The families of three boys who attended La Sierra Academy in Riverside and were allegedly videotaped in the bathroom by a teacher are suing the private school for negligence and breach of trust, it was announced Wednesday.
Matthew Daniel Johnson, 30, of Fontana was arrested in March for alleged possession and distribution of child pornography. He was an instructor at La Sierra Academy for an unspecified period and was immediately terminated when administrators learned he was under investigation.
Johnson is free on bond and awaiting trial in San Bernardino County.
The families of three students between the ages of 8 and 13 are seeking undisclosed financial and punitive damages for mental anguish, emotional distress and other harm arising from Johnson’s alleged acts of exploitation, according to attorney Morgan Stewart.
“School officials failed in their most basic moral responsibility to protect vulnerable children from a serial sexual predator,” he said. “They failed to properly supervise Johnson, and they did not inform my clients and their parents that Johnson may have sexually exploited them and others.
“It was only after the police discovered my clients in the videos seized from Johnson did my clients learn the awful truth,” he said.
La Sierra Academy Principal Elizabeth Beard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to Riverside police Officer Ryan Railsback, the Fontana Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force identified Johnson as an alleged user of child porn in the winter of 2019-20.
After confirming he was a teacher at La Sierra Academy, which is operated by the North American Division of Seventh-Day Adventists as a nonprofit K-12 religious institution, Riverside police became involved, Railsback said.
“He used a hidden device to secretly record young boys in a restroom at the school,” the police spokesman said in March. “The children were not aware they were being recorded by Mr. Johnson.”
The defendant allegedly gleaned in excess of 600 images of boys using the restroom, with their privates exposed, according to the civil complaint. It’s unknown exactly how many children may have been targeted or how many videos and still frames may have been shared online.
“LSA represented to the public, plaintiffs and their families that Johnson was a highly qualified counselor and mentor, who would assist plaintiffs with working through academic, spiritual and personal issues they faced and oversee their needs during school and after-school hours,” according to the complaint.
Stewart alleged that school officials suspected or knew Johnson was engaged in inappropriate behavior and did not address the matter in a timely way.
“The defendants conspired to and did knowingly fail to take reasonable steps, and failed to implement reasonable safeguards to avoid acts of unlawful sexual conduct in the future by Johnson,” the complaint states.
Johnson has no documented prior felony convictions in Riverside or San Bernardino counties.
A hearing date has not been set in the civil case, which will be heard at the Riverside Historic Courthouse.
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