MORAGA -- Two women have filed claims against the Moraga School District and three former district administrators, saying the employees' repeated inaction regarding abuse allegations against a former teacher allowed that teacher to molest the pair over four school years in the 1990s.
"Jane Does" No. 1 and 2 are asking for more than $15 million each, claiming the actions of the district, retired Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School principal Bill Walters, retired assistant principal Paul Simonin and retired superintendent John Cooley allowed them to be sexually abused by former Joaquin Moraga teacher Daniel Witters.
Shortly after the Jane Does came forward in 1996 with allegations of significant sexual abuse, including multiple acts of oral copulation, Witters was placed on administrative leave. He killed himself days later. He never faced charges over the girls' allegations, and Moraga police stopped their investigation upon Witters' death.
Their claims follow an earlier one filed in August by Kristen Cunnane, a 30-year-old assistant Cal swim coach, against the same defendants, alleging her abuse by Witters and another Joaquin Moraga teacher happened because of ignored warnings about Witters and a lax environment. Cunnane's claim was denied Aug. 13, and she filed a lawsuit Sept. 25, asking for unspecified damages.
The Jane Does said they only learned about the administrators' "despicable" behavior and the "cover-up" after reading
this newspaper's investigative report earlier this year, centered on Cunnane's experiences.
Moraga Superintendent Bruce Burns did not immediately return an email request for comment Tuesday on the joint claims.
This newspaper's investigation revealed that a third teenage girl, whose name was redacted in documents, contacted Walters in 1994 to report she had been molested by Witters while attending Joaquin Moraga in 1990. That girl wrote in a letter to Walters that she was coming forward to prevent the science teacher from harming other girls.
Instead of passing the allegations on to law enforcement, as required by law, Walters sat on the complaint for two months before showing Witters the letter -- revealing the girl's identity to her alleged abuser. Witters denied the abuse allegations.
A district memo says Walters shared the girl's letter with vice principal Simonin, and the two administrators decided "not to pursue the issue," according to district records.
From 1994 to 1996, district officials received numerous other complaints of inappropriate behavior involving Witters, with few repercussions.
"After Witters committed suicide, (the) Moraga School District undertook a campaign to conceal and cover up its knowledge concerning past complaints made against Witters," both claims allege. "Moraga officials lied to the police, to the media, to the parents of its students, to its students, to the public and to the Claimant, all in an effort to try and convince everyone that the district had no prior knowledge of Witters' misconduct.
"District administrators, officials, and employees chose to protect their own jobs and reputations rather than protect young girls from a predator."
Jane Doe No. 1's claim alleges district officials told her and her parents the district "had never received a prior complaint about Witters and that it had acted swiftly and appropriately."
Jane Doe No. 1 claims she was sexually abused starting during the 1993-94 school year, when she was 13, and into the 1995-96 school year, from eighth grade into high school. Jane Doe No. 2 claims she was sexually abused during the 1995-96 and 1996-97 school years, while she was in seventh and eighth grades (ages 12 to 14). Witters was in his 30s at the time and both Jane Does claim the abuse occurred in his classroom and elsewhere.
"We're not talking about a tap on the butt or a rub on the shoulder," said David Ring, a Los Angeles-based attorney representing the Jane Does. "We're talking extremely serious sexual abuse."
He said his clients, who wish to remain anonymous, have endured years of pain from the abuse, and that the newspaper report caught them off guard.
"Their reaction ... ranged from shock to dismay to anger," Ring said. "They couldn't believe it. Their mindsets always have been Witters did this to us ... and tried to deal with that issue. So when they found out all of the other complaints the district received, it was a huge setback for them because they realized it should have never happened to them because the guy shouldn't have been teaching at the school.
"They want the school district to come clean and acknowledge to the public exactly what happened in the mid-90s and for the current regime to make it right," he said. "And, frankly, they'd like an apology."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni. ___
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