A North High School athletic equipment manager was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of having sexual contact with current and former students.
According to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Edwin Rodriguez, 40, was arrested on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment.
Rodriguez was arrested at his residence in the 8200 block of North Laurelglen Boulevard and booked into the Kern County jail. He is facing 11 felony counts and 13 misdemeanor counts.
Ten people have come forward to investigators alleging inappropriate physical contact and other unwanted interaction.
Rodriguez was initially hired by the Kern High School District in 2009 as a walk-on football coach. He served as a substitute campus security employee in 2010 and was hired as an athletic equipment manager at North High in 2011. He was placed on administrative leave last September.
"We care deeply about the safety and well-being of our students, and our sympathies go out to the victims and their families," the district said in a statement. "These allegations are very troubling, and we understand that you may have questions and concerns."
KHSD said it is currently providing counseling and additional support to its students.
A North High student told an administrator last September of having received sexually explicit messages through social media from Rodriguez, according to the Sheriff's Office, which said it was then notified and began an investigation.
Over the course of the investigation, it was determined that Rodriguez had sent explicit messages, including photos and videos, to eight juvenile students through the social media platform Snapchat and that he had sexual contact with several of the victims dating back to 2015.
One female student said Rodriguez kissed her last February. The student said that in July 2018, in a classroom, Rodriguez stuck his fingers down her pants on four separate occasions, according to court documents obtained by The Californian.
The student said there were other times last year where Rodriguez grabbed her buttocks and genitals or made her grab his genitals.
A former student claimed Rodriguez offered to give her a ride home after a school event in 2015 but instead took her to a remote area and locked the car doors.
He then allegedly began an explicit conversation with the 15-year-old student.
The student asked to be taken home multiple times and said she was afraid she would be killed or rape, according to court documents. Rodriguez allegedly started driving her toward her home but stopped again, touched her leg and started moving his hand toward her genitals.
Rodriguez allegedly stopped touching her after the student continued to ask him to do so, and her multiple attempts to move his arm away from her. She was subsequently released.
A 17-year-old male student said that, over the past three years, Rodriguez also touched him inappropriately and made several sexual comments to him, including that he was "gay on the weekends," according to court documents.
The student told investigators that, one day after a session of football, Rodriguez touched his genitals while rubbing him with the muscle-relief cream Icy Hot. The student said that prompted him to get up and leave.
The student estimated he had witnessed more than 300 conversations with Rodriguez of a sexual nature involving himself and other students, both male and female, according to court documents.
Rodriguez’s arraignment will be held on Thursday at 8 a.m. at the Kern County Superior Court, 1415 Truxtun Ave.
AN ONGOING PROBLEM
The arrest comes on the heels of several other sexual misconduct cases in recent months.
In December, former Liberty boys basketball coach Jeff Hicks was charged with annoying or molesting a child under the age of 18.
Also, a Kern County jury awarded $10 million to a girl who was allegedly molested by Jonathan Avalos, who worked as a computer lab technician for the Lamont Elementary School District.
Matt Clark, an attorney at Chain Cohn Stiles, has seen it all too often.
“I don’t think people realize the damage they do to these young adolescents when an adult gets into a relationship with them. It haunts them years and years later,” he said. "Victims don’t necessarily want to come forward. I think they’re in a tough position."
Social media and text messaging have played big roles both in allowing such relationships to start; they also help prove that misconduct has actually taken place.
“It gives the sexual predators the means to make contact and to groom their prey,” he said. “However, it’s also actual documentary evidence that a school employee sent inappropriate messages or material to a minor. Before we had that technology it was just verbalization, which was difficult to prove.”
Clark said while some predators believe deleting their correspondence with students will protect them from being caught, that is not the case.
“If you put something in a text message, it’s saved forever, even if you delete them,” he said. “If you’re having inappropriate contact with a student and you don’t know that, that’s really playing with fire.”