The Napa Valley Unified School District settled a lawsuit this month connected to sexual abuse committed by a former Shearer Elementary School volunteer for $1 million.
The victim, a man now in his 30s, was first abused by the male volunteer – Joseph Angel Ortiz – when he was only 11-years-old, according to the lawsuit.
Attorney Brian Kabateck of Kabateck Brown Kellner LLP out of Los Angeles, who filed the suit in Napa County Superior Court in 2014, said that Ortiz continued to sexually abuse his client weekly for several years.
His client first came in contact with Ortiz, now age 40, when he volunteered in and out of the classroom at Shearer Elementary School nearly two decades ago. Ortiz “groomed” the sixth grader by earning his trust at school and by inviting him over to his house to jump on his trampoline, watch television and play video games, according to the suit.
School staff knew that Ortiz, who wasn’t an employee or officially authorized to be on school grounds, was seeing children after school and inviting them to his home, but no one bothered to do a background check on him, Katabeck said.
“They just let the guy be there, which blows me away to this day,” he said. In the lawsuit, Katabeck’s client, whose identity remains confidential, accused the school and the school district of negligent hiring and supervision, negligent training and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
“He felt very strongly that the district needed to be held accountable for their actions here,” Katabeck said of his client. The pain his client experienced will never go away but at least he was compensated in part and the school district was able to be held accountable, he said.
Representatives with the district did not disclose their reasons for settling, but, according to the terms of the settlement, the district did not admit to and denies any liability.
“The incident happened back in the 90s,” Elizabeth Emmett, NVUSD spokeswoman, told the Register on Wednesday. The only other comment the district had other than pointing out the age of the case is that the $1 million is covered by insurance and will not come out of the district’s budget.
Katabeck’s client initially reported the abuse to police in 2011, but dropped the allegations after Ortiz allegedly threatened him and his family. He was interviewed again in 2014 after another one of Ortiz’s victims came forward to report similar abuse, according to attorneys.
Until then, he had been living in fear that Ortiz would hurt him or his family if he reported the abuse and that it would jeopardize his “professional growth” and “personal self-worth” in Napa County, where he still resides, according to the suit.
Ortiz was arrested in 2014 and eventually convicted of 45 counts of felony child sexual abuse as well as three counts of misdemeanor sexual battery and three counts of child molestation. He was sentenced to 30 years, eight months in prison plus an additional sentence of 25 years to life and is currently being held at High Desert State Prison in Susanville.
Between 1998 and 2013, Ortiz had at least six victims, both boys and girls, ages 8 to 17, including the plaintiff in the suit against the Napa school district, according to court testimony presented during Ortiz’s six-day jury trial. Abuse against the children occurred not only in Napa but also in Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa.
Ortiz gained access to Katabeck’s client while working as a volunteer at Shearer, but Dziadur said that Ortiz accessed the majority of victims by using a romantic relationship with a woman. He contacted one victim while coaching teen softball in a non-school program, she said.
Prosecutors said that Ortiz kept photos of the children and mementos from their times together in a storage unit in Napa, where investigators found a larger cache of over 100,000 images of feet interspersed with pornography. According to Dziadur, Ortiz had a foot fetish, and liked to pin children back so he could smell or massage their feet while “dry humping,” a practice that was cited by every one of the victims.
“This was this man’s MO, so that’s what he did to all these kids,” Dziadur said in court.
In the same lawsuit, Katabeck’s client alleged that Ortiz was guilty of assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional stress. This portion of the suit isn’t being pursued.
The settlement with NVUSD was finalized June 8.