Teen molested by Catholic school teacher gets record $8 million from L.A. archdiocese
For more than a year, some at San Gabriel Mission High School had expressed concerns about Juan Ivan Barajas.
Officials received reports about suspicious behavior between the athletic director and students at the all-girls campus from a coach and a parent, as well as in at least two anonymous letters.
Still, Barajas continued to oversee the office he used repeatedly to molest a 15-year-old.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles recently agreed to pay a record $8-million settlement to the victim, now 18. It is the largest individual settlement by the local church in a sex abuse case.
The incident has brought further shock waves to the Roman Catholic Church, roiled over the last year by a new series of priest sexual abuse scandals. According to local leaders, the church has imposed reforms designed to quickly identify abuse allegations and immediately take action.
The archdiocese on Tuesday said that the church had apologized to the student and that Archbishop Jose H. Gomez planned to meet with her and her family.
Over the last 15 years, the archdiocese has paid out more than $740 million in sexual abuse settlements.
Spokeswoman Adrian Marquez Alarcon said the difference in this case was that the archdiocese participated in determining the settlement. Allocations in the other sex abuse cases were “made by the counsel for the victims with court oversight,” she said. “The archdiocese did not participate in the determination.”
According to court documents, Barajas repeatedly abused the girl and eventually kidnapped her — taking her to Las Vegas in the summer of 2016 after his wife discovered evidence of the molestation on his cellphone.
After five days on the run, Barajas was found after his Lexus was spotted by a police officer in Henderson, Nev. Authorities rescued the girl and arrested Barajas, who also taught health classes at San Gabriel Mission High School.
Barajas, now 38, pleaded guilty to felony statutory sexual seduction. He was sentenced to three years in prison in Nevada and another three years in California.
“It is astounding this abuse was allowed to occur given all the training and procedures the archdiocese claims it has put in place since the priest-abuse scandals of the early 2000s,” said David Ring, the girl’s attorney.
On Tuesday, the archdiocese said it recognized the “serious harm done to the life of the victim.”
“We hope that the settlement will allow her to heal and move forward with her education and lifetime goals,” a statement to The Times said. “The archdiocese apologizes for the impact that this caused in her life.”
Records show that before the 2016 incident, Barajas was the subject of repeated misconduct allegations involving other female students.
“The warning signs here were crystal clear,” Ring said. “The complaints about Barajas were unambiguous, and yet nothing was done.”
Alarcon, however, said the matters had been investigated at the time and no evidence was found of sexual misconduct involving students.
Among the previous accusations were two anonymous letters sent in August 2015 to school officials. One, sent to Monsignor Sal Pilato, the assistant superintendent of high schools for the archdiocese, said: “He takes the ones he likes to the office.”
A parent also had expressed concerns about Barajas to the principal, saying he tried to isolate her daughter and put his arm around her, records show.
In the summer of 2015, a year before Barajas was arrested, a coach at the school had expressed concerns about Barajas’ behavior with girls on campus. Albert Ahedo reported to the principal that — on more than 50 occasions — Barajas had taken a girl into his office, where the two were alone, according to court documents.
That fall, Ahedo told the principal he suspected that Barajas and a female student had had sex in his basement office after seeing them both leave the office and fix their clothes. He also reported that Barajas had been seen in his car with other female students.
According to records in the case, Barajas received a warning from the archdiocese — known as an “employee counseling notice” — for being alone with a minor.
“Mr. Barajas had not been fully respectful of school policies,” Alarcon said. “He was counseled according to archdiocesan policies.”
By April 2016, prosecutors said, Barajas had begun engaging in sexual acts with the girl he eventually would be convicted of assaulting. Court records indicate that he stuck paper over his office window to obstruct the view.
After his wife discovered text messages between him and the girl, Barajas kidnapped the teen and fled to Nevada, where he plied her with alcohol and repeatedly sexually assaulted her, authorities said.
The victim is emotionally scarred and continues to suffer panic attacks and flashbacks, according to court records.
Barajas currently is serving the last few months of his prison sentence in Nevada’s Lovelock Correctional Center, after which he will be transferred to California custody.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.