An 18-year-old former student at Foshay Learning Center testified Thursday that she told a school administrator that she had had a sexual relationship with an assistant principal and that the administrator had advised her to recant statements she had made to police after she expressed concern that the man could go to jail.
The statement, at a court hearing for the former assistant principal, Steve Thomas Rooney, is the most direct evidence to become public that a Los Angeles school official had direct knowledge of Rooney’s alleged sexual relationship with a student before he was transferred to another school, where he allegedly molested two other students.
Rooney was ordered Thursday to stand trial on charges of having illegal sexual contact with each of the three students.
A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Unified School District said the administrator who allegedly was informed of Rooney’s alleged actions had been placed in a “non-school assignment” while police detectives examined his role in the case. His name has not been made public.
The testimony from the former Foshay student was unclear on certain key details about her conversation with the administrator, including what exactly she said that prompted him to advise her to recant.
Under cross-examination by Rooney’s lawyer, Dmitry Gorin, the young woman testified that she had a fake driver’s license that stated she was two years older and that she had committed identity theft. She also acknowledged lying under oath last year during an emancipation hearing, where she had denied having a sexual relationship with Rooney.
The former Foshay student, who testified that her relationship with Rooney led to a pregnancy when she was 16, testified along with the other two alleged victims at Rooney’s preliminary hearing.
Rooney was arrested March 4 on suspicion of forceable lewd acts with a 13-year-old girl from Markham Middle School in Watts, where he began working last year. A subsequent investigation led to molestation charges involving another Markham student and unlawful sex with the Foshay girl.
The school district has come under intense criticism for Rooney’s transfer, which came after the Los Angeles Police Department began investigating whether the educator had had sex with the Foshay student.
She testified Thursday that she essentially lived at Rooney’s downtown Los Angeles loft for portions of 2005 through 2007 and that he took her to public events, including a military ball, and on trips to San Diego and the New York home of his parents, where he had sex with her.
He began the relationship with her when she was 15, and in September 2006 she became pregnant and later suffered a miscarriage, she said.
Authorities first got involved in the case in February 2007. At that point, Rooney, a captain in the California National Guard, was arrested after he allegedly pointed a gun at the Foshay student’s stepfather. After the alleged gun incident, LAPD detectives investigated allegations that the student and Rooney were having sex. But, ultimately, prosecutors did not charge him with sexual assault.
The student testified that she sought the advice of a Foshay administrator after the gun incident and Rooney’s arrest. She said she admitted the relationship to police and then went to the administrator because she was worried Rooney would go to jail.
“I was scared and confused,” she said. At the end of the meeting, the administrator told her she “needed to recant everything,” she said.
Shortly after, she went to the Los Angeles district attorney’s office and denied to a prosecutor that she and Rooney had had sex, she testified. No charges related to their alleged relationship were filed.
The testimony comes as the LAUSD is investigating the circumstances involving Rooney’s transfer.
After Rooney’s arrest in 2007, school officials did not do an independent investigation, which is required by district policy. Instead, officials transferred him from his position as assistant principal at Fremont High in South L.A. to a non-school site and then to a position as assistant principal at Markham, where police allege he found two new victims.
Rooney was arrested in March on suspicion of molesting the 13-year-old Markham student. Following that arrest, the former Foshay student decided to come forward, she said.
She testified that she kept a scrapbook that included photos of her and Rooney kissing and visiting his parents in New York. She told the judge that she continued the sexual relationship with Rooney even after the initial police inquiry in 2007 and that the educator got her to gather up all the items connecting them.
She testified that she gave the items to a student who passed it to the school administrator she had spoken to. Prosecutors produced parts of the scrapbook Thursday but did not say where they got it.
Los Angeles Police Capt. Fabian Lizzaraga, who oversees child sex crimes, said his detectives were investigating the actions of the administrator, who did not return calls seeking comment.
The judge also heard from the 13-year-old girl, who testified that Rooney took her on a motorcycle to his apartment March 1 and, against her protests, forced her to have sex. But the girl said she did lie initially, having said that Rooney kidnapped her in a car.
The latest revelations in the Rooney case come as prosecutors criminally charged two LAUSD administrators Thursday with failing to report child sexual abuse in a separate case involving a substitute teacher in South Gate. Jesus I. Angulo, 35, principal of South East High School, and Maria Sotomayor, 36, assistant principal, were charged with one misdemeanor count each of failure to report child abuse.
Angulo and Sotomayor, both of Downey, allegedly learned of a sexual relationship between a minor female student and a 30-year-old substitute teacher seven months after it took place and failed to report it.
Teachers and administrators, as well as other professionals, are obligated by law to report any possible child abuse. In addition, LAUSD policy requires such reports. Angulo and Sotomayor face as long as six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Both have been reassigned to a non-school site.
The teacher, Jesus Salvador Saenz, has been charged with a felony for having unlawful intercourse with a minor, prosecutors said.
Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.