaking and entering.

Turner’s name was known to the police. In 2017, a student at Van Nuys High School reported to the school that Turner, who was working as an independent contractor at the time, had touched her inappropriately. Although a police report was filed, according to Los Angeles Unified School District officials, the LAPD cited a lack of evidence, and the investigation did not result in any arrests or charges. Turner’s contract was “immediately terminated,” the district told The Times.

After the Birmingham allegations, police immediately linked the two reports – and found other girls who were allegedly abused by Turner.

He has since been charged with sexually assaulting nine girls at a Birmingham high school, as well as an incident at Van Nuys High School.

The alleged abuse, which involved female students aged 15 to 17, not only became more frequent over time, but also more violent, prosecutors said in the bail application. Turner was accused of molesting another female student on the same day the cheerleader reported her assault.

He is facing 18 counts of rape, sexual abuse, sexual assault on an unconscious person and forced oral copulation. Although the alleged encounters involved in the allegations against Turner spanned from 2017 to 2022, all but four allegedly occurred between May and September of this year.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón said in a news release after Turner was charged that some of the incidents occurred on campus during treatment for sports injuries, while others occurred off campus. Prosecutors allege some occurred in Turner’s Chevy Suburban, which they say contained a mattress. In one case, he was accused of taking advantage of going to a sporting event to rape and violently orally assault a student-athlete.

An attorney listed for Turner did not return calls for comment.

A Birmingham fan questions how Turner was allowed to continue working with young girls after a previous assault charge was brought against him.

“Whatever happened to background checks and all that?” she said, noting in an interview that she is speaking in an effort to change the hiring process in a case that raises questions about how background checks are conducted for school athletic trainers, who work directly with students in drills and physical therapy.

Attorney David Ring, who represents the teenager, said it was “inconceivable” that Turner was under criminal investigation in 2017 at Van Nuys High School and was later hired in Birmingham, “where he was allowed to massage and touch student athletes under providing sports treatments with a mask.”

Neither L.A. Neither Unified nor Birmingham High, which is no longer part of the district, would provide full details to The Times about Turner’s hiring, so some of the circumstances are unclear. But both the county and Birmingham have previously had problems with workers accused of sexual misconduct.

L.A. Unified said Turner began working for the school system as an independent contractor on July 15, 2017. The district would not confirm whether he worked at Van Nuys High as an athletic trainer, but did not dispute police and prosecutors’ accounts.

“Turner had no prior criminal record or reports of misconduct” before he was hired, L.A. officials said. Unified in a statement.

Six weeks after it began, a Van Nuys student alleged “misbehavior,” and “school officials immediately contacted police and filed a report of suspected child abuse,” the district said. Turner’s contract was “terminated with immediate effect” on August 31, 2017.

Los Angeles police put things a little differently, saying detectives alerted the school system to allegations of misconduct — not the other way around. But both entities agree that no lawsuits have been filed.

After the charge, he “never contracted or worked for the district again,” L.A. officials said. Unified in a statement. The district’s position is that it acted lawfully and appropriately by immediately reporting the allegation to the police and terminating Turner’s contract. LA Unified officials did not comment on whether the district believed the claim to be true.

Unlike teachers, there is no umbrella agency in California that oversees the licensing of athletic trainers to which school systems can report their problems.

LAUSD officials did not respond to questions about the district’s policy on how, if at all, unsubstantiated allegations of sexual abuse are recorded in internal records related to contractors. It is unclear whether the lack of charges in the Van Nuys indictment may have shielded Turner from any official disclosures in his employment record that could prevent him from being employed elsewhere.

Ky E. Kugler, president of the California Athletic Trainers’ Assn., said California is the only state in the country that does not license athletic trainers.

Two years after Van Nuys’ indictment, in September 2019, Turner began working at Birmingham High School, which has been an independent charter school since 2009. Such schools — there are 224 in Los Angeles — function as mini-school districts, each with its own governing board. The school district owns Birmingham and must periodically renew its independence.

But the district and the school do not have access to each other’s records.

In response to questions from The Times, Birmingham Athletic Director Rick Prizant released a statement saying Turner’s fingerprints were run through the California Department of Justice before he was hired.

“Mr. Turner was scanned live, and there was no mention of him working at Van Nuys High School or any LAUSD school on his application. His scan was negative,” said Prizant, who has overseen Birmingham athletics since 1998. years.

Under Turner’s contract, his job – Active Healthy Living Life – was retained annually and paid $4,500 a month.

The school, however, refused to release to The Times any emails or internal communications about Turner’s behavior and whether there were any complaints before his arrest in September. Ari Bennett, Birmingham’s principal, said he could not comment because of pending litigation.

This is not the first time the school has dealt with a case of sexual abuse.

Turner was hired months after the conviction of Scott Silva, a Birmingham science teacher and lacrosse coach who was sentenced to nearly 11 years in prison on multiple counts of child abuse, sexual assault, false imprisonment and lewdness with a child. Eighteen girls — all female student-athletes — reported that Silva molested or touched them inappropriately between 2016 and 2018, when he was arrested by the LAPD.

As a coach, Silva worked under the supervision of Prizant, Birmingham’s athletic director, who also hired Turner. Prizant said he was unaware of any charges against Turner before his arrest.

In a lawsuit filed against Birmingham and two other schools where Silva worked, attorneys argued that Birmingham’s administration neglected to conduct thorough background checks on Silva that would have shown allegations of misconduct at other schools and missed warning signs that could have prevented or limited the abuse when was hired in August 2009.

Patricia Lynch, an attorney representing Birmingham, said in an email that she could not address any of the allegations against the school because there is still pending litigation, but she acknowledged that the original lawsuit was settled for $18 million, with no admission of wrongdoing by Birmingham . part. She did not want to reveal where the money was paid from.

Last month, Garo Mardirossian, the attorney who represented the plaintiffs in the Silva lawsuit, filed a new lawsuit on behalf of one of Turner’s accusers, citing the Birmingham athletic department’s history of indifference to sexual abuse allegations and citing evidence from Silva’s criminal investigation. The lawyer’s teenage son is one of three people suing the school.

Like Prizant, Bennett was also involved in the hiring of someone who was later convicted of abusing students.

Wrestling coach Terry Gillard is serving 71 years in prison for sexually assaulting a local Boys & Girls Club and at John H. Francis Polytechnic High in Sun Valley, where Bennett was principal at the time. In October, L.A. Unified paid $52 million to settle a lawsuit that claimed the district knew about Gillard’s past sexual behavior and did nothing about it.

The district has paid out more than $250 million in verdicts, settlements and legal fees in sexual assault lawsuits over several decades. She did not comment on the Gillard settlement, which, like the Silva case, did not include any admission of wrongdoing.

Bennett allowed Gillard to return to Poly in 2016 after he was accused of sexually harassing and soliciting employees for sex for money. At the time, there were no allegations regarding the students.

Bennett said in an email to The Times that he had allowed Gillard to return after evidence in the L.A. inquiry. Unified — which has a zero-tolerance policy on abuse — proved unconvincing, and investigators said it was up to him to reinstate the popular coach. He said he took the information from investigators as an assurance that students would not be harmed.

“There was a six-month investigation by the best investigators in the county,” Bennett said. “They probably carried out a thorough investigation, speaking to students and parents in addition to Gillard and the complainant. How on earth could I think it wasn’t safe to return it when they gave me the choice to return it? If they thought he was a danger to students or staff, would they put that choice in my hands?”

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