Kern High School District Knew Staff Member Was Sex Abuser, Lawsuits Allege
Two recent lawsuits allege the Kern High School District (KHSD) knew one of its employees had a history of inappropriate sexual behavior with students but continued to employ him anyway.
The 40-year-old athletic equipment manager and trainer at North High School, Edwin Rodriguez, allegedly molested and groomed two former students, the lawsuits filed in Kern County Superior Court say.
According to both lawsuits filed March 19, the district “fostered a culture in which sexual harassment and abuse was condoned and ratified.”
These two lawsuits follow a string of sexual abuse and harassment allegations against Rodriguez from at least ten other current and former North High students, says attorney David Cohn, who represents the two former students.
“Clearly in talking to the students, these are not what I would call isolated or one-off events,” Cohn says. “Rodriguez clearly had a pattern of trying to groom these young women by befriending them, by offering them sodas, candy, driving them around on a golf cart.”
Cohn filed two other lawsuits against Rodriguez and KHSD administrators in early March alleging similar accusations. Recently two administrators named in those lawsuits were dropped, Melisa Rizo, the dean of students at North High and April Anderson, a counselor at the high school, Cohn says.
The plaintiffs in the two most recent lawsuits are referred to as Jane Doe 3 and Jane Doe 4 for confidentiality.
Rodriguez made sexually explicit comments to Jane Doe 3 about her body and what he would do to it, the lawsuit filed on her behalf says. It also alleges he made sexual requests and demanded her compliance.
Rodriguez drove a district-owned van to take students to athletic events, Cohn says. When Jane Doe 3 was in the van or around him at school he made numerous sexual comments about her appearance and “wanting to have sex with her.”
These events occurred from around fall 2015 to fall 2017, the lawsuit says.
Jane Doe 4 was in a different situation, Cohn says. She worked with Rodriguez during football games on the sidelines assisting players. He offered to take her and some other students home after a game one night, he says, but she ended up being the last one in the van.
“Rodriguez then drove Jane Doe 4 to a very isolated location out toward the foothills toward Bakersfield,” Cohn says.
He locked the doors and started to have sexual conversations with Jane Doe 4, Cohn says. Rodriguez touched her around her genitals on the outside of her clothes. He asked her to perform oral sex on him and if he could give her oral sex, Conh says. She pleaded with him to take her home and told him she felt uncomfortable, Cohn says.
“At one point she felt that he was going to rape her and kill her,” Cohn says.
Jane Doe 4 was able to convince Rodriguez to take her home, Cohn says, but as they neared her home he drove to another secluded spot and tried to do the same thing again. Eventually he took her home.
Both women were around 15 years old when these instances occurred, Cohn says. The damages they are seeking still need to be determined.
Jane Doe 4 was molested, sexually harassed, and abused by Rodriguez from around September 2015 through October 2015, according to the lawsuit filed on her behalf.
“It initially affected both of these young women psychologically,” Cohn says. “They were embarrassed by what happened, they were afraid to tell anyone what happened. Neither of these young women would tell their guardians what has happened to them.”
Cohn says allegations against Rodriguez aren’t limited to just female students. At least one male student has come forward, he says.
According to booking records, Rodriguez is in custody and is being charged with a felony for lewd or lascivious acts with a child 14 or 15 years old and a felony for exhibiting harmful matter to a minor. He’s charged with a misdemeanor for false imprisonment and annoying a child under 18. His bond is set at $175,000.
Nick Lackie, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, says all the charges relating to the case happened between 2015 and October 2018. He could not confirm how many students have accused Rodriguez of inappropriate sexual behavior or go into any specifics of the case.
The KHSD deliberately did not intervene to stop Rodriguez, both lawsuits say. The district allegedly “colluded,” “assisted,” and “conspired to cover up” the accusations against Rodriguez.
“Some of the school administrators felt uncomfortable with Rodriguez to some extent, they were somewhat uncertain as to his interactions with these young women,” Cohn says.
In an emailed statement, KHSD officials say they don’t comment on pending litigation. Rodriguez's attorney, Kyle Humphrey, did not respond to a request for comment.
Cohn says “one of the most egregious” things Rodriguez got away with was pulling students out of class and clearing their absences.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘How is it that an equipment manager, he’s not a coach, he’s not a teacher, was able to pull a student out of class?’” Cohn asks. “How is it that he’s able to clear their cuts?”
Cohn questions the idea that nobody in the office or any administrator noticed what Rodriguez was doing. He says he finds it odd an equipment manager had the power to take students out of class.
“I mean, just pulling women out of class randomly? Someone in the office had to have known he was clearing cuts,” he adds.
Rodriguez was hired as a football coach in 2009, according to district officials. In 2010, he was a substitute campus security employee and became the equipment manager at North High in 2011.
“Misconduct didn’t occur at one specific time, it occurred over a number of years,” Cohn says.
Rodriguez’s pre-preliminary hearing is set for July 16.