Fresno County district ‘victim blaming’ student who accused coach of abuse, attorney says

Francisco Pena
Francisco Pena

An attorney representing a former student who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a Parlier Unified School District basketball coach is accusing the district of “victim shaming” his client.

James Quadra, the attorney representing the girl, says he believes PUSD is trying to get his client to drop her lawsuit against the district.

The teenage girl sued PUSD for alleged negligence and its former basketball coach Francisco Peña for the sexual assault allegations, which are still pending in court.

Peña pleaded no contest in November 2016 to a felony charge of unlawful sex with a minor. But in May 2017, he withdrew his plea because he didn’t want to register as a sex offender.

Calls seeking comment were placed to Lynn A. Garcia, the attorney representing the school district and Superintendent Jaime Robles. Those calls were not returned.

The teenage girl, who is not identified in the lawsuit, and her parents are seeking unspecified damages for the school district’s alleged negligence, negligent hiring and supervision of Peña. They are also seeking damages for the sexual assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress allegations.

Inappropriate questions?

In May, the district filed a request at the Fresno County Superior Court to be able to question the girl on her sexual history, according to court records.

Quadra believes those questions are highly sensitive and inappropriate. For example, one question asks the girl about “each male (she) kissed after May 16, 2016.” Other questions ask the girl to “state all facts regarding any time a male touched (her) breast over (her) clothing after May 16, 2016” and “identify each male who touched (her) vagina under (her) clothing after May 16, 2016.”

On July 2, Quadra filed a motion opposing the questioning of his client’s sexual history as part of the discovery process. On July 16, Judge Kimberly Gaab is expected make a decision on whether to allow the defense to question the girl on her sexual history as part of the discovery process.

Quadra said the line of questioning is “absolutely unheard of.” He believes the district is trying to bully and intimidate his client to get her to drop the complaint.

“There is no basis in law that we can see that they would need this information, other than to try to bully her and intimate her,” he said. “It’s victim-shaming, it’s victim-blaming. To victim-blame her... is completely outrageous.”

Alfred Gallegos, an attorney who has litigated sexual abuse cases, leads the Family Team at Central California Legal Services, which provides free civil legal assistance to low-income individuals, families, organizations and communities.

Gallegos said although maybe there’s been requests similar to the district’s in court before, he hasn’t come across one like it in his 26 years practicing law.

“I find those questions pretty offensive,” he said.

In California, there are laws that prohibit a defendant from delving into the sexual history of a victim, he said.

Under state law, evidence of the plaintiff’s sexual conduct is not admissible by the defendant to prove “consent by the plaintiff or absence of injury to the plaintiff.”

He said although the questions are not necessarily irrelevant, they are not allowed to be asked under state law.

“It is in a way humiliating the victim, and it’s trying to shed the light away from the defendant,” Gallegos said. “They are trying to shame, and perhaps, re-traumatize” the victim to get her to dismiss the suit.

Peña was employed by the Youth Centers of America as a youth activities coordinator and worked part-time coaching the Parlier High School boys varsity basketball team before he was charged with the felony.

He remains free on a $65,000 bail, and his tentative trial date is scheduled for Sept. 30, according to court records.