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Mater Dei controversy: High school football powerhouse’s scandal, explained

Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson, a player and another male adult on a sideline.
Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson, center.
(Kyusung Gong)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Nov. 30. I’m Justin Ray.

A scandal involving one of the top high school football programs in the country involves allegations of a brutal hazing ritual that left a former player with a traumatic brain injury, according to a lawsuit.

The family of the football player has filed the lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court and names Mater Dei and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange as defendants. It describes a ritual known as “Bodies” during which two players fight “until [one] can’t take it anymore and gives up.”

Mater Dei has not yet filed a response in court.

The former Mater Dei player’s family alleges negligence, violation of California’s hazing penal code, failure to properly protect the player and infliction of emotional distress. They are seeking damages to be determined during a trial along with medical expenses and legal costs.

The incident

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An athlete referred to as Teammate 1 in the lawsuit encouraged the plaintiff to participate in Bodies with Teammate 2, the son of a Mater Dei assistant football coach.

The lawsuit stated that the student agreed to participate. As a result of his decision to take part in the Feb. 4 ritual, the Orange County district attorney’s office does not plan to file charges in the case and views the altercation as mutual combat, according to Southern California News Group, which first reported the story.

The plaintiff’s family obtained video of the incident. It was a clear mismatch, according to video viewed by the Southern California News Group, with the plaintiff’s swings badly missing and Teammate 2 repeatedly connecting on punches to the head and face that knocked the smaller athlete to the ground.

According to the lawsuit, no Mater Dei staff intervened on behalf of the injured player, who struggled to stop blood leaking from his face. He was told “not to snitch,” according to the lawsuit, and when an athletic trainer eventually examined his injuries, he said he had hit his face on a sink.

The lawsuit alleges that when the plaintiff’s father arrived at the school, he questioned the trainers about the explanation for his son’s injuries before taking him to a nearby urgent care facility.

The fallout

The player was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, and a specialist determined his nasal fractures required immediate surgery to repair and reconstruct his nose. He stayed home from school for weeks recovering and experienced pain, slurred speech and cognitive dysfunction, the lawsuit states.

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“Recent media coverage references deeply disturbing accusations about our football program and administration, suggesting they acted in conflict with our steadfast commitment to student safety,” Mater Dei’s president, the Rev. Walter E. Jenkins, said in a recent statement. “It pains me to hear about any student suffering harm of any kind on our campus. My heartfelt prayers go out to the affected student and family.”

Bruce Rollinson’s future as coach could be in jeopardy considering that coaches have been ousted at nearly every level when a hazing incident is confirmed, The Times has reported.

Mater Dei will advance to play in the CIF state championship Open Division bowl game Dec. 11 at Saddleback College.

There are so many more details, but because this is a newsletter I can’t include everything. I encourage you to read more about the complaint that describes how the school is alleged to have reacted after the incident.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Twitter Inc., is stepping down, ceding the position to the company’s Chief Technology Officer Parag Agrawal. The move is effective immediately, though Dorsey will stay on the board of the social media company, which has its headquarters in San Francisco, until his term expires in 2022, Twitter said in a statement Monday. “I’ve decided to leave Twitter because I believe the company is ready to move on from its founders,” Dorsey said in the statement. “My trust in Parag as Twitter’s CEO is deep. His work over the past 10 years has been transformational. I’m deeply grateful for his skill, heart, and soul. It’s his time to lead.” Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

To protest COVID mandates, this California town declared itself a ‘constitutional republic.’ For Oroville Vice Mayor Scott Thomson, the father of two young boys, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mandate requiring schoolchildren to be vaccinated against COVID-19 was the final straw. He believed the government had no right to tell him what to put into his, or his children’s, bodies. Many of his constituents agreed when it came to pandemic mandates. And so, he came up with a grandiose idea for his small Northern California city. Oroville declared itself a constitutional republic. Los Angeles Times

A street of businesses at dusk.
Montgomery Street, in downtown Oroville, at dusk.
(Hailey Branson-Potts / Los Angeles Times)

Californians legalized pot, but some cities still don’t have retail dispensaries. Californians voted to legalize adult-use marijuana in 2016. However some of the biggest cities in the state do not have any licensed cannabis businesses. Out of the 482 cities in the state, 174 of them are without. Many of those cities allow only non-retail cannabis operations, such as manufacturing or distribution, “and so are arguably missing the most important part of the legal supply chain,” says Hirsh Jain of Ananda Strategy, a marijuana consultancy. That’s because Proposition 64, the ballot initiative that legalized adult-use marijuana in the state, contained a provision that gave local jurisdictions the power to decide for themselves whether to allow retail cannabis activity in their boundaries. Sacramento Bee

CRIME AND COURTS

How the theft of 44 firearms from an L.A. gun store exploded into an LAPD scandal. Archi Duenas, manager of the gun store at the Los Angeles Police Academy, had been reprimanded over the years for tardiness and sloppy record keeping, but he never took time off, county prosecutors wrote in a memo. As the store’s closing supervisor, he was there each night to lock up — and hand count the inventory. If someone else had been assigned that count, they might have discovered that dozens of guns were missing and that Duenas was stealing them and selling them for cash, prosecutors wrote in the memo. This went on for years, facilitated by a lack of oversight and safety protocols. The Times explains how it all came crashing down in February 2020. Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Police Academy surrounded by palm trees.
The Los Angeles Police Academy in Elysian Park on Nov. 22 in Los Angeles.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)
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Family members say a 12-year-old boy was killed by a stray bullet while celebrating Thanksgiving in a San Diego backyard. Maria Gaspar-Casillas said her nephew was hit in the back by a bullet that came through at least one fence. She said family members tried to help Angel Domingo Gaspar Gallegos before paramedics arrived at the home in the Skyline neighborhood. She says the boy was taken to a hospital, where he died. San Diego Union-Tribune

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

A 64-year-old man was killed and two other people were rescued late Sunday after an enormous tree came crashing down onto an Encino home, authorities said. The oak tree — estimated to weigh 100,000 pounds — smashed into a two-story house around 11:14 p.m., according to officials with the Los Angeles Fire Department. Authorities said the weather conditions were calm when the tree fell. Video from the scene shows a badly crushed house amid a chaotic tangle of leaves and branches. Los Angeles Times

‘If he goes to prison, he’ll die’: John Samuel Maurer, the 10th of 11 brothers and sisters, was an intelligent, charming and handsome college student when the first cracks in his winning personality began to show. While his sister Sarah was rising to prominence in Los Angeles political circles, John was descending into a vortex of mental illness, slipping through virtually every institution in a safety net so tattered that not even his accomplished siblings could make it work. There are thousands of others like John Maurer, whose mental illness, compounded by drug use, keeps them in a cycle of homelessness, hospitalization and jail. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Home is where the strip malls are. An Uong explains how her relationship with San Fernando Valley was heavily shaped by strip malls. “Since my family has never owned a car, so much was out of reach for us in Southern California,” Uong writes. “The strip malls around the corner offered us affordable home goods, produce, and take-out meals on days when there wasn’t much to eat at home. We grew to know the owners and workers at each store.” The story begins with a funny anecdote about her father’s insistence on receiving a special at a restaurant. Catapult

The Drop in Coalition is a Santa Cruz foundation started in memory of entrepreneur Tushar Atre. It has partnered with other local organizations to introduce young Latinas to the sport of surfing. The girls travel to Pleasure Point — coming from as close as Live Oak and as far as Seaside — to learn how to ride waves and the vast ecosystem of Monterey Bay. Amid the pain of the two-year anniversary of Atre’s death Oct. 1, the group’s founders felt comfort, thanks to the first-year success of the Drop in Coalition, which had nine groups and 24 program graduates. “As a Latina, I could just never picture myself out there,” said Harbor High School junior Amy Canizal Flores. “I mean, I saw a lot of white guys, but I never saw somebody like me, so I was like, ‘Oh, maybe it’s not for me’ or ‘Who’s gonna teach me?’” Lookout Santa Cruz

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: 78 San Diego: Cloudy 69 San Francisco: Cloudy 64 San Jose: 75 Fresno: 68 Sacramento: This cat likes his tie. 65

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from George Donoho Bayless:

In 1939 my mother sat me down on a Texaco gas station’s street curb to watch the annual Rose Bowl parade. I was 8 years old. I was given a Texaco fireman’s helmet. I loved the music of the marching bands. I played in marching bands through college.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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