Two Los Angeles Unified School District students will receive $3 million each after being sexually abused by their third-grade teacher during the 2010-2011 school year.
The court convicted Paul Chapel III in 2012 of lewd acts with 13 students at Telfair Elementary School in Pacoima, California. Chapel taught third-grade students with learning disabilities such as ADHD. The attorney for the plaintiffs, John Manly, said Chapel will be serving a 25-year sentence.
The New York Times’ Liam Stack writes that the district settled out of court with other victims of Chapel’s, but for unknown reasons did not do so with Manly’s two clients, who were nine and ten at the time of the abuse. The two boys are now 13 and 14.
The school’s general counsel said that district officials were “weighing our options going forward in light of our review of certain aspects of the trial.”
Although one of the attorneys for the district, Craig Barnes, asked the jury to award just $490,000 in damages, Manley argued that the boys’ learning problems and the death of their fathers during or shortly after the abuse was occurring exacerbated the boys’ trauma.
Manly said this case was part of “a cancer of sexual abuse” in this district. In 2014, $139 million was awarded to the families of 70 students who sued because of a lack of protection from Mark Berndt, who was also a third-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School. Berndt took photographs of his blindfolded students with cockroaches on their faces and spoon-fed students his semen.
Manly will represent approximately 35 more cases of the same kind pending in this district and wants to get the federal government involved.
Chapel had a previous arrest in 1997 for allegedly sexually abusing a neighbor’s son. The state reinstated his teaching credentials after this case resulted in a hung jury.
Barnes told jurors the boys were doing well, making good grades, were aspiring to be doctors, and loved skateboarding and basketball. He added that the settlement would help the boys pay for medical care, tutoring, summer school, travel, and tuition to top universities.
Vince Finaldi, who also represented the boys, said they were still enduring nightmares, flashbacks, and a lack of trust, writes Teresa Watanabe of The Los Angeles Times.
“The scars of sexual abuse will never go away,” Finaldi said. “It’s like the emotional murder of a part of your life.”
The major contention in the case was the legitimacy of the two opposing experts. Janine Shelby, a child trauma specialist and associate professor at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, said that half of trauma victims, according to research, recover within three months. Shelby later revealed that the study she referenced involved adults and the abuse referenced was not only sexual abuse.
Barnes’ criticized the plaintiffs’ expert witness, Brian Jacks, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist, because he dismissed recent trauma research and instead used his own “speculative” theories.
Manly was critical of the district’s legal strategy that attempted to blame the boys’ trauma on their ADHD, their tough neighborhoods, and the loss of their fathers.
The younger boy, says CBS Los Angeles, was a student of Chapel’s, but the older boy was enticed to visit Chapel’s classroom by the offers of his favorite candies.