Suit: HS Staff Failed to Respond to Sexual Misconduct | Athletic Business

Suit: HS Staff Failed to Respond to Sexual Misconduct

Complaints that an assistant water polo and swim coach at Kennedy High School in La Palma, Calif., was sexually abusing student-athletes were not taken seriously or swept under the rug in short order, according to the The Orange County Register.

A Buena Park Police Department police report — as well as emails, letters and reports by Kennedy coaches, teachers and administrators — obtained by the paper show that even when confronted with accounts of Joshua Owens’ sexual misconduct with female athletes, some as young as 14, Kennedy employees repeatedly failed to report Owens to law enforcement or Child Protective Services as required by California law.

Owens was cleared by a 2015 investigation by a Kennedy athletic director that was completed in less than 24 hours after teacher Ian Sabala received the email from a former water polo athlete telling Sabala that team members at the time had told her Owens was "trying to get at one of the freshman players."

It wasn't an isolated occurrence, and that's why the email's author was reluctant to share the information with then-head water polo coach Eric Pierce or Dean Wang, one of Kennedy's athletic directors. "Because this isn’t the first time this assistant coach has tried to date a player on the team," the former student wrote in the December 2015 email. "Last year he actually dated one of the players and when it was brought to the attention of the head coach it was quickly swept under the rug."

Indeed, more than a year earlier a parent of a Kennedy water polo player complained to head coach Eric Pierce that Owens was dating his daughter. The girl was 15. Owens was 21.

"I didn’t take it seriously," Pierce said according to a police report.

The alleged victim was not interviewed by school officials during the investigation and the allegations were not forwarded to law enforcement or CPS, according to police records.

Kennedy employees "never reported (Owens) to authorities despite numerous mandated reporters having the information," according to police documents.

As reported by the Register, the failure of Kennedy administrators, coaches and teachers to fulfill their legal responsibilities as mandated reporters enabled Owens to continue sexually abusing two teenage athletes, begin sexually abusing a Kennedy freshman athlete in 2016 and sexually harass at least two other Kennedy students, asking them to have sex with him, according to police reports.

Owens allegedly molested and masturbated in front of the 15-year-old victim while the two of them were in his car in the Kennedy faculty parking lot during school hours, according to police reports.

One of the Kennedy players he asked to have sex with told police that Owens "regularly commented with the girls about their boobs, butts, and ranked their attractiveness."

Owens, who also worked as a part-time lifeguard for the Long Beach Fire Department, pleaded guilty last August to one count each of oral copulation with a victim younger than 16, and sexual penetration of a victim younger than 16 and six misdemeanor counts of child annoyance. He was sentenced to six months in jail, according to plea agreement documents.

Bahram Hojreh, who was hired as Kennedy High School's head water polo coach in 2017, was arrested last April and charged with nearly two dozen felony and misdemeanor charges, including lewd acts upon a child, sexual penetration of a minor with a foreign object, child annoyance and sexual battery.

Hojreh, who has denied any wrongdoing, was placed on administrative leave by the Anaheim Union High School District on Jan. 3, 2018 after district officials became aware of a police investigation of Hojreh. He was eventually fired by the district.

Pierce, Wang, Kennedy principal Russell Earnest, Dave Jankowski, another athletic director, and Sabala,  "are all mandated reporters, and yes, [in a] legal sense and the moral sense, they all did have that obligation to report," according to a detective who investigated Owens, as reported by the Register.

Wang and Jankowski continue be employed as athletic directors at Kennedy. Sabala teaches health, sports medicine and human anatomy at the school, according to Kennedy’s website.

Four former Kennedy water polo players have filed two separate civil lawsuits against Anaheim UHSD and USA Water Polo in Orange County Superior Court alleging sexual battery, negligence, emotional distress and false imprisonment related to incidents with their coaches.

The suits accuse Owens and Hojreh of sexual battery and Anaheim UHSD and USA Water Polo, the sport’s national governing body, with negligent supervision.

"Sabala, Earnest, Wang, Pierce and Jankowski all knew at various points prior to his arrest that Owens had been or attempted to date minor students and was attempting to get at other students," Morgan Stewart, an attorney for the former students, said in the suit. "That such information should have led to reasonable suspicion and required a mandated report on Owens. None of these individuals complied with their duties under under law."

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