A former Hacienda Heights high school student who was sexually abused as a 15-year-old sophomore by her chemistry teacher was awarded $8 million in damages Thursday, but the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District will only be liable for $2.8 million because the jury assessed primary responsibility to the former educator.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for about a day before finding in favor of the 18-year-old Valinda resident in her lawsuit against the HLPUSD and the school’s former top administrator who oversaw the campus and the chem teacher, Los Altos High School 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. The jury assessed 65 percent of liability to Park and 35 percent to the district.
The plaintiff’s attorney, Stephen Estey, had recommended an award of up to $65.5 million.
Randall Winet, an attorney for the district, said that although the verdict was for far less than what Estey recommended, the $2.8 million was still higher than what he would have liked. Winet had recommended a maximum award of $650,000 and that 90 percent of liability be assessed against Park, who he called a “stain on society.”
Winet said he did not know if the district will appeal.
In his final argument Wednesday, Estey said his client’s “adolescence has been destroyed by what happened at Los Altos. 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.
Estey had suggested that negligence be apportioned at 75 percent for the district and McReynolds and 25 percent to Park.
Winet said that although the plaintiff — identified in court papers as Jane Doe — 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.
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 Doe and another female former student.
Pomona Superior Court Commissioner Wade Olson sentenced Park in December 2015 to three years in prison. He 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. He admitted during trial that 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 in February 2016 on behalf of the plaintiff, who testified that Park was her biology teacher during her freshman year and her chemistry teacher in her sophomore year. She said they 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, the teacher inappropriately touched her on campus in the fall of 2014. 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 for March 7.
–City News Service
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