A 32-year-old man is suing the San Marino Unified School District and a summer youth camp, alleging he was sexually abused by a choir teacher years earlier who also was a counselor supervisor at the camp.
The plaintiff is identified only as John Doe in the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed Wednesday against the SMUSD, the River Way Ranch Camp in Sanger, east of Fresno, and the plaintiff’s alleged abuser, Howard Cheung.
The suit’s allegations include sexual abuse of a minor, intentional infliction of emotional distress, sexual harassment and negligent hiring, supervision and retention. The plaintiff seeks unspecified compensatory damages, plus punitive damages against Cheung.
Neither Cheung nor a representative for the SMUSD could be immediately reached for comment.
Doe began attending Huntington Middle School in the sixth grade in the 2000-01 school year, during which he and other students went on a week-long trip to River Way Ranch Camp, where they engaged in stargazing, hiking and singing, according to the suit.
The camp was run by high school-aged counselors, each of whom were in charge of nine to 10 students for the week, the suit states. Cheung, known as “Gizmo,” supervised the counselors and was a fan favorite among students at the camp, the suit states.
Cheung was hired that same school year at HMS and Doe, like other students, was “infatuated with Cheung,” the suit states.
“He idolized him and was excited that he would get to see him on a daily basis at HMS,” according to the suit.
In the spring of his sixth-grade year, Doe and other science students went on a trip to Northern California and Cheung was one of the chaperones. On the last night, Cheung went to Doe’s room, where the two talked about their shared love for singing and how Cheung wanted to start a choir program at HMS, the suit states.
Cheung allegedly kissed Doe on the cheek before he left.
For the remainder of sixth grade, Doe showed up early at school and stayed in Cheung’s classroom, despite a school policy prohibiting students from being in the school hallways before 7:50 a.m., the suit states.
Cheung continued to groom and manipulate Doe when the plaintiff reached the seventh grade and Cheung made sure Doe was selected to the San Marino Chambers Singers group, which Cheung supervised, the suit states.
Cheung started to sexually abuse Doe on campus and off campus during seventh and eighth grade, often in the teacher’s classroom before school, according to the suit.
In the summer of 2003 just before Doe entered San Marino High School, Cheung got him a six-week job working at the canteen at River Way Ranch Camp, the suit states. Doe shared a cabin with Cheung, who sexually abused him nearly every day, the suit alleges.
The alleged sexual abuse continued into high school, where Cheung also taught a choir class, the suit states. Cheung also sexually molested Doe during high school-sanctioned trips, some of which were international, according to the suit.
Teachers earlier at HMS and later at SMH saw Cheung and Doe alone together in the teacher’s classroom many times and did nothing, the suit states. The teachers also observed Cheung give Doe special attention and have lunch brought to him from off-campus restaurants, the suit states.
“They noticed Cheung taking plaintiff home after choir practice and being in his hotel room late at night during out-of-town choir performances,” the suit states. “Despite this, they took no action.”