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

When he walked into the practice room six weeks into the school year, the Birmingham Community Charter High School athlete thought the treatment for his ankle sprain would be the same as usual.

But instead of the usual icing, stretching and taping, the 17-year-old said the teacher called by the students “RT” started massaging his leg with oil. He started at his calf, and went up to his hip, he said.

The girl, who has not been named by The Times because she has been accused of sexual assault, said she was sleeping on a table in the classroom with other students at the Lake Balboa school. He was wearing a hoodie and shorts with a cloth wrapped around the middle.

“He entered through my thigh and under the towel. He went under my underwear, moved it and started touching me inappropriately,” she told The Times. When he told her he had to go, she asked, “Was that all right?”

Several hours later, he reached home and told his parents. They then 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 trespassing.

Turner’s name was known to the police. In 2017, a female student at Van Nuys High told the school that she had been sexually assaulted by Turner, who was working as an independent contractor at the time. Although a police report was filed, according to Los Angeles Unified School District officials, the LAPD cited a lack of evidence, and no arrests or charges followed the investigation. Turner’s contract was “immediately terminated,” the district told The Times.

After the Birmingham allegations, the police then combined the two reports – and found other girls who claimed abuse at the hands of Turner.

He has since been accused of molesting nine girls at Birmingham High and the incident at Van Nuys High.

The alleged abuse, which involved female students aged 15 to 17, not only escalated over time, but also escalated into violence, prosecutors said in a bail filing. Turner is accused of sexually assaulting a female student the same day the cheerleader reported her assault.

He faces 18 counts of rape, sexual battery, indecent assault and forced oral sex. Although the alleged encounters included in the charges 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 press release after Turner was charged that some of the incidents occurred on campus during treatment for sports injuries, but others occurred outside of school. Prosecutors say something happened in Turner’s Chevy Suburban, which they say had a mattress. In one incident, he is accused of using a trip to a game to sexually assault and verbally assault a player-athlete.

An attorney for Turner did not return calls for comment.

A Birmingham cheerleader wonders how Turner was allowed to continue working with young girls after being accused of assault.

“What happened to looking at someone’s past and everything?” he said, noting in an interview that he is speaking in an effort to change the payment method in a case that raises questions about how the background check is done for school sports coaches, who work directly with students in exercise and physical therapy.

Attorney David Ring, who represents the teenager, said it is “impossible” that Turner was under investigation in 2017 at Van Nuys High and was later employed at Birmingham, “where he is allowed to massage and treat school athletes under the pretense of providing sports medicine.”

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

L.A. Unified said Turner began working for the school system as an independent contractor on July 15, 2017. The district has denied that he worked at Van Nuys High as an athletic trainer, but did not dispute the police and prosecutors’ account of the incident. .

“Turner had no criminal record or reports of misconduct” before taking the job, LA Unified officials said in a statement.

Six weeks after she started, a female Van Nuys student alleged “misbehavior,” and “school officials immediately contacted law enforcement and filed a child abuse report,” the district said. Turner’s contract was “terminated” in Aug. 31, 2017.

Los Angeles police tell a slightly different story, saying detectives notified the school system of the alleged misconduct — not the other way around. But both organizations agree that no charges have been filed.

After being charged, he “never took a contract or worked for the district,” L.A. officials said. Unified said in a statement. The district’s position is that it acted lawfully and appropriately by immediately notifying the police and revoking Turner’s contract. L.A. officials Unified did not comment on whether the district believes the allegations are true.

Unlike teachers, there is no umbrella agency in California that oversees the licensing of athletic trainers where school systems can report concerns.

LAUSD officials did not respond to questions about the district’s policy on how, if at all, allegations of sexual harassment are recorded on internal records involving contractors. It’s unclear whether the lack of charges in Van Nuys’ indictment would have protected Turner from any legal disclosures on his employment record that would have prevented him from being paid 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 the Van Nuys indictment, in September 2019, Turner began working at Birmingham High, which since 2009 has been an independent charter school. Such schools – there are 224 in Los Angeles – operate as small-school districts, each with its own board of directors. The school district owns Birmingham and from time to time must improve its independence.

But the district and the school don’t have access to each other’s records.

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

“Mr. Turner was vetted live, and there is no mention of him working at Van Nuys High or any school in LAUSD on his application. His assessment was not good,” said Prizant, who has been in charge of sports at Birmingham since 1998.

According to Turner’s contract, his business – Active Healthy Living Life – was maintained annually and paid $ 4,500 per month.

The school, however, declined to disclose to The Times any emails or internal communications about Turner’s behavior and whether there were complaints before his arrest in September. Ari Bennett, Birmingham’s chief, said he could not comment because of a pending court appearance.

This is not the first time this school has dealt with the issue of immorality.

Turner was hired a few months after the conviction of Scott Silva, a Birmingham science teacher and lacrosse coach who was sentenced to nearly 11 years in prison for multiple counts of child abuse, sexual battery, false imprisonment and indecent exposure to a child. Eighteen girls — all student athletes — were allegedly molested or sexually abused by Silva between 2016 and 2018, when the LAPD caught up with him.

As a coach, Silva worked under the supervision of Prizant, Birmingham’s sporting director, who also hired Turner. Prizant said he had no knowledge of Turner’s allegations before his arrest.

In a lawsuit filed against Birmingham and two other schools where Silva worked, attorneys said Birmingham’s administration neglected to conduct an investigation of Silva that would have exposed allegations of misconduct at other schools and missed warning signs that could have prevented or mitigated. harassment when he was hired in August 2009.

Patricia Lynch, the attorney representing Birmingham, said in an email that she could not settle any of the charges against the school because there is still a case, but she agreed that the original court was paid for $18, without admitting any wrongdoing to Birmingham. part. He did not say where the money was withdrawn.

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

Like Prizant, Bennett was also involved in the hiring of another person who was later convicted of harassing students.

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

The county has paid more than $250 million in judgments, settlements and legal fees in sexual harassment cases over several decades. It did not mention Gillard’s settlement, which, as in the Silva case, did not include any admission of wrongdoing.

Bennett allowed Gillard to return to Poly in 2016 after she was accused of sexual harassment and asking a staff member for sex for money. At the time, there were no charges involving the students.

Bennett told The Times in an email that he allowed Gillard to return after evidence in an investigation by L.A. Unified — which cites a zero-tolerance policy for harassment — proved inconclusive, and investigators said it was up to him to reinstate the popular coach. . He said he took statements from the investigators as a guarantee that the students would not be in danger.

“There was a six-month investigation by the best investigators in the county,” Bennett said. “Perhaps, they did a thorough investigation, talking to students and parents, not including Gillard and the complainant. How in the world could I think that it was wrong for me to bring him back when they gave me the choice to bring him back? If they thought he was a danger to students or staff, would they have put the decision in my hands? “

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