A Catholic high school hired a registered sex offender last year as its boys' basketball coach, apparently in violation of state law, according to documents and interviews.
Darryl McDonald, 36, of Sylmar, who took Alemany High from a winless record to the league championship in his first season, was convicted in the late 1980s of having oral sex with a minor.
School officials suspended McDonald pending an investigation after a reporter's calls Tuesday. Officials at the North Valley YMCA, where McDonald works coaching children, also said McDonald would be suspended after they learned he was on the state's sex offender database.
McDonald called the conviction an "unfortunate situation" that is being used to ruin his reputation, and referred specific questions to his attorney.
"I think anyone who knows me knows what I'm all about, that I'm not some kind of child molester," McDonald said in a brief interview in his Sylmar townhouse. "I've been so involved in the community in helping others. You can talk to any kids or parents, and that's been my track record."
Jeffrey Brodey, the lawyer who represented him 11 years ago when the charges were filed, said McDonald dated two underage girls when he was in his 20s, and got into trouble when one mother found out and called police.
"It wasn't a terrible thing and it's going to ruin his life," said Brodey, who still represents McDonald. "It's a real tragedy."
Court records show McDonald was charged in April 1988 with two counts of statutory rape, two counts of oral sex with a minor and two counts of penetration by a foreign object. In July of that year, two more statutory rape counts were added.
In March 1989, he accepted a plea bargain and was convicted of one oral sex charge. The rest were dropped, Los Angeles court records show.
McDonald's lawyer said the deal seemed in his best interest at the time, which preceded mandatory registration for sex offenders. McDonald was put on four years' probation.
"At the time, it seemed like the best deal to make this thing go away," Brodey said.
School and YMCA officials said they did not know about the conviction, and that they would never have hired a known sex offender.
Since 1997, state law has required all schools to run criminal background checks for all employees through fingerprint records in the state Justice Department, officials said. Schools are also prohibited from hiring those convicted of sex, drug and violent crimes, said Michael Van Winkle, a department spokesman.
Volunteer organizations, such as the YMCA, are not required to run background criminal checks, Van Winkle said. But if they do, and find the prospective worker has been convicted of a sex crime, the organization is required to inform the parents of every child that may be affected, he said.
YMCA officials said they sent McDonald's fingerprints to the Justice Department in 1994 and were told he did not have a criminal record.
"There's definitely something funny about this," said John Medler, executive vice president of the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles. He said YMCA employees could not reach McDonald on Tuesday, but "we're going to resolve it as soon as we can get a hold of him."
Van Winkle said it is highly unlikely that the Justice Department made a mistake. "The chance is almost zero that we would miss it," he said.
The Rev. Gregory Coiro, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said the school had run a fingerprint criminal background check, "but there doesn't appear to be a record of that" in the school's files.
"Based on the information I've heard so far, it does appear there's an element of human error," Coiro said. "Something seems to be amiss. It seems somewhere along the lines something fell between the cracks."
McDonald served as a volunteer coach at San Fernando High School from 1991 until last year. A spokesman for the Los Angeles Unified School District said it could not be determined Tuesday afternoon whether officials knew of his past, adding that the district is prohibited from requiring background checks of volunteers.
McDonald's conviction and his picture are listed on the state's sex offender database, which can be accessed at all Los Angeles Police Department stations.
According to McDonald's lawyer, he began registering his place of residence with local authorities in 1997 after a change in the law required him to do so.
In 1995, he was arrested for assaulting his then-girlfriend in Sylmar, whom Brodey said has since married McDonald. At a preliminary hearing on the charges, the woman said he had kicked her but only in response to her kicking him after a heated argument, and said other allegations on the police report had been fabricated.
A judge decided she had probably been telling the truth when she first contacted police the day after the incident, and sent the case to trial. McDonald agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a probationary sentence, court records show, although Brodey said he had recommended against taking the deal.
Those who worked with McDonald described him as a driven, talented coach. They were shocked to learn of a criminal record and said he had never done anything to lead them to believe that he would hurt a child.
Greg Herrick, whose son plays basketball at Alemany, served on the committee that hired McDonald in May 1998. He said the school never would have hired him had administrators known about the sex offense.
"This is a shock," said Herrick, who is women's basketball coach at College of the Canyons. "It's devastating for me because I think he had a great career in coaching. He was one of the most outstanding young coaches I've seen in the last 10 years."
Alemany, which had a 0-12 record in Mission League play the year before McDonald arrived, won the league co-championship under his leadership.
"He's a real good guy, ambitious, passionate about basketball, passionate about working with kids," said Dick Crowell, a former San Fernando High coach who hired McDonald as an assistant in 1991. "He never displayed anything that even remotely appeared to be inappropriate."
Times staff writers Eric Sondheimer, Rob Fernas and Mark Gomez contributed to this story.