A Los Angeles jury awarded a California boy $6.9 million in damages stemming from a sexual abuse case.
The plaintiffs argued that the Los Angeles Unified School District had some responsibility for a Queen Anne Place Elementary School teacher, who allegedly sexually abusing the 10-year-old boy. The plaintiffs claimed the school district missed warning signs that indicated the teacher, Forrest Stobbe, was abusing the boy, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The jury found that the school district was 30 percent responsible for the $23 million in total damages awarded to the boy, which amounts to $6.9 million. Stobbe was found liable for the remaining 70 percent, but prosecutors told the L.A. Times that they have no plans to pursue damages from the teacher, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence.
The $6.9 million awarded to the boy represents one of the largest awards in a molestation case against the school district, the newspaper said.
The sexual abuse began in October 2008 and ended in July 2009, when Stobbe was arrested, the L.A. Times reported.
Stobbe alledgedly befriended the boy at the start of the school year, and then molested him once he gained the 10-year-old’s trust, the newspaper said. The Queene Anne Place Elementary teacher also became close to the boy’s family, which allowed him to take the boy to amusement parks. Stobbe would molest him following visits to the park, the newspaper article said.
Stobbe pleaded no contest to lewd acts on a child and continual sexual abuse of a child under 14. One of the key pieces of evidence against him was a jar of petroleum jelly that he kept in his desk that had the boy’s DNA on it, the L.A. Times reported. The boy said the jelly was used as a lubricant during sex acts.
The boy’s lawyers contended the school district should have known that Stobbe was a danger to children, even though the veteran teacher did not have a criminal record, the report said.
They also argued that Stobbe was seen alone in his car with a girl, and that he would have private lunches in his classroom with students against school rules.
In November 2008, a month after the molestation with the boy began, a girl in the teacher’s class made a complaint that Stobbe was making her uncomfortable. She said the teacher stroked her hair, put it in a ponytail and grabbed her buttocks, the L.A. Times reported.
Mary Ann Hall, the school’s principal at the time, said she notified the Los Angeles Police Department about the alleged incident involving the girl, and that the LAPD told her to handle the situation on her own.
Det. Moses Castillo, who headed the investigation, told the newspaper that he doubted that was the case, because he said police would have started their own investigation into the incident.
David Holmquist, general counsel for the school district, did not directly respond to the boy being awarded $6.9 million by the jury.
"We take our duty to protect our students seriously and are continually looking for ways that we can strengthen our screening and reporting processes to ensure that no child is ever hurt in this way," Holmquist said. "Although we can't change what happened in this case, we remain committed to doing everything in our power to promote healing and improve trust with those impacted."
The school district is seeking to settle 200 high-profile sex abuse cases, the Associated Press reported. The lawsuits center around Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Brendt, the report said.
Brendt allegedly fed semen to his students. He pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct, the AP reported.
Don Beck, the attorney who represented the 10-year-old boy, said the two cases are similar, in that, Brendt also had a clean record, but there were signs that he shouldn’t be around children, including photographing students.
"Some of the same issues in the Miramonte case are highlighted here," Beck told the AP. "The same lack of monitoring teachers, the same lack of supervision that allowed these events to happen."