Friday, June 13, 2014


LAUSD to pay $5 million in Telfair Elementary teacher molestation case

By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News |

6/11/14, 12:25 PM PDT  ::  Los Angeles Unified School District officials agreed to a $5 million payout to settle a lawsuit brought on behalf of two 11-year-old students who said they were molested by a former Telfair Elementary School teacher.

After nearly two years of litigation, the trial was ready to start when district officials struck the deal, agreeing to the multimillion-dollar payout in the case that alleged administrators were negligent when they entrusted the children to teacher Paul Chapel.

Chapel was sentenced to 25 years in prison in September 2012. The former teacher had pleaded no contest to committing lewd acts with seven girls and six boys.

“I think ultimately, L.A. Unified recognized we were prepared to prove they were negligent in the hiring, retention and supervision of Chapel,” said the victims’ lawyer, Tom Cifarelli.

The two Telfair students were 8 years old when Chapel victimized them. One young victim will receive $2 million, while the other will collect $3 million — payouts based on the facts of their cases, Cifarelli explained.

Cifarelli said he is working with several more victims and may file additional lawsuits against Chapel and the school district. Another attorney, Neil Anapol, who represents three other alleged victims, said he was encouraged by the settlement.

LAUSD General Counsel Dave Holmquist said district employees followed their training and contacted law enforcement when they learned about the abuse. Chapel was removed from the school and later fired.

“Unfortunately, plaintiffs suffered harm before the teacher’s activities were uncovered,” Holmquist said in a written statement. “For this reason and in an effort to shield the young children from a long and emotional trial, we are finalizing settlements which we are confident will provide for the future health and educational needs of the students involved.”

District administrators, however, left children alone in a classroom for six weeks in 2011 after one of the victim’s parents reported the abuse to Telfair’s then-principal on March 1, according to depositions taken in the civil case.

While Telfair’s principal phoned police, it wasn’t until more than a month later — when one of Chapel’s young victims told third-grade teacher Sandra Creith about the abuse — that a police report was filed, according to court documents and authorities.

“She said, ‘My mom changed my classroom because my teacher was kissing children on the neck and on their tummies, and I didn’t like that’ — or ‘we didn’t’ — and she didn’t like that, something like that,” Creith testified in a March 17, 2014, deposition.

Creith immediately called police and filed a Suspected Child Abuse Report. An officer, she said, told her they would initiate a criminal investigation.

But instead of removing Chapel from his classroom after the abuse was reported, administrators removed two teacher assistants, leaving him alone with the children for six weeks, Cifarelli told a judge last month.

“They had the ability to take action to stop it, and they didn’t,” Cifarelli has said.

Chapel was allowed to stay alone in the class even after he admitted to administrators in writing, that he had crossed the line, kissing children on the mouth, neck and stomach, according to LAUSD documents Cifarelli used in his court filings.

But it wasn’t the first time that LAUSD administrators left Chapel in a classroom after he was accused of child molestation.

In 1997, an 8-year-old friend of Chapel’s adopted son was sleeping over when he said he woke up and found Chapel’s “mouth on his private parts,” according to a complaint filed with Simi Valley police. Frightened, the boy ran home and told his parents.

Prosecutors were unable to persuade all 12 jurors to convict Chapel. After Chapel spent more than a year behind bars, the case ended in a hung jury.

Rather than try to fire Chapel, administrators transferred him to a different school, Telfair, and gave him a pay raise for the tenure he accrued while in jail, according to court documents.

“They wanted to give him a fresh start, so they placed him there, where no one would know what he would be up to,” Cifarelli said in court last month.

Rosa Rubalcava, a fourth-grade teacher at Telfair who taught in a classroom near Chapel, testified in a deposition on May 2, 2014, that she did not know about his past.

“We would have kept a closer eye, and we would have objected to him even being near children, if anything like that was in his records,” Rubalcava testified. “He shouldn’t have been in the classroom.”

Despite not knowing about Chapel’s past, Rubalcava and other teachers found Chapel’s behavior unusual. He entertained students in his classroom during recess; gave out handfuls of candy to the children and had four computers in his classroom for students to use, Rubalcava testified.

And while other teachers would just barge into each others classrooms, Chapel would keep his door locked when students were present.

“We thought it was very weird,” Rubalcava testified. “It just, it’s not common. Because maybe there’s teachers that will knock before opening the door, but not knock and wait to be let in.”

It wasn’t until news of Chapel’s arrest broke that Rubalcava’s students told her what they knew.

“They said he would lift up — he would stand children on the table and lift up their shirts and do bubbles in their — in their on their stomachs,” Rubalcava testified.

Chapel’s troubles date back even further than his employment with LAUSD. Just months prior to being hired by LAUSD, Chapel was sued for allegedly making racial slurs and inappropriate sexual comments to a class at Chaminade High School. That lawsuit was settled with a $56,000 payout.

Holmquist said the district has ramped up its efforts to protect students.

“These efforts have included our mandatory 72-hour notification policy; statewide leadership on legislative reform to streamline the dismissal of teachers accused of misconduct; development of a centralized data warehouse for all records and files related to misconduct; and the creation of a specialized team to investigate allegations of serious misconduct,” Holmquist said.

L.A. Unified agrees to $5 million in settlements in molestation cases

STEPHEN CEASAR|  Los Angeles Times

6/11.2014  %;05 PM  ::  The Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to pay $5 million to settle two legal claims from students who alleged they were molested by a former Telfair Elementary School teacher, a plaintiff's attorney said Wednesday.

The settlements, which still must be approved by a judge, would be the first related to the case of third-grade instructor Paul Chapel III, who pleaded no contest to 13 counts of lewd acts on a child in 2012 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Paul Chapel III

<<Paul Chapel III, a former third-grade teacher at Telfair Elementary School, pleaded no contest to 13 counts of lewd acts on a child in 2012 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. (Los Angeles Unified School District)

The molestations of seven girls and six boys occurred from September 2006 to April 2011. All the children were students at Telfair in Pacoima.

The settlement concludes nearly two years of litigation. The lawsuit was filed in July 2012, and there had been no serious talks of settlement until this week, said attorney Thomas Cifarelli, who represents several other students with claims against the district related to Chapel.

One plaintiff will receive $3 million, and the other will get $2 million, Cifarelli said. Both students were 8 years old at the time of the abuse; they are now 11.

"I think ultimately L.A. Unified recognized that we were prepared to prove that they were negligent in the hiring, the retention and the supervision of Chapel," Cifarelli said. "I think they realized that this case was not going to end well for them."

Cifarelli declined to specify how many other students he represents.

L.A. Unified general counsel David Holmquist said in a statement that when district officials learned of the allegations in 2011, they immediately informed law enforcement, removed Chapel from the school and eventually fired him.

I think ultimately L.A. Unified recognized that we were prepared to prove that they were negligent in the hiring, the retention and the supervision of Chapel.- Thomas Cifarelli, students' attorney

"Unfortunately, plaintiffs suffered harm before the teacher's activities were uncovered," Holmquist said. "For this reason and in an effort to shield the young children from a long and emotional trial, we are finalizing settlements which we are confident will provide for the future health and educational needs of the students involved."

The Chapel case emerged publicly soon after L.A. Unified's largest abuse scandal. At Miramonte Elementary School, a third-grade teacher was charged with more than two dozen lewd acts; the district has paid $30 million in settlements and legal fees in that case.

In 2011, prosecutors charged Chapel with molesting four students. The district then waited months to tell parents about the third-grade teacher's arrest, doing so after two teachers at Miramonte were arrested and charged.

The district fired Chapel, and a month later prosecutors charged him with molesting nine additional students.

Court documents alleged that the school system ignored repeated complaints and allowed Chapel to return to work despite several red flags in his past. He had previously left a private school after allegations of inappropriate remarks during a sex education class and was tried but not convicted in an alleged 1997 molestation.

L.A. Unified has no record that it ever conducted an investigation of the 1997 incident. District officials have said that may have been because the incident occurred off campus.

According to L.A. Unified records, the day after Chapel was arrested in that case, the district alerted the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which suspended Chapel's credential. The school district then removed Chapel without pay from an elementary school in Northridge. The case went to trial, but a jury failed to reach a verdict because of the lack of physical evidence.

Prosecutors opted against retrying the case. L.A. Unified records indicate criminal charges were dismissed in August 1998, and the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing reinstated his credential. He returned to work — this time at Telfair.

The district also faces lawsuits from about 60 former students and about 40 parents related to the case of former Miramonte elementary teacher Mark Berndt.

He was accused of spoon-feeding his semen to blindfolded students as part of what he allegedly called a tasting game. He pleaded no contest in November to 23 counts of lewd conduct and received a 25-year sentence.

The first trial in the civil cases is scheduled for July.

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