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Teen sues SRVUSD, church over molestation

Lawsuit alleges negligence in oversight of ex-coach/youth group leader later convicted of lewd acts with minors

A teen boy and his mother have sued the San Ramon Valley Unified School District and New Life Church of Alamo, alleging the organizations failed to protect the teen from sexual abuse at the hands of a former coach and youth group leader who later admitted to molesting three boys.

The civil complaint, filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court this week, seeks financial damages in excess of $25,000 for sexual abuse of a minor, breach of mandatory duty to report suspected abuse, negligence of school district employees, negligence of the church and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The teen, now 16, was identified by his lawyers as one of the three victims from the criminal case against Kevin Lopez, a former California High School head wrestling coach and New Life Church youth group program leader who pleaded guilty earlier this year to eight felonies for lewd acts on boys.

"Defendant Lopez used his positions of trust as a coach and a youth group leader to groom plaintiff for his sexual advances, and later committed lewd and lascivious acts upon plaintiff and/or sexually abused, molested and impermissibly touched plaintiff," attorneys B. Robert Allard and Lauren A. Cerri wrote in the lawsuit on behalf of the teen and his mother -- both of whom are unnamed in the case.

SRVUSD spokeswoman Elizabeth Graswich confirmed Thursday the district received the civil complaint, but she declined to comment on the case, citing district policy not to comment on pending litigation.

A New Life Church of Alamo representative declined to comment when contacted by phone Thursday.

The lawsuit alleges the school district failed to tell police about accusations from a parent that Lopez, when he was a student at San Ramon's Cal High, hosted parties with alcohol for middle school-aged children and that he may have inappropriately touched minors.

The teen victim's family also argues the church failed to deter Lopez from engaging in inappropriate behavior and prolonged contact with boys.

Lopez, a 28-year-old San Ramon resident and Cal High graduate, was arrested in September 2014, soon after police say they were notified for the first time about a possible "inappropriate relationship" between Lopez and a child who was more than 10 years younger than him.

Contra Costa County prosecutors later charged Lopez with 20 felony counts stemming from lewd and lascivious acts with minors. He accepted a plea deal on Feb. 6, admitting to eight felonies for acts involving three boys between 2003 and September 2014 in exchange for a state prison sentence of 10 years and eight months.

After his arrest, the SRVUSD fired Lopez, who served as an at-will member of the Grizzlies' coaching staff since 2005, including working as head coach since 2012.

According to the lawsuit, the teen boy first met Lopez in August 2013 when he was 14 years old while a student at Cal High and a member of the church youth group led by Lopez.

The teen joined the Cal High wrestling team in December 2013 and was sexually abused or molested starting around that time and until September 2014, when the boy's parents first learned of the molestation, according to the attorneys, who work for the San Jose-based firm Corsiglia McMahon & Allard.

The boy and his family filed a government tort claim to the district in March and received a notice April 20 that the claim was rejected, according to the lawsuit.

A tort claim must be submitted and answered before a civil complaint can be filed against a government agency.

The lawsuit alleges the school district failed to properly act upon allegations of inappropriate behavior by Lopez and did not follow its mandated duty to report a reasonable suspicion of child abuse to police.

It further alleges unnamed district employees conducted their own investigation instead of alerting authorities after a parent's claim that Lopez may have inappropriately touched minors and hosted parties for middle school children and provided them with alcohol when he was a Cal High student.

That decision, the attorneys claim, resulted in Lopez having continued access to their teen client without proper supervision and thus the district failed to "protect him from predatory behavior and ultimately sexual molestation by his wrestling coach."

The civil complaint also alleges the church "owed a duty of reasonable care towards plaintiff" but failed to properly screen and supervise youth group leaders with access to children -- and ultimately failed to protect minors from sexual misconduct.

The lawsuit also contends the two organizations did not adequately train their representatives on recognizing and reporting predatory behaviors.

In addition to the school district and church, the lawsuit names Lopez as a defendant, as well as up to 50 people referred to as "Roes 1-50" whom the plaintiffs have not yet identified. The complaint identifies the teen plaintiff as "John Doe" and his mother as "Jane Doe."

The lawsuit contends the boy suffered "great mental, physical and nervous pain and suffering" and "incurred, and will continue in the future to incur, medical and incidental expenses, including counseling costs."

The boy and his mother seek unspecified damages exceeding $25,000 as well as attorney fees.

It was not immediately clear when the parties will have their first court appearance.

In his criminal plea deal, Lopez was convicted of four counts of committing lewd acts upon a child 14-15 years old, two counts of distributing lewd materials to a minor and two counts of arranging a meeting with a minor for the purpose of engaging in lewd and lascivious behavior.

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