It was late on a Sunday night in December 2015 when Ian Sabala, a teacher at Kennedy High School in La Palma received an email from a former student.
“I have a question about a dilemma,” the former student, at the time an undergrad at an out of state university, wrote in the email.
The young woman, a former Kennedy water polo player who had taken an anatomy class from Sabala, said earlier that day she found out from girls then on the Kennedy water polo team that an assistant water polo and swim coach at the school was “trying to get at one of the freshman players.”
The coach was Joshua Owens.
Like the girls on the Kennedy team, the former student said she was reluctant to speak up, especially to Eric Pierce, the water polo head coach, and Dean Wang, one of the schools athletic directors.
“Because this isnt the first time this assistant coach has tried to date a player on the team,” the former student wrote. “Last year he actually dated one of the players and when it was brought to the attention of the head coach it was quickly swept under the rug.”
Indeed, more than a year earlier a parent of a Kennedy water polo player complained to Pierce that Owens was dating his daughter. The girl was 15. Owens was 21.
“I didnt take it seriously,” Pierce said according to a police report.
A Buena Park Police Department police report and emails, letters and reports by Kennedy coaches, teachers and administrators obtained by the Orange County Register show that even when confronted with accounts of Owens sexual misconduct with female athletes, some as young as 14, the Kennedy employees repeatedly failed to report Owens to law enforcement or Child Protective Services as required by California law.
Owens was cleared by a 2015 investigation by a Kennedy athletic director that was completed in less than 24 hours after Sabala received the emails from the former student. The alleged victim was not interviewed by school officials during the investigation and the allegations were not forwarded to law enforcement or CPS, according to police records.
Kennedy employees “never reported (Owens) to authorities despite numerous mandated reporters having the information,” according to police documents.
The failure of Kennedy administrators, coaches and teachers to fulfill their legal responsibilities as mandated reporters enabled Owens to continue sexually abusing two teenage athletes, begin sexually abusing a Kennedy freshman athlete in 2016 and sexually harass at least two other Kennedy students, asking them to have sex with him, according to police reports.
Owens allegedly molested and masturbated in front of the 15-year-old victim while they were in his car in the Kennedy faculty parking lot during school hours, according to police reports.
Owens, one of the Kennedy players he asked to have sex with told police, “regularly commented with the girls about their boobs, butts, and ranked their attractiveness.”
Pierce, Wang, Kennedy principal Russell Earnest, Dave Jankowski, another athletic director, and Sabala, according to a detective who investigated Owens “are all mandated reporters, and yes, (in a) legal sense and the moral sense, they all did have that obligation to report.”
Todd Franssen, then a Buena Park detective, said he was so concerned about Kennedy officials failure to report allegations against Owens to authorities that he discussed with the Orange County District Attorneys office whether Earnest, now an associate principal at Duarte High School, should be charged with the crime of failure to mandatory report.
“It was a discussion that came up,” Franssen, now an investigator for the Orange County DAs office, said in recent deposition, related to a civil suit filed against the Anaheim Union High School District by former Kennedy players.
“The person I felt that dropped the ball most that represented the school would have been Coach Pierce and hes the one that I strongly felt that criminal charges should have been filed on,” Franssen continued.
Franssen was so frustrated when Pierce would not respond to his repeated telephone calls that at one point in order to finally get the coach on the phone the detective had a Kennedy secretary call Pierce so that the school phones caller ID showed up on the coachs phone.
“He was somewhat shocked that I was on the phone or I put him in a spot where he was kind of forced to talk to me when he was avoiding me,” Franssen recalled, in the deposition.
Owens, who also worked as a part-time lifeguard for the Long Beach Fire Department, pleaded guilty last August to one count each of oral copulation with a victim younger than 16, and sexual penetration of a victim younger than 16 and six misdemeanor counts of child annoyance. He was sentenced to six months in jail, according to plea agreement documents.
Bahram Hojreh, another Kennedy High water polo coach, was arrested last April and charged with nearly two-dozen felony and misdemeanor charges, including lewd acts upon a child, sexual penetration of a minor with a foreign object, child annoyance and sexual battery.
Prosecutors allege that between September 2014 to January 2018; Hojreh touched players breasts and genitals, digitally penetrated victims, and coerced girls to touch his genitals while working as a water polo coach at the International Water Polo Club in Los Alamitos. The acts took place during one-on-one coaching sessions between Hojreh and the players, four of whom were 15 years old or younger at the time.
Hojreh, who has denied any wrongdoing, was hired as the girls varsity head coach at Kennedy in August 2017. He was placed on administrative leave by the Anaheim Union High School District on Jan. 3, 2018 after district officials became aware of a police investigation of Hojreh. He was eventually fired by the district.
Hojreh was hired at Kennedy seven months after abruptly leaving his coaching position at University High in Irvine in January 2017. He was also hired despite being the director at International Water Polo where he employed Pierce as his assistant director. Pierce was fired at Kennedy in January 2017.
“I wasnt given a firm reason for my dismissal,” he told the Register at the time. “Everything I had to give Ive given to the program.”
Wang and Jankowski continue be employed as athletic directors at Kennedy. Sabala teaches health, sports medicine and human anatomy at the school, according to Kennedys website.
Four former Kennedy water polo players have filed two separate civil lawsuits against Anaheim UHSD and USA Water Polo in Orange County Superior Court alleging sexual battery, negligence, emotional distress and false imprisonment related to incidents with their coaches.
The suits accuse Owens and Hojreh of sexual battery and Anaheim UHSD and USA Water Polo, the sports national governing body, with negligent supervision.
“Sabala, Earnest, Wang, Pierce and Jankowski all knew at various points prior to his arrest that Owens had been or attempted to date minor students and was attempting to get at other students,” Morgan Stewart, an attorney for the former students, said in the suit. “That such information should have led to reasonable suspicion and required a mandated report on Owens. None of these individuals complied with their duties under under law.”
Franssen said he was not surprised by the charges against Hojreh given the environment at Kennedy High School.
“No, considering how open this was and how open the dating relationship was,” he said in his deposition.
Around November 2014, Pierce “recalled receiving a loud voice mail” accusing Owens of dating the callers 15-year-old daughter, according to police documents. Pierce asked Owens about the allegations. Owens denied the charge. Pierce never spoke to the girl about the allegation, according to police documents. The coach also did not inform the school or report the allegations to law enforcement “per his mandated reporter status,” according to police reports.
“Personally,” Franssen said in his deposition related to one of the suits against Owens, and the Anaheim UHSD, “I think Eric Pierce should have been charged at a minimum with the failure to disclose.”
Pierce on his Facebook page said he is currently coaching at the Ohana Water Polo Academy, is a swim official with the Southern California Aquatics Federation and coach and referee with USA Water Polo. Ohana, based at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, does not list Pierce as one of its coaches on the academy website. The Ohana Facebook page, however, has a photo of Pierce coaching the clubs girls Under-18 team at a tournament last July.
Pierce did not respond to requests for comment.Earnest, Wang, Jankowski and Sabala also did not respond to requests for comment. An attorney for the Anaheim UHSD said he has reviewed questions submitted by the Register and advised district employees not to respond on the Owens matter due to pending litigation.
The father thought his warnings to Pierce and Owens resolved the matter regarding the coach dating his daughter, according to a police report.
“This is your get out of jail free card,” Franssen said the father recalled telling Owens. “If you continue to see my daughter, Im going to report you to the police and youll become a sex registrant.
“I think it was his impression that that was over and done with.”
In fact the sexual contact between Owens and the daughter that began in September 2014 continued until January 2016, according to police interviews.
Around November 2015, approximately a year after Pierce failed to report the fathers allegations, Owens began “dating” a freshman Kennedy water polo player, according police documents. The interaction between Owens and the girl began with them exchanging nude photos (her breasts, his penis) on Snapchat. Owens also sent the girl a video of him masturbating. The interaction would continue through May 2016, following a pattern of Owens masturbating while molesting the girl, according to police reports, victim statements and plea documents.
In April 2016, Owens began engaging in sex acts with another Kennedy athlete.
During the police investigation of Owens, Franssen said the first girls father “had a little bit of remorse in thinking that, you know, that he had maybe fixed the problem when they had that conversation, and then to find out there were more victims, I think he held a little bit of guilt that it wasnt reported.”
Owens became involved with the third victim four months after Sabala, the Kennedy teacher, received the emails from his former student on December 13, 2015 asking for advice on how team members should handle allegations against Owens.
“I wanted guidance since the same incident has happened before,” the former student wrote in a follow up text message later that night
“Thanks for telling me this, its not right,” Sabala wrote back.
He also wrote “Actually. As a state mandated reporter, I have to forward your email to the administration. I will keep you updated.”
Sabala forwarded the first email from the former student to Earnest, Wang and Jankowski that night at 10:19 p.m., 73 minutes after it was sent to him.
Franssen said in a deposition Sabala violated the mandatory reporter law by not reporting the former students email to law enforcement or Child Protective Services.
“In the legal sense of it, yes,” Franssen said.
“Looking at it though—its my opinion that Ian received the information and forwarded it Read More – Source