Teacher at elite Brentwood School arrested, accused of unlawful sex with a minor

A teacher at the elite Brentwood School has been arrested on suspicion of having sex with an underage student, authorities said.

Aimee Palmitessa, 45, was taken into custody Friday by detectives, said Tony Im, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department. The alleged victim is a 16-year-old student at the school.

Palmitessa was booked on suspicion of statutory rape — sex involving a minor, Im said. She has since been released on bail, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

She could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Palmitessa is a biology teacher at the private school, one of Los Angeles’ most expensive schools, sources told The Times. She has a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology and previously taught at Penn State Abington.

Mike Riera, head of Brentwood School, informed parents of the arrest in a newsletter sent out on Saturday and said that officials were “shocked and distressed” over the allegations.

“The Los Angeles Police Department informed us yesterday afternoon that Upper School teacher, Dr. Aimee Palmitessa, had been arrested on suspicion of inappropriate relations with a Brentwood School student and is expected to face charges. … We immediately placed Dr. Palmitessa on administrative leave.

“As always, our primary concern is the safety, health and well-being of our students here at Brentwood School. To that end, we will do everything we can to cooperate with the official police investigation.”

School districts in Southern California and beyond have been trying in recent years to crackdown on teachers who abuse students.

The Los Angeles Unified School District last year paid $88 million to settle sexual abuse cases at two elementary schools where complaints about the teachers behavior had surfaced long before their arrests.

Earlier, the district paid a total of $200 million in the case of a Miramonte Elementary School teacher accused of abusing students in his classroom.

A Times analysis in 2016 found the district’s total bill for such cases surpassed $300 million in the last four years.

The abuse scandals prompted the school system to better document and retain allegations against employees.

The district also focused on better training on recognizing and reporting abuse and set up a special investigations unit.

Smaller school systems have also struggled with the issue. Last year, a jury ordered the Pomona Unified School District to pay $8 million to a former student who was molested repeatedly by a teacher, including once during a Disneyland visit.

Few details were available Sunday about how authorities learned of the Brentwood School allegations.

Brentwood is considered one of the state’s highest-ranked schools, where celebrities and business leaders have sent their children since it opened in 1972. Its students have included actor Jonah Hill and musician Adam Levine.

According to the school’s website, tuition ranges from $34,460 for K-6 students to $40,760 for students in grades 7-12. The website says the school has a financial aid program for students who cannot afford tuition. The school has about 1,000 students and 125 full-time teachers, the website said.

School administrators could not be reached for comment Sunday.

richard.winton@latimes.com

ruben.vives@latimes.com

ALSO

Mourning family calls for probe into man's overdose death in home of Democratic donor

Brother of Sinaloa drug cartel leader arrested at Mexico-Arizona border

Laguna Beach braces for far-right rally Sunday at Main Beach


UPDATES:

5:19 p.m.: Updated with background on issues at LAUSD.

2:15 p.m. This article has been updated with more information about the school and the suspect receiving bail.

This story was first posted at 9:40 a.m.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
67°