LAUSD trainer charged with sexually assaulting 10 students

An athletic coach has been accused of sexually assaulting at least 10 girls at two Los Angeles high schools since 2017, authorities said Tuesday.

Richard Alexander Turner, 64, has been charged with more than 15 felonies, including forcible rape, forcible sexual penetration and sexually assaulting an unconscious person, Los Angeles County Dist. atty said George Gascón during a press conference.

Turner, who served as an athletic coach at Van Nuys High School and Birmingham Community Charter High School, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of sexual assault, a day after a Birmingham student accused him of inappropriately touching her, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. Capt. Jeff Bratcher, who runs the agency’s youth department.

Police released Turner’s name to the public and asked other victims to come forward. In less than a week, nine other students contacted police, accusing Turner of the abuse that spanned five years, Bratcher said.

All of the victims were between the ages of 15 and 17, according to Gascón, who said some of the assaults took place outside of school but declined to elaborate on where or how it happened. All victims were attacked while being treated for sports injuries. Some victims reported Turner becoming violent, while others didn’t initially realize they had been attacked, Gascón said.

“It is devastating for the victims, their families and all of us that in our education systems someone is taking advantage of our youth,” Gascón said.

A student at Van Nuys High School reported Turner to police in 2017, but prosecutors declined to press charges due to a lack of sufficient evidence, Bratcher said. Los Angeles Unified School District officials have been briefed on the allegations, he said.

Britt Vaughan, a spokeswoman for the district, did not respond to questions about Turner’s tenure at Van Nuys High School or the previous allegations against him, citing the ongoing law enforcement investigation. Hiring and termination dates for school district employees and contractors are public knowledge, and Gascón specifically referred questions about Turner’s tenure to the LAUSD.

In a statement, the district described Turner as a “contract dealer” who operated “restricted” in the district. It offered no details.

Birmingham Community Charter High School, an independent school not affiliated with LAUSD, issued a statement following Turner’s arrest, calling his alleged conduct “reprehensible.”

“Our deepest sympathy goes out to the student and the student’s family who have been affected,” the statement said. “As always, our focus is to provide our students with a safe learning environment and the academic and developmental support they need to be successful students in Birmingham and beyond.”

It was not immediately clear why Turner left LAUSD or if Birmingham officials were aware of the previous sexual assault allegations. Birmingham chief Ari Bennett did not respond to a detailed list of questions filed by a Times reporter on Tuesday.

Turner was due to be arraigned in a courtroom in Van Nuys on Tuesday afternoon. It was not immediately clear if he had retained legal counsel.

Questions about what school officials knew about previous allegations against Turner, or how we were allegedly able to target so many students over a number of years, are likely to linger for some time to come.

School administrators are expected to exercise caution when dealing with allegations of sexual assault against staff members, even if the charges are dropped or not filed at all. But the LAUSD has not yet fulfilled this responsibility.

Shortly before Steve Thomas Rooney was appointed assistant principal at a Watts middle school in 2007, LAUSD police had warned that they suspected him of having a sexual relationship with an underage former student at another school in the district. Police had also arrested Rooney for allegedly pointing a gun at a girl’s father, but prosecutors dropped the charges with no doubt they could reach a conviction.

Months later, police arrested Rooney on suspicion of molesting students at his new school. He was later convicted.

In January 2012, Miramonte elementary school teacher Mark Berndt was arrested on suspicion of lewd dealings with dozens of children. Berndt had previously been accused of behaving strangely with students. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and the district lost $200 million in lawsuits related to the scandal.

In the wake of the Miramonte abuse scandal, LAUSD took unprecedented steps to better protect students: hundreds of teachers were removed from classrooms, an investigative team took over investigations of school principals, and officials lobbied state laws to make it easier for teachers to be fired. School officials combed through personnel files and reported numerous instances of potential misconduct to law enforcement and the state teacher licensing board. LAUSD trainer charged with sexually assaulting 10 students

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