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Teacher suspected of sex abuse at elite California school is arrested in Colorado case

An aerial view of a school complex
An aerial view of the Cate School in Carpinteria at 1960 Cate Mesa Road.
(Google Maps)

A high school music teacher who was arrested last week in Boulder, Colo., after being accused of sexual misconduct by four female students is also under investigation for similar allegations during his time at an elite boarding school in Carpinteria, law enforcement authorities said Thursday.

Da’Jon James, 27, was arrested by the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office on two felony counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and one misdemeanor count of unlawful sexual contact. The four students and their parents from the private Dawson School had reported allegations including inappropriate kissing on students’ foreheads and fondling.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office identified James as a suspect in its ongoing sexual abuse and misconduct investigation at the Cate School in Carpinteria. Officers from both departments said they have been in communication. Cate officials also confirmed that James, the school’s director of vocal music for six months beginning in fall 2019, is the former employee involved in the Santa Barbara investigation.

Attempts to reach an attorney for James were unsuccessful. The Boulder County public defender’s office said it is not currently representing him. He has not been charged with any crime related to the Santa Barbara allegations.

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The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office announced in early July that it had launched an investigation at Cate after a mandated reporter outside the school came forward with allegations regarding a former teacher. The department had spoken with “several sexual assault survivors in this case who are both current and former students of Cate School,” according to a Sheriff’s Office statement.

After the July 1 announcement from the Sheriff’s Office, Cate Head of School Ben Williams said in an email to the campus community that Cate is “cooperating with an investigation by local law enforcement into alleged sexual misconduct by a former employee.” The school said it also alerted Santa Barbara County Child Welfare Services to potential misconduct by the same employee.

Late last month, Cate released another email addressing the sheriff’s investigation. The email said that the school had terminated a first-year teacher for boundary violations after “several courageous students” came forward with experiences in February 2020. The school reported the situation to Child Welfare Services and, according to the email, was told that it “did not rise to the level of a mandated report.” The school contacted Child Welfare Services again after “additional students” came forward last winter and this spring.

Cate confirmed Thursday that James was the employee in the email.

The Santa Barbara sheriff’s announcement came eight months after Cate officials told alumni they had launched an internal look into potential abuse that could date back decades. School officials said they began their investigation in October 2020 after former students came forward with allegations of “sexual misconduct involving faculty members and students that occurred several decades ago.” Frustration with the school’s handling of the investigation has brewed on social media.

Cate is the second private California boarding school in recent months to come under law enforcement scrutiny. A 91-page report published in June detailed allegations of faculty misconduct at the Thacher School in Ojai. The board of trustees last week decided to drop the former head of school’s name from the campus dining hall after the report’s findings of his alleged failure to protect students.

According to the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, allegations involving James at Dawson School were first reported in January 2021.

“The four female students disclosed they were subjected to inappropriate language, sexually explicit imagery, prolonged hugging, fondling, inappropriate complimenting, and inappropriate kissing on their foreheads. All the alleged incidents occurred on school property during school hours,” the department said.

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It was not immediately clear when James was hired at Dawson. Dawson School officials declined to comment.

In a statement, the Cate School said that a terminated employee who does not meet school standards “receives no letter of recommendation or reference from the School. In the case under investigation by the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office involving Da’Jon James, all School protocols were followed in his hiring and with respect to his termination.” The statement said the Cate head of school and assistant head “informed would-be inquiring employers of Mr. James’ termination and the reasons for it.”

Officials with Santa Barbara County Child Welfare Services were not immediately available for comment.

In interviews with The Times, several Cate parents and students described what they called problematic behavior associated with James, who also served as a “dorm parent,” including allegations of prolonged hugs and forehead kisses.

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One parent described an occasion in which James allegedly made a sexual comment to her daughter and other girls. She said her daughter reported it to Cate administrators in November 2019.

“She did everything right, she reported his behavior, and he stayed employed by the school,” the mother said. “Their response was clearly inadequate.”

Some said they did not learn of the allegations connected to James after his termination until an Instagram account began posting anonymous complaints.

Anyone with information related to the Cate School investigation is asked to contact Det. Sgt. Mark Valencia at (805) 681-4150.

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If you or someone you know needs assistance, you can reach RAINN’s sexual assault hotline at (800) 656-4673 or visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center at rainn.org.


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