Lawsuits were filed in Kern County Superior Court this week accusing Kern High School District staff members of enabling and conspiring to cover up sexual assault allegations.
Two teenagers accused the athletic equipment manager, Edwin Rodriguez, at North High School in Bakersfield of molesting them and sending them sexually explicit messages, photos, and videos through social media like Snapchat, according to two lawsuits filed on Wednesday.
Rodriguez had a pattern of “grooming” and “befriending” students, according to David Cohn, the attorney of the two 15-year-olds.
“He would give them sodas, chips and then he started befriending them on social media,” Cohn says.
The allegations against Rodriguez happened between June 2017 and September 2018, according to the lawsuits.
“My clients who were all female athletes would have contact with him because he was the equipment manager,” Cohn says. “He would often times make sexual comments about how they were dressed. A lot of sexual innuendos, which all of this is totally inappropriate for an adult let alone an adult that’s around young children.”
The Kern High School District, Rodriguez and other staff members were listed on the complaint, including Mark Balch, North High School Principal; Melisa Rizo, the Dean of Students at North High; and April Anderson, a counselor at the high school.
The lawsuits allege that the district, Balch, Rizo, and Anderson “negligently and unreasonably, or deliberately interfered, hired, screened, controlled, supervised, counseled, monitored, disciplined, retained, failed to supervise, warn and/or take adequate precautions in connection with Edwin Rodriguez."
The documents also allege Balch, Rizo, and Anderson “colluded, conspired, planned, assisted, and aided” Rodriguez to commit “offensive, vulgar, obscene, inappropriate, lewd, and lascivious behavior.” The three are accused of enabling and covering up for Rodriguez, according to the lawsuit.
Cohn says it’s alleged that in January 2018 one of the students received sexually explicit text messages from Rodriguez. Her mother told the school about it, he says, and the school didn’t do anything until September 2018 when Rogriguez was put on unpaid administrative leave.
“You have to wonder what did the school do between January and September, and did the school do anything to investigate?” Cohn asks.
The lawsuits also say the district and Balch “became aware, had actual notice, knew, or reasonably should have known” Rodriguez was “likely to commit a sexual assault, molest, [or] offensively touch minor female students.”
Cohn also alleges Rodriguez pulled kids out of class and cleared their absences and cuts.
“You have to ask yourself,” he says, “how was an equipment manager able to pull a student out of class? There must've been someone he was dealing with in the office that would allow him to do something that I would think could only be done by an administrator, a teacher or a parent.”
Balch, Rizo, and Anderson did not respond to requests for comment.
At least 10 other students have already come forward with similar allegations against Rodriguez like inappropriate touching or unwanted interactions, Cohn says. Rodriguez was arrested last month for lewd or lascivious acts, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying children under 18, and false imprisonment, according to booking records. His bond is set at $175,000.
Rodriguez’s attorney, Kyle Humphrey, declined to comment.
District officials did not respond to requests for comment regarding the specific allegations in the lawsuits filed this week. But in an emailed statement, district officials say they contacted the sheriff’s office, once they were aware of allegations against Rodriguez, and are cooperating with the investigation.
Cohn is also representing a 19-year-old who has accused Rodriguez of similar allegations. He says he plans to file a lawsuit on her behalf.
The parents of all three victims are “pretty devastated,” Cohn says. He says the main message they want to convey to other parents is to monitor their kids social media and talk to them about inappropriate relationships with school personnel.
“One of my (client's) mother's said look, ‘I have a great relationship with my daughter, we’re very close,'" Cohn says. “But her daughter was embarrassed by what Rodriguez was doing and was simply afraid to tell her mom about it.”
Cohn says his clients' mothers hope this lawsuit will prevent anything like this from happening again. They want all school staff to realize what appropriate and inappropriate relationships with students look like.
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.