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Student who says her sexual assault allegations at Rialto high school were ignored files legal claim

Press conference held last Friday in Ontario
Attorneys Samantha Hernandez-Ortega, left, and Michael Alder, center left, speak at a news conference Friday.
(Gregory Yee / Los Angeles Times)
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An attorney representing a 16-year-old Rialto high school student who claims her allegations of sexual assault by another student were ignored by school officials filed a legal claim this week against the district’s handling of the incident.

The girl told two assistant principals at the school in November that a 17-year-old boy had sexually and verbally assaulted her, according to her attorney Michael Adler. But her complaints went unheeded until last month when she broke down in class after a verbal confrontation with the boy, he said.

A teacher suggested she report what was happening to school officials, and the girl said she already had with no results, according to Adler. Her mother was contacted and she called police Feb. 16. An initial police report indicated the girl had been assaulted several times over the course of three months.

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“When detectives investigated the allegations they learned there were two additional female students, ages 15 and 16, who were sexually assaulted by the same suspect,” the Police Department said in a statement. “Although one of the victims first reported the assaults to school officials in September 2021, no notification was made to the Rialto Police Department until Feb. 16.”

Assistant Principals David Shenhan Yang, 38, and Natasha Harris, 37, were each charged last month with one felony count of child abuse under circumstances or conditions likely to cause great bodily injury or death, and two misdemeanor counts of failure of a mandated reporter to report child abuse or neglect, according to the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office.

Detectives issued a citation to the 17-year-old suspect and released him into his parents’ custody pending criminal charges, police said.

On Wednesday, Adler said he filed a legal claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, on the girl’s behalf against the Rialto School District over the school’s handling of the sexual assault claims. The girl’s identity has not been revealed because of her age.

Harris allegedly tried to brush away the claims, by saying to the girl “they are just boys” and repeatedly asked the girl if she “said ‘no’ loud enough for him to hear her,” according to the claim.

The next day, the girl was called into Yang’s office, where a security guard and the brother of the 17-year-old boy accused of assaulting her were waiting. She was told the boy was being harassed by other students and called a “pervert,” according to the claim.

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“Mr. Yang and the school’s security guard told the claimant she needed ‘to drop the beef’ and if she didn’t, she could and/or would be suspended or expelled,” according to the claim.

Later, Harris told the girl this all might be happening because of the way she dressed, the girl told authorities and her attorney.

Stephanie Olvera, the girl’s mother, said she was contacted by Vice Principal Johanna Cuellar on Feb. 16 and was told that something had happened, but “it was under investigation” and “nothing to worry about,” according to the claim.

“What makes me the angriest is that the vice principal herself reached out to me and stated to me that there was no immediate concern,” Olvera said. “I asked her plenty of times if I needed to leave my job so I can go and attend to my daughter, and she told me: ‘No, I’m a mother myself. You have no reason to worry.’”

The vice principal then told her to speak with her daughter at home, Olvera said, adding that she knew something was wrong because her daughter did not want to communicate or go out with family.

“I did mention to her while I was on the phone with her [that] my daughter’s not the same as of a couple months,” she said. “Is there a reason I should worry?”

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Harris and Yang are considered mandated reporters under California law and should have immediately contacted law enforcement after they were notified of child abuse or neglect, prosecutors said.

Syeda Jafri, a Rialto Unified School District spokeswoman, said an internal investigation by the district is continuing and that officials are cooperating with authorities.

“Obviously, had there been legally proper reporting on the first incident, the second two would likely have not happened,” Adler said.

His client is still trying to cope with what happened to her, Adler said.

“She’s a strong young lady, but obviously this is very distressing,” Adler said. “At school, we have a social network that’s kind of been taken away from her. And she would like to return to those relationships, but not be scared and threatened.”

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