Ex-coach Joe Kikuchi threatened a player he was sexually abusing, prosecutor says

Prosecutors say they have tens of thousands of text messages supporting the charges that former Mark Keppel High School basketball coach Joseph Alan Kikuchi sexually abused a player on his team from February to September.

Los Angeles Deputy Dist. Atty. Rena Durrant told a judge about the texts at a Friday hearing at the Los Angeles Superior Court's Alhambra Courthouse.

He also threatened the victim, Durrant told the judge during the bail hearing. During the hearing, she read aloud some texts that Kikuchi allegedly sent to the girl, who was 15 when the alleged abuse started, after she tried to break off the relationship multiple times. She is now 16.

One message read, “Don’t piss me off. If you do this, I will move up other girls," according to Durrant. That was referring to the other girls on the basketball team, she said. He allegedly threatened to take a number of clothing items from her, and demanded that she give a pair of shoes back to him. “I’ll make sure we are enemies,” Durrant said the texts from Kikuchi read. “Don’t push me, cuz I’ll get ugly as ..., ok? Don’t push me!!”

Kikuchi, 56, was taken into custody after the hearing and will be held on $1.47 million bail. If he posts bail he will be required to wear a GPS monitoring device. His lawyer, Paul Geller, said he expects Kikuchi to post bail Friday.

His arraignment was scheduled for Friday. Kikuchi was supposed to plead guilty, not guilty or no contest to 24 counts of sexual abuse and child molestation. The judge agreed to postpone the arraignment hearing until Dec. 1. Geller said he recently received many discovery documents, and remains in conversation with the prosecutors about the case.

The former girls basketball coach was charged Thursday, almost a month after his arrest. Kikuchi is accused of abusing one of the teenagers on his basketball team repeatedly between February and September.

He is charged with 13 counts of sexual penetration by a foreign object, five  counts of lewd acts upon a child, five misdemeanor counts of child molestation, and one count of oral copulation of a person under 16.

Prosecutors asked for $1.47 million bail, in line with the charges, but Geller asked the judge to reduce the bail. Geller brought a stack of letters of support from the community, which he presented to the judge. He pointed to Kikuchi’s clean record, the letters of support and Kikuchi’s ties in the community — he has been married for about 30 years and has three grown children, his 93-year-old father lives in in the Los Angeles area, he attended Alhambra High — as evidence that Kikuchi is not a flight risk.

Kikuchi has had no contact with the alleged victim or others related to the case since the initial search warrant on Sept. 16, Geller told the judge.

Throughout the exchange, Kikuchi stood by his lawyer’s side in a gray suit, hands clasped in front of him. 

Kikuchi declined to comment on the case and directed questions from a reporter to his lawyer, who also declined to comment on the facts of the case. Geller said in an interview that he asked for reduced bail because Kikuchi is not a flight risk.

Alhambra police began investigating Kikuchi in September after a school staff member reported rumors of an "alleged inappropriate relationship," and they arrested him on Sept. 24. Kikuchi's lawyer denied all allegations after the arrest.

The allegations have stunned the close-knit Asian American basketball community, which sponsors numerous leagues involving more than 10,000 players throughout Southern California. Kikuchi was a well-known and respected coach who has worked with hundreds of boys and girls over nearly 40 years of volunteering with teams involved in the Japanese American Optimist Club's girls league, the CYC Basketball boys league, the San Gabriel Valley Basketball Club and other organizations. A number of community members came to the courthouse to support Kikuchi, but they declined to discuss the case or provide their names.

Judge Jared Moses said the letters reflected someone with deep community support, though many acknowledged that they were speaking about his character, rather than to the allegations. In one letter obtained by the Los Angeles Times, the writer said she had known Kikuchi for 13 years, ever since her child began playing ball with the coach's son in kindergarten. The writer called him kind, warm and encouraging. Another letter from a former player credits her current college basketball career to Kikuchi. She wrote that she thought of him as a fatherly figure.

Durrant told the judge she doubts half those letters would have been sent if the people writing them had seen the text messages and threats she had read in court Friday. 

If convicted, Kikuchi faces up to 20 years in state prison and lifetime registration as a sex offender.

Reach Sonali Kohli on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli or by email at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com.

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