Jury Awards $2.1 Million to Former Student in Sex Abuse Case Against San Diego Unified School District
A jury has awarded $2.1 million in damages to a former male student, now 19, in a civil sexual abuse case against the San Diego Union School District. According to a news report in the San Diego Union Tribune, Toni Sutton, 40, a former Spanish teacher at Crawford High School was sentenced to prison two years ago for having sex with the student over a period of about eight months in 2015 and 2016.
Court documents show Sutton had sex with the student in her classroom dozens of times with the door locked, in her home and in her car when the boy was supposed to be attending other classes. Because of this the boy’s attendance suffered. Prosecutors also said Sutton also groomed the student for the sexual relationship by buying him food, spending time outside class and driving to school. Their initial sexual encounter occurred when the boy was 15 and the teacher was 37.
School District’s Negligence
In addition to Sutton’s criminal behavior, at issue was also the school district’s negligence. School officials reportedly ignored warning signs about Sutton’s behavior and failed to take any type of action. Several teachers knew for months before Sutton was arrested that the boy was missing class to be with Sutton in her classroom. But, they took no action to protect the boy. School administrators had also previously warned Sutton she should not be sharing explicit personal details with students, documents state.
Yet, school officials failed to follow up with her to make sure she stopped her inappropriate behavior, attorneys for the plaintiff said. She was never officially warned or disciplined for her behavior. The school has no mechanism in place through which students could report such inappropriate behavior or training that would inform students, teachers and parents about personal and professional boundaries. Jurors attributed the school district’s negligence for 40 percent of the harm the student suffered and 60 percent to Sutton.
The Impact of Sexual Abuse
Sex abuse victims suffer from tremendous mental and psychological issues. According to the news report, the student in this case suffered from depression, embarrassment and guilt as well as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Schools have the responsibility not only to protect vulnerable students, but also provide proper training for faculty members about what is appropriate behavior and what are the proper personal boundaries with students.
When inappropriate behavior is suspected, the teacher concerned should be disciplined right away and the behavior stopped immediately. As San Diego personal injury lawyers, we hope this jury verdict serves as a reminder for other schools about the importance of remaining vigilant about staff behavior and most importantly, protecting vulnerable youth