Moreno Valley USD Hit with $121-Million Verdict over Teacher Molestation of Students
The plaintiffs said Moreno Valley USD knew or should have known that their teacher posed a threat to students at Vista Heights Middle School.
Riverside, California – A jury has awarded a combined $135 million to two former Vista Heights Middle School students who were molested by their former teacher for several years.
The Riverside County jury found that Moreno Valley Unified School District (USD) was 90% responsible for the damages resulting from the sexual abuse, while former teacher Thomas Lee West was 10% responsible, reports the Los Angeles Times. Moreno Valley USD will be required to pay the plaintiffs, who are now adults, $121.5 million.
The students alleged in their court filing that West repeatedly molested them during the 1996-1997 school year when they were in sixth grade and continued abusing them until their sophomore year in high school, reports Fox11.
In 2003, one of the victims reported the abuse to authorities, and in 2006, West was found guilty of committing lewd or lascivious acts with a minor child under the age of 14. He is currently serving 52 years to life in prison.
The plaintiffs said Moreno Valley USD knew or should have known that West posed a threat to students because he previously was charged with molesting his foster son. They also alleged the district fostered “an environment for its students to fall victim to sexual abuse, molestation and harassment.”
Although West had several child sexual abuse complaints made against him before his 2006 conviction, he worked for Moreno Valley USD for 20 years, starting in the 1980s.
The plaintiffs said the abuse resulted in them experiencing severe and life-long mental and emotional stress.
In response to the verdict, the district said it is weighing its options.
Back in September, the district agreed to pay $27 million to the family of Diego Stolz who, in 2019, was fatally beaten by two of his classmates. Stolz’s legal guardians alleged that officials at Landmark Middle School could have prevented the boy’s death if they had taken bullying at the school seriously.
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