At least the fourth lawsuit in a month was filed this week claiming the Kern High School District could have prevented alleged sexual misconduct between a district employee and a student, capping several months of legal disputes involving accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior by district employees.
The latest lawsuit was filed in Kern County Superior Court on Thursday on behalf of a 16-year-old student who was allegedly sexually assaulted by Liberty High teacher and boys basketball coach Jeff Hicks. It faults the district for failing to address Hicks’ inappropriate contact with other students prior to the incident with the 16-year-old student.
“They had the information. They knew of two prior incidents where Hicks was having inappropriate contact with other students,” said Chantal Trujillo, an attorney with Rodriguez and Associates. “He shouldn’t have been around female students.”
Hicks is among a handful of recent cases in which school district employees have been accused of sexual misconduct with students or other inappropriate behavior.
- In January, a former Highland High School student sued the Kern High School District claiming former Assistant Principal Mark Weir sexually abused him when he was in a school-sponsored homeless assistance program.
- Also in January, Frontier High science teacher Emily Salazar was placed on paid administrative leave after sexually explicit videos of her surfaced online, though none of them involved students or happened on school grounds.
- And in February, North High School athletic trainer and equipment manager Edwin Rodriguez was arrested and charged with 11 felony counts and 13 misdemeanor counts of sexual misconduct with at least 10 individuals. He has pleaded not guilty.
- Court documents obtained by The Californian Friday also say Rodriguez's wife, Josie Rodriguez, a KHSD special education teacher and cheerleading coach, participated in a camping trip with her husband and students in which students were provided drugs and alcohol, and one student claimed Edwin Rodriguez inappropriately touched her while he thought she was sleeping. The Californian confirmed Josie Rodriguez is also on administrative leave, although the district would not say if it was in connection with her husband's behavior.
- And last week a jury acquitted a Kern High Regional Occupational Center teacher who faced misdemeanor charges for allegedly sexting with a student.
The Kern High School District said it does not provide comment on pending litigation or personnel issues.
'Position of power'
The Bakersfield Police Department charged Liberty High's Hicks after it was notified in November about inappropriate contact with a student at the school. The girl told police Hicks, 28, had been sending text messages for the past couple of months.
In December he pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of molesting a child.
Hicks attempted multiple times to get the girl to visit his residence, according to court documents. While she ignored his request multiple times, she eventually gave in and visited his residence in early November.
While over there, Hicks kissed her and touched her inappropriately, according to court documents. However, the student told police there was no intercourse.
Trujillo, the attorney representing the girl, said similar incidents happened with two other female students prior to what her client went through. While she said these incidents were reported to school and district officials, Hicks did not face any disciplinary action.
“He was using his position of power, his access to female students to basically groom them,” Trujillo said. “He gained their trust and got them to confide in him.”
Trujillo said after her client came forward to the school about Hicks’ behavior, word got out among the students at the school, and some students harassed her on social media.
Besides seeking damages for the student’s treatment by Hicks as well as school and district officials, Trujillo said she hopes the lawsuit will encourage the district to make changes in how they deal with inappropriate behavior from an employee.
“You have to be careful with who you hire and who you allow around your students,” she said.
Hicks will next be in court May 5 for a pretrial conference.
The same firm that filed suit in the Hicks case is also representing two students in connection with the sexual misconduct case regarding North High employee Edwin Rodriguez, who was charged in February for having inappropriate contact with several students over multiple years.
Attorneys with Chain Cohn Stiles also filed lawsuits earlier this month on behalf of students who are alleged victims of Edwin Rodriguez.
New court documents obtained this week by The Californian provide more details about the school and police investigation into Edwin Rodriguez’s alleged behavior.
School officials were first contacted in March 2018 by a cheerleader who told them she was uncomfortable with Rodriguez attending and watching cheerleading practice.
Rodriguez was informed by a supervisor about the complaint and left the practice.
Later that month, a parent complained to school officials that Rodriguez brought Starbucks to their daughter at their home. He was told by the parent to stop sending text messages to the student and not meet her at their home again, according to court documents.
In May, school officials learned that Rodriguez continued to attend cheerleading practices and once again instructed him to stop attending the practices, according to the documents.
In September, the school received a report about a physical altercation between a parent and staff member over text messages Edwin Rodriguez had sent to the parent’s child that the student said was “concerning and potentially lewd," court documents said.
In addition, the mother of a student told the school in September that Rodriguez had sent photos and videos of his private parts to her child, according to court documents.
On Sept. 26, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office was notified about the concerns, according to the documents. Deputies were provided with screenshots of inappropriate messages and Snapchat message threads with Edwin Rodriguez.
In total, the department said it received 274 screenshots of messages and other material involving several students.
Court documents show that another complaint was lodged in September against Edwin Rodriguez by a mother who said her daughter participated in a camping trip earlier in the year led by Rodriguez and his wife, Josie.
According to the student, Edwin Rodriguez moved his sleeping bag next to her and touched her under her shirt when he thought she was sleeping. The student pretended to be moving around in her sleep to get him to stop.
In addition, the court documents said the students were supplied with alcohol and marijuana during the trip.
Edwin Rodriguez was placed on administrative leave by KHSD on Sept. 28. In addition, Josie Rodriguez was removed as head coach due to the investigation and was also placed on administrative leave.
In the months that followed, more students came forward claiming inappropriate behavior by Edwin Rodriguez, including one who said she had sex with Edwin Rodriguez at McCray Park. Another said he asked her to touch his penis and give him oral sex, court documents said.
Rodriguez also sent her more than 50 videos of him masturbating, court documents say.
Rodriguez will be back in court on April 25 for a pre-preliminary hearing.