A former student who was sexually abused as a sophomore by her chemistry teacher at Los Altos High School in Hacienda Heights is entitled to up to $65.5 million in damages, her attorney told a jury Wednesday, but a lawyer for the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District and the school principal recommended that damages be limited to $650,000.
The lawyers made their pitches to a Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing final arguments in the 18-year-old Valinda resident’s lawsuit against the HLPUSD and former Los Altos High Principal Cheli McReynolds.
David Park, the teacher who admitted during trial that he molested the girl in 2014, was dismissed as a defendant before testimony began.
“Her adolescence has been destroyed by what happened at Los Altos,” plaintiff’s attorney Stephen Estey said of his client, identified only as Jane Doe. “You saw her pain, you felt her pain.”
At the time of the abuses, Park was 37 and the plaintiff was 15, according to Estey, who urged jurors to reject defense claims that school and district administrators did not ignore signs that his client was being abused.
“Are you kidding me?,” Estey said. “If that’s their definition of safe, we have problems.”
Estey suggested that negligence be apportioned at 75 percent for the district and McReynolds and 25 percent to Park.
Defense attorney Randall Winet called Park a “stain on society.” He said that although the plaintiff suffered emotionally and experienced post- traumatic stress disorder, she has progressed in overcoming her inner turmoil, is pursuing a normal relationship via an online dating site and attends community college.
“She is handling things well, she is doing well,” according to Winet, who suggested that 90 percent of the responsibility for what happened to Doe should be attributed to Park.
Park, now 40 and a resident of Chino Hills, pleaded guilty in October 2015 to oral copulation of a person under 16 and committing a lewd act on a child for molesting two female former students, including the one whose civil suit against him is being tried in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Pomona Superior Court Commissioner Wade Olson sentenced Park in December 2015 to three years in prison. Park was also ordered to register as a sex offender for life, to stay away from the victims for 10 years and to pay restitution.
Park has since been released from prison and was called as a witness by HLPUSD attorney Randall Winet in the current trial. Park admitted he abused Doe despite being aware that it was against HLPUSD policy to have a relationship with a student or touch the pupil inappropriately.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the plaintiff in February 2016.
Estey argued the school staff ignored many red flags that should have alerted them that the student was being abused. One of Park’s fellow science teachers literally saw the relationship between Park and Doe develop and later said they acted as if they were a couple, Estey said.
Park came to believe, “I was able to do what I did because no one was watching over there,” according to Estey.
The plaintiff testified that Park was her biology teacher during her freshman year and her chemistry teacher in her sophomore year. She said the two of them began texting during the summer of 2014, but the Valinda resident did not testify about the abuses in detail.
However, Estey told the jury that the texting gradually became sexual in nature. He said that when his client was in Park’s chemistry class, he inappropriately touched her on campus.
The molestations progressed to the point that Park arranged to meet the girl at a discount store near the school, drove her to his condominium and sexually abused her there, Estey said.
Doe transferred to Workman High School in Industry in her junior year and graduated in June.
The second former student Park admitted molesting in his criminal case also sued him, the HLPUSD and McReynolds. Trial of that plaintiff’s case, who is identified only as Janet Roe, is scheduled March 7.
–City News Service
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