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Former military school cadet wins $1.9-million verdict in sexual abuse case

Former military school cadet wins $1.9-million verdict in sexual abuse case
Former Army headmaster Jeff Barton of the Army and Navy Academy at his trial. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

A San Diego County jury has awarded nearly $1.9 million to a former cadet who said he was sexually abused by an employee at a Carlsbad military school in 2006.

Following a two-week trial, the panel recently found that the Army and Navy Academy had been negligent in supervising Juan Munoz, a former employee who the victim said had plied him with alcohol and molested him.

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An arrest warrant was issued for Munoz in 2010 after allegations involving other students came to light. Those charges were dismissed in 2012 when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

In the civil case, the jury found Munoz liable for sexual battery and sexual harassment, and found the academy had been negligent in retaining and supervising him, court records show.

"Because he was so poorly supervised, they let the lion out of the cage," said Alex Cunny, an attorney representing the former cadet, who is now 27.

Mark Lowary, an attorney for Munoz, did not respond to requests for comment.

The academy issued a statement pointing out that it had suspended Munoz in September 2007, immediately after receiving complaints about his conduct, and began an internal investigation. He resigned shortly thereafter and ended any affiliation with the campus.

The academy declined further comment on the civil suit as "part of its policy to respect the privacy of cadets and employees, past and present." The school said it "has taken and will continue to take the necessary steps to protect the physical safety and emotional well-being of our cadets and Academy employees."

In the June 28 civil verdict, the jury awarded the former cadet $710,000 in actual damages to be paid by the academy and Munoz, and $25,000 in punitive damages to be paid by Munoz.

In addition, the jury awarded the ex-cadet $1.15 million for pain and suffering, with the academy responsible for 70% and Munoz 30%.

Cunny said through the verdict "justice was done by the community."

"It's a sad case and a case that didn't have to happen," he said. "We hope this will give our client a tool to seek closure."

The verdict came days after another jury issued guilty verdicts in an unrelated criminal case also involving a former Army and Navy staffer accused of molestation.

In that case, former Army headmaster Jeff Barton was found guilty of six felony counts and faces 45 years in prison for molesting a different former cadet starting in 1999.

The victim in the Barton case also is suing Barton and the school; the civil trial is set for later this year.

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Figueroa writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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