Santa Ana Unified School District quietly paid $2.175 million last October to settle a lawsuit filed by the families of six boys who said they were sexually abused and harassed from 2013 to 2015 by a former Segerstrom High School part-time baseball coach.
The lawsuit, filed in 2017, alleged that their cases were part of a broader pattern at Segerstrom High, claiming the school was negligent in hiring and supervising Carlos Salcito Sales Jr. and other part-time coaches, and that officials failed to report Sales’ crimes to authorities to protect the school’s reputation.
Sales eventually pleaded guilty to 16 felony counts involving 10 victims, and in 2018 was sentenced to two years in prison. He was one of three Segerstrom High coaches accused of sexual misconduct during an 18-month period.
“This is part-and-parcel of the poisonous culture that exists (and existed) at SAUSD, in covering up suspected sexual abuse and abusers within its ranks, all in order to avoid scrutiny from law enforcement and outside agencies,” the lawsuit states.
District officials declined to answer specific questions about the Sales case or the settlement. They also did not answer questions about whether there is or was a pattern of misconduct at Segerstrom High, but said the district has “taken several proactive measures to ensure thorough screenings of any staff, volunteers and other adults who interact with students.”
The opaque nature of the Sales saga illustrates how the process of setting financial compensation for sexual abuse victims can happen largely behind closed doors and with little transparency at Santa Ana Unified. Records show that the elected board members discussed the Sales case once, in a 2019 closed session. And two board members, John Palacio and Carolyn Torres, said this month that they do not recall discussing the settlement last fall or voting on it.
District officials said the final decision to settle and pay victims was reached by their attorneys and the district’s insurance provider, Alliance of Schools for Cooperative Insurance Programs. That decision was made in April and finalized in October, according to the settlement agreement. Those decisions and details of the payout were never disclosed publicly.
District officials declined to say if Santa Ana Unified has paid victims in other recent abuse allegations, or if the payout on the Sales case was a particularly large amount for such a case.
But the district has been hit with higher insurance premiums and is looking at whether organizations, non-profits, contractors and consultants looking to work with students need to secure additional insurance, including for sexual abuse and molestation.
Before he worked as an assistant baseball coach at Segerstrom, Sales, now 30, was on the varsity team for three of his four years at Segerstrom and was named all-league three times before graduating in 2009, according to published reports.
But according to the lawsuit, when Sales came to the school as a volunteer, from 2011 to 2012, he had “no experience working with kids, no training in working with kids, received no mandated reporter training from SAUSD, had never received any training from SAUSD… “
What’s more, according to the lawsuit, “Sales was let on-campus without any vetting.”
Specifically, the lawsuit says, Sales initially was allowed to work with minors without a background check or formal “approval from administration, or any acknowledgement that he was allowed or otherwise permitted to be on-campus,” according to court documents. Only after he’d worked as a volunteer for about a year, in 2012, was Sales required to pass a LiveScan background check. When he passed, he was offered a stipend and allowed to coach the Junior-Varsity team.
Still, the lawsuit argues, “the culture at SAUSD for the adults on-campus was one of permissiveness.”
Over the next three years Sales would go on to sexually abuse students.
According to the civil suit, Sales sent inappropriate texts and photographs, including of his penis, to some players. In some cases, he sent as many as 30 texts per night, sometimes asking the victims to masturbate and send him photos, and he asked if he could join them in having sex with their girlfriends.
The abuse included physical touching, with Sales rubbing himself against the boys while they were doing squats in the weight room, purportedly to “spot” players during the weightlifting.
“This happened in plain sight and on several occasions,” the lawsuit states. The abuse continued “during school hours, and especially during baseball practice… The boys simply could not get away from Sales and his abuse.”
On Feb. 15, 2018, Sales pleaded guilty to 16 felony counts involving 10 victims. He was handed several sentences, but they were to be served concurrently over two years. State records show Sales was released from prison in 2019 and was last known to be living in Santa Ana.
That two-year sentence wasn’t well-received by Sales’ victims. Many of the former players and their parents spoke at Sales’ sentencing hearing. Kimberly Edds, spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney, said this month that prosecutors objected to the terms of the deal agreed to by the judge.
Attorney Michael Molfetta, who represented Sales during the criminal trial, said last week that his client was “a guy who was struggling with some issues” and was punished appropriately. Sales, he said, is not a pedophile.
“He’s not anything other than a person who very inappropriately and criminally was trying to figure out who he was,” Molfetta said.
Officials at Santa Ana Unified said the district has policies and procedures in place to ensure students’ safety, and have taken additional steps since 2015, although they’re not necessarily linking any of those to Sales’ case or other sex abuse allegations.
Those steps include using the Raptor system, which screens people on campus, including parent volunteers, with sex offender registries. In August 2017, as a result of a new state law, the district also implemented “training for athletic directors to increase their awareness and knowledge in the area of preventing sexual abuse.”
The district also provides “student training to equip and empower them on issues of abuse,” requires district-wide mandated reporter and child sexual abuse training every year, and taps a national educators’ organization “as an additional screening resource,” a district statement reads.
“We know that these protocols and the District’s standards of excellence make all our campuses among the safest places for children in our community and we will continue to make the safety of our students our highest priority.”
Such protocols are standard at school districts across the state.
Even as the criminal case was settled in 2018, the civil lawsuit was moving forward against Sales, the school district and a travel team called Dirtdog Baseball Club, where Sales also worked.
Alex Cunny, an Irvine lawyer who represented the boys and their families, said the $2.175 million settlement gives the families a sense of closure and helps pay for therapy.
“It also gave them a sense of justice that their suffering was recognized by the school district,” said Cunny, of the Manly, Stewart & Finaldi law firm. The settlement, Cunny added, sends a message that Santa Ana Unified “needs to clean up how these sports programs are operated.”
The lawsuit argues that some school officials knew of the misconduct but did nothing about it.
But Erasmo Ramirez, Segerstrom’s varsity baseball head coach for the past decade, said last week that he received no complaints from players, their parents or other coaches that Sales was acting inappropriately. He learned of Sales’ actions only after he was arrested.
“We had no clue whatsoever,” Ramirez said. “I found out about this on my way to practice. When I got there (the Segerstrom campus,) there was quite a scene on campus by where we park by our fields, with unmarked police cars there. I guess they were waiting for (Sales) to show up for practice and make an arrest.”
Ramirez said if he had known of Sales’ behavior, he would have acted. “Are you kidding me? I would have confronted him if I knew about anything of that sort.”
Ramirez added that Sales passed a Live Scan fingerprint background check, which tracks an individual’s criminal history and is required to join the coaching staff. Because of that, he said, there was no indication that Sales posed a danger to the school’s student-athletes.
“If everybody comes out clean in the background checks, who’s to know?”
Attorneys for the boys and their families said Sales wasn’t the only problem. Instead, they argue, there were other allegations of abuse at Segerstrom that they said emanated from lax vetting practices involving walk-on coaches. At Segerstrom and other high schools in Orange County, walk-on assistants are not full-time faculty or staff but often fill the role of assistant or head coaches.
“There’s a whole history of having issues with coaches in that athletic department,” attorney Vince Finaldi, who also represented the boys’ families, said of Segerstrom High.
Besides Sales, Finaldi noted two other alleged sex abuse cases around the same time.
In 2016, a Segerstrom walk-on wrestling coach allegedly tried to date a girl, and also hugged her, kissed her and sent her photos of himself. The case wound its way to the police and the District Attorney’s office, which did not file charges.
Another allegation involved basketball walk-on coach Tracey Stephen Fulford, then 52, who was arrested in 2017 on suspicion that he had a sexual relationship with a student-athlete. He faced two felony counts but died in 2018 while his case was pending, so the case was dismissed.
Former Segerstrom girls basketball head coach Jeff Watts said in an interview last week that he tried to halt the alleged affair. Watts said the player told another coach about it and, Watts said, he met with that coach who told told him of the affair and the player involved.
“That meeting was on a Friday at 6 o’clock in the evening, during the summer,” Watts said. “Our athletic director was in Thailand. So I didn’t tell them (school administration) until Monday, but they thought I should have told them about it before that.”
Fulford was fired. Watts, meanwhile, said he was suspended by the school for a year because he failed to notify administration immediately about the allegation against Fulford. Watts said he fought the suspension unsuccessfully in court and was fired in retaliation. Watts, who has coached high school girls basketball in Orange County for more than 30 years, including 12 years at Segerstrom, now is an assistant girls basketball coach at Foothill High School in the Tustin Unified School District.
Nick Canzone, Segerstrom’s athletic director then and now, declined to comment on any school or school athletic issue that involves litigation.
Orange County Register/SCNG staff writer Sean Emery contributed to this report.
Source: Orange County Register