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Water polo coach sues school district for libel over sex abuse allegations

Water polo coach Randy Burgess has filed a libel suit against the Coronado Unified School District over its response to sexual abuse allegations made against Burgess last year.

Burgess believes the school district’s public statements about the claims exposed the coach and gym teacher to “hatred, contempt, and ridicule” and “caused him to be shunned or avoided,” according to a complaint filed Sept. 13.

This is the district’s statement referenced in the libel suit:

“The collective focus and priority of the Coronado Unified School District is teaching and learning while nurturing a safe and supportive environment for those within our shared community. Allegations have been made against a Coronado Unified School District staff member. The District takes such claims very seriously. When the allegations became known, the District followed policy and protocol by taking immediate action to protect the safety and security of District students and staff. As this is a personnel-related issue, the District has no further comment.”

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Allegations that Burgess sexually molested a minor surfaced in April 2017.

The district immediately placed the water polo coach on paid administrative leave while it investigated the claims. Police received a similar claim against Burgess and “prosecuting authorities found no merit in the claim and declined to charge,” the lawsuit states.

The Coronado Unified School District did not respond to questions about the April 2017 allegations or Burgess’ libel suit.

The district reinstated Burgess in November 2017, but not necessarily because of an internal investigation.

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Burgess was allowed to return to the classroom after the person who filed the complaint missed a six-month deadline to file a lawsuit. The school district “did not exonerate (Burgess) and did not correct the Statement to describe the real reason for the extended removal,” according to court papers.

It’s unclear if the district ever completed its investigation of the claims. It never released any findings and did not respond to questions.

Burgess’ libel suit is one of three separate legal cases the water polo coach has against his employer.

Burgess initially filed court papers to ask a judge to compel the district to lift the paid suspension, claiming it violated his rights to due process. That case is on appeal.

Over the summer, Burgess asked a judge to prevent the district from releasing documents related to sexual harassment claims made against him.

In November 2017, the investigative news nonprofit Voice of San Diego filed a records request for, “All public records relating to any substantiated claims of sexual misbehavior and related misconduct” for employees. The district identified four documents, including a “certificate of completion” and “pleadings from another case,” and planned to give them to the Voice of San Diego in December 2017, but Burgess objected.

It’s unclear if those incidents are related to the April 2017 allegations against Burgess. His lawyer did not respond to questions about the two cases.

Burgess accused the district of releasing the documents as a form of retaliation against the paid-suspension and libel suits.

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Additionally, Burgess argues in court that the documents should not be public records because the claims made against him are unsubstantiated.

“There has been no investigation of the claimed incidents and no opportunity for Burgess to respond,” court records state. “Thus, the District has no basis on which to conclude the alleged incidents are ‘well founded,’ and the fact no investigation was even started means the District concluded just the opposite.”

Solis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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