Ex-cheerleaders, student athletes allege they were sexually groomed by coaches
Coaches at their high school began abusing them, they say, when they were 14 and 15 years old.
During their years at Pomona High, these former cheerleaders and student athletes say, the men took them into their confidence, spent time with them and shared personal stories, sometimes openly flirting and engaging in sexually charged talk.
“There was catcalling directed at the minors by the coaches,” said attorney Natalie Weatherford, “and comments made about girls’ bodies and their development.”
But, a lawsuit says, it didn’t stop there.
Three women, former Pomona High students, are suing four former male coaches, including the current Mt. San Antonio College women’s basketball coach, alleging that when they were students at the school in the 1990s, they were sexually abused by the men.
The lawsuit includes allegations of oral copulation, digital penetration and penetrative sexual intercourse.
Tuesday’s suit is the fifth filed against the Pomona Unified School District, Pomona High School and former members of its coaching staff since 2020. The tally of female accusers has grown to eight.
Mt. San Antonio College women’s basketball coach Brian Crichlow, who has led the program for 13 seasons, was accused along with Herman Hopson, Derick Pugh and onetime Pomona Ganesha High girls’ basketball coach Vincent Spirlin. They were all coaches at Pomona High during the time the alleged abuse took place.
“Pomona High School had a prolific problem with childhood sexual abuse in the mid- to late ’90s and early 2000s,” said lead attorney Weatherford, a partner at the Manhattan Beach-based law firm Taylor & Ring, who is representing the Jane Does.
The lawsuit claims the students, members of sports or cheerleading teams, were groomed, groped, assaulted and harassed by the men, with contact continuing in some cases for years after the students left school.
The lawsuit also alleges some Pomona Unified coaches and administrators were aware of the “grooming and sexually abusive behavior” and did nothing.
Jane Doe No. 5, the first of the three claimants in this latest lawsuit, entered Pomona High her freshman year in the fall of 1996 and met Crichlow as a cheerleader, according to the lawsuit. Crichlow invited her to spend time with him in an office shared by the coaches, at campus events and at coaches’ homes.
The woman alleges the sexual abuse by Crichlow, then a girls’ basketball coach at Pomona High, began when she was 14.
After a year, she left the campus because, according to the lawsuit, “she could no longer deal with the abuse and harassment.” Crichlow continued to contact Jane Doe No. 5 for years, Weatherford said, through “texts, social media and by asking other people to check on her.”
Mt. San Antonio College told The Times it had been unaware of the allegations and issued a statement:
“There have not been any allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Crichlow at Mt. SAC. Allegations of sexual misconduct at other institutions are outside of our jurisdiction and are handled through that institution. If there are any convictions, it will be reviewed by the college, and action may be taken in accordance with Education Code.”
The filing of the lawsuit was made possible by California Assembly Bill 218, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and opened a three-year window that gave adults more time to sue over childhood sexual abuse. Tuesday’s lawsuit amended a complaint filed July 7 of last year in which none of the accused were yet named.
Jane Doe No. 6 began her freshman year at Pomona High in the fall of 1993 and was a cheerleader and track athlete. Over the course of her four years at the school, she alleges she was abused by Hopson and Pugh.
Like Crichlow, Hopson invited the girl inside the coaches’ office and the boys’ locker room, the lawsuit says. He allegedly gave her alcohol and marijuana while on campus.
When the abuse started, the lawsuit says, Jane Doe No. 6 was 14 and Hopson was in his 40s. The abuse went on for two years, the lawsuit states, and ended around June 1995 — but in her senior year, the abuse by Pugh began.
Pugh, then a boys’ basketball coach, is accused of sexually abusing the girl on campus and off.
The lawsuit states that “PUSD administrators and personnel witnessed” close contact between Jane Doe Nos. 5 and 6 with Crichlow, Hopson and Pugh and “failed to do anything.”
As for Jane Doe No. 7, she enrolled as a ninth-grader for the 1994-95 school year and said she quickly became aware of underage drinking condoned by coaches and sexual relationships between coaches and players on campus and on athletic trips.
The lawsuit states Spirlin sexually abused Jane Doe No. 7 her junior year. She was 15. The abuse allegedly continued into her senior year.
Spirlin served as coach of the Pomona Ganesha High School girls’ basketball team as recently as the 2020 season, when he led them to a CIF-Southern Section Division 5-A championship.
Pomona Unified Interim Supt. Darren Knowles issued a statement Thursday afternoon: “The District has been made aware of alleged inappropriate conduct including sexual molestation between certain students and staff affiliated with Pomona High School during the 1990’s. Upon receipt of this information, which first surfaced in or around 2018, the District reported allegations to law enforcement and launched an investigation. More recently, accusations from the same time period included a staff member at Ganesha High School. While there is a presumption of innocence in matters of this nature, the District takes these allegations with the utmost seriousness. Out of an abundance of caution, the District is launching its own investigation and has removed the staff member from Ganesha High School’s campus, placing them on leave during the process and pending the outcome. Meanwhile, the District is participating in the legal process. As always, our effort is to attend to the protection of students on our campuses as a priority.”
Named, but not accused, in Tuesday’s lawsuit was former NFL player Kitrick Taylor, then a school track and field coach. The suit described him as a witness to the abuse. Taylor was previously sued by other former Pomona High School students who accused him of sexual abuse.
The lawsuit is one of two being handled by Taylor & Ring, which earlier sued on behalf of two additional women: Jane Doe No. 3 and Jane Doe No. 4.
“For the women, this is about holding the school accountable, holding the coaches accountable,” Weatherford said, “and to be compensated for this trauma.”
Three of the other lawsuits involving Crichlow and Taylor have been settled.
Pomona Unified recently filed paperwork to sue the coaches.
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