Rialto assistant managers to be tried for failing to report alleged sexual abuse – San Bernardino Sun

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Two vice principals at Wilmer Amina Carter High School in Rialto will stand trial for child abuse and violation of California’s mandated reporter laws in what prosecutors say is the first criminal case of its kind in San Bernardino County,

David Shenhan Yang, 39, and Natasha Harris-Dawson, 38, were arrested in February by Rialto police for allegedly violating the State-Empowered Journalists Act, which requires educators and others to report the suspected cases of child abuse to the police or child protection authorities.

Yang and Harris-Dawson were each charged with one count of child abuse in circumstances or conditions likely to cause grievous bodily harm or death and two misdemeanor counts of failing to a reporter mandated to report child abuse or neglect. They pleaded not guilty.

On Monday, August 22, following a preliminary hearing in Rancho Cucamonga, Superior Court Judge Kyle S. Brodie retained the two for trial. The couple will then appear in court on August 31 for a preliminary hearing.

The adviser also accused

A third defendant in the case, Carter High School counselor Lindsay Morton, 42, has been charged with one count of failing a reporter to report the abuse or neglect of a child. Like Yang and Harris-Dawson, Morton has pleaded not guilty, but is awaiting a preliminary hearing. She will also appear in court on August 31 for a preliminary hearing. His attorney, Brady Clay Schwartz, did not respond to a request for comment.

Authorities allege Yang and Harris-Dawson failed to report allegations of sexual abuse by three female students against a 17-year-old student who now faces criminal charges in juvenile court. The mother of one of the alleged victims sued the Rialto Unified School District, alleging that Yang and Harris-Dawson threatened to expel her daughter if she did not drop the suit.

A week after Yang and Harris-Dawson’s arrest, the district attorney’s office also charged Morton after police learned that one of the alleged victims initially reported the offending student to them, and Morton did not. did not report, Rialto Police Chief Mark Kling said.

San Bernardino County prosecutors allege, among other things, that the crimes “involved great violence, grievous bodily harm, threat of grievous bodily harm, or other acts indicative of a high degree of cruelty, viciousness, or callousness.” “, according to the criminal complaint.

Defense: Evidence “not there”

Defense lawyers remain flabbergasted by the allegations, saying the evidence is “just not there”. Rialto police and prosecutors, they say, have been overzealous and draconian in the name of their clients’ reputations and careers.

“I don’t think the evidence supports the claim and I think we’re going to have to show it at trial,” Yang’s attorney Joshua Peter Visco said.

Harris-Dawson’s attorney, Christopher Gardner, said his client “is adamant and has always maintained that she was never made aware of any sexual misconduct by anyone in this matter.”

“She never had a conversation with any of these alleged victims where they informed her that they had been sexually assaulted, and she is a very accomplished school administrator,” Gardner said in an interview. telephone. “All she ever wanted to do was be a teacher and an educator.”

He said Harris-Dawson had worked hard to achieve the rank of vice-principal at Carter High School, took her job very seriously, and understood her responsibilities as a commissioned reporter.

“And in the past, she’s done a lot of mandatory reporting, and would have done so in this case if she had already received that information,” Gardner said.

Visco and Gardner said the burden of proof is extremely low for prosecutors when presenting evidence at a preliminary hearing, and that includes hearsay evidence. Therefore, the two were not surprised by Brodie’s decision to hold Yang and Harris-Dawson down for trial.

“At the end of the day, it’s much easier to ask someone to answer when almost all the evidence can be based on hearsay. That’s what happened here,” Gardner said. “That will not be allowed as we move forward with this matter.”

A police investigation criticized

The only witness to appear in Monday’s preliminary hearing was Rialto Police Inspector Agnes Watson.

“For me, what came out was that the Rialto Police investigation was very poor, and I think looking at the way the arguments unfolded, it was a big effort to carry a child abuse charge,” Visco said. “I think the facts will come out and show that my client saw nothing of note.”

He called his client a “career educator” who was passionate about his craft and whose reputation had been dragged through the mud.

“It’s not a typical child abuse charge … where dad beats the kids and mom just sits there and does nothing,” Visco said. “The prosecution alleges because my client did not show up, it created a dangerous situation” for the alleged victims.

One-of-a-kind case

District Attorney Jason Anderson said the criminal charges against the three defendants mark the first time in San Bernardino County history in which school district administrators and/or employees have been criminally charged with violating laws. on state-mandated journalists.

A year-long investigation by the Southern California News Group into a sexual abuse scandal in the Redlands Unified School District showed that for years school district administrators, despite repeated warnings and suspicions from teachers sexually attacking students, failed to report the allegations to the police and the children. protective services, allowing the abuse to continue for years.

Several teachers have been criminally charged and convicted, and the school district has been hit with a series of civil lawsuits from victims, resulting in legal settlements totaling more than $41.3 million. In response, the district implemented sweeping reforms.

At the time, the district attorney’s office concluded that there was insufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges against school and school district administrators for violating mandated reporter laws. Former District Attorney Mike Ramos was a former member of the Redlands School Board and his wife worked in the superintendent’s office at the time.

Anderson said he couldn’t speak to what Ramos did or didn’t do and the actions of county prosecutors before he was elected district attorney in 2018.

Visco and Gardner said they plan to file motions with the court asking that all charges be dismissed against their clients.

Michael Scaffidi, who also represents Harris-Dawson, said, “They’re wrong about this case, and we’ll prove it.”

School district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri said an administrative investigation is still ongoing and Yang, Harris-Dawson and Morton are still on administrative leave. She declined to comment further due to the ongoing investigation.

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