Eighteen current and former students who say they were molested by a Torrance High School wrestling coach sued the district this week, claiming that administrators had been warned the coach was sexually abusing boys but did nothing about it.
The plaintiffs were students between 1990 and January 2015 and say Thomas Joseph Snider molested them when they were younger than 18, according to the lawsuit.
Snider was charged last year with 33 felony counts of inappropriately touching children and eight misdemeanor counts of child molestation involving 25 boys between the ages of 13 and 16 from September 2013 to January 2015. Prosecutors added more charges over the next few months, alleging that he also had victimized children between 1991 and 1996. Snider has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
FOR THE RECORD
March 10, 9:34 a.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that prosecutors added additional charges after the preliminary hearing. They added additional charges both before and after the preliminary hearing.
Most of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were wrestling team members at Torrance High School from 2013 to 2015. One was a student at Madrona Middle School, where he alleges Snider sodomized him around 1990 and 1991.
The lawsuit says that one victim reported sexual abuse by Snider to Torrance High School and the district sometime between 2007 and 2010, but the allegation was ignored. Instead, Snider was allowed to be alone with students in “a separate and secluded environment” without supervision, the suit alleges.
The lawsuit claims that the district’s superintendent and the Torrance High School principal knew that “Snider had engaged in unlawful sexually-related conduct with minors in the past, and/or was continuing to engage in such conduct” before the most recent sexual assault last year.
A district spokeswoman said in a statement that Torrance Unified acted immediately by placing Snider on leave when a high school employee learned in January 2015 of “possible inappropriate conduct by Mr. Snider.” The district also immediately notified police, spokeswoman Tammy Khan said.
Snider watched students on his wrestling team shower and massaged their buttocks and groins, according to the lawsuit. The suit alleges that the coach took off the boys’ clothing to perform “skin checks,” during which he “would grope and fondle” the students’ genitals.
Wrestling coaches perform skin checks to make sure the sweat on the wrestling mat hasn’t caused fungal infections, but students don’t need to take off clothes or have covered areas checked, said John Manly, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit.
“It’s a real pattern,” Manly said. “There are children from a number of years making the same claims.”
During Snider’s preliminary hearing, a former student testified that as an adult, he returned to the school district and told officials that Snider had molested him, but the district did nothing, Manly said.
Snider began working for the school district in 1990 as a career technical education teacher and was hired as the wrestling coach two years before his arrest, The Times reported last year.
Torrance Unified has a systemic problem that goes beyond Snider, the lawsuit alleges. The complaint says the district failed to investigate other teachers and coaches who were accused of abusing children and failed to train teachers and staff on how to prevent the sexual abuse of students on campuses. The lawsuit offered no specifics to support that claim.
Snider is on unpaid administrative leave.