Crime

She was 15 and a virgin. The basketball coach was 37 and pursued her. Now she’s suing

Former Parlier High School boys basketball coach Francisco Peña is accused of having unlawful sex with a 15-year-old student in May 2016. His trial in Fresno County Superior Court is pending.
Former Parlier High School boys basketball coach Francisco Peña is accused of having unlawful sex with a 15-year-old student in May 2016. His trial in Fresno County Superior Court is pending.

A 15-year-old girl who allegedly had sex with a former Parlier High School boys basketball coach tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of pills, according to a lawsuit that accuses the Parlier Unified School District of negligence and the former coach of sexual assault.

For the first time, the lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court gives details about how Francisco Peña got in trouble with the law in May 2016.

In November, Peña pleaded no contest to a felony charge of unlawful sex with a minor. Then, because he didn’t want to register as a sex offender, he withdrew his plea in May. He is free on bail and his trial is pending.

Margarita Martinez-Baly, who is Pena’s criminal defense lawyer, said Monday it would be inappropriate to comment about pending litigation. Parlier Unified Superintendent Michael Berg could not be reached.

But the lawyer for the girl and her family said Pena took advantage of his position of trust. “It’s a tragedy because he stole her innocence,” said San Francisco lawyer James Quadra.

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

The girl, identified in the suit as Jane Doe, and her parents are seeking unspecified damages for negligence, negligent hiring and supervision of Peña, sexual assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Jane Doe had never had sexual intercourse prior to being raped by defendant Pena.

Fresno County Superior Court lawsuit

The lawsuit gives only the girl’s and her parents’ version of the incident:

In the summer of 2015, Jane Doe met the-then 37-year-old Peña in a Youth Center of America class, where he taught art. “Jane Doe and Mr. Peña quickly became ‘friends’ on Facebook and Mr. Peña began to flirt with Jane Doe by paying extra attention to her,” the lawsuit says.

Shortly after, Peña posted on Facebook that he needed someone to take pictures of children he coached in sports. Jane Doe volunteered to take photographs for school credit.

In January 2016, Peña began working at Parlier High, where Jane Doe was a student. In front of others, “he continued to smile and greet Jane Doe in a way that made clear his interest in her,” the lawsuit says. He also began to “openly flirt” with Jane Doe via Facebook Messenger and started sending messages nearly every day that said he could “do anything for you” and had emoticons such as hearts and winks.

At one point, Peña messaged the teen and said she looked like she was 18 years old. The girl replied she was only 15 years old, the lawsuit says.

On more than one occasion, Jane Doe met Peña at his office after hours. At one point, she asked him if they should stop messaging each other. Peña told her no and told her “to keep her relationship secret.”

In May 2016, the principal of Parlier High questioned Peña about whether he was having sex with Jane Doe. Peña denied it, the lawsuit says.

At one point, Peña messaged Jane Doe and said she looked like she was 18 years old. The girl replied she was only 15 years old, the lawsuit says.

Then on May 13, the lawsuit says Peña messaged Jane Doe, asking her to sneak out of her house and meet him. “Jane Doe climbed out of her bedroom window and went to Peña’s truck,” which was near Jane Doe’s home, the lawsuit says. “Peña then engaged in sexual contact with Jane Doe with no concern for her young age.”

Afterward, Jane Doe received messages from Peña that showered her with compliments, the lawsuit says.

A few days later, Jane Doe sneaked out of her house again and Peña drove her to his home. There he gave her liquor before engaging in sexual intercourse, the lawsuit says.

Before then, “Jane Doe had never had sexual intercourse prior to being raped by defendant Pena,” the lawsuit says.

With rumors swirling, Jane Doe was called into the principal’s office on May 20, 2016. The principal demanded to see Jane Doe’s cell phone and ordered her to turn over her password on threats of being suspended. After reading Jane Doe’s text messages, the principal called Jane Doe’s parents and asked them to come to the school. In front of the parents, the principal humiliated Jane Doe by reading her messages aloud, the lawsuit said. The principal also told Jane Doe’s parents that she would not be allowed to remain in school.

The next day, police visited Jane Doe’s home, talked with her and left. When they returned a second time that day, police found her unconscious on the floor of her bedroom. “Jane Doe had attempted suicide by swallowing heavy doses of medication,” the lawsuit says. Police administered CPR before she was rushed to the hospital.

After recovering from the overdose, the lawsuit says, Jane Doe has attempted suicide two other times, and was hospitalized each time. She also was hospitalized once for having suicidal thoughts, the lawsuit says.

Quadra said Monday that Jane Doe’s grades suffered after the assault and she had to be home schooled and get extensive counseling. But she has made progress and has returned to Parlier High School, where she will be a senior when school resumes in the fall.

“You would think they would be on watch for this type of behavior,” Quadra said of Parlier Unified, noting that in 2014, Anthony Joseph Lepore, 29, who was then Parlier High School’s boys basketball coach, was arrested on felony charges of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old student. Lepore, who is out on bail, is awaiting trial.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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