The Lodi Unified School District has agreed to a $4.75 million settlement in the case of a special-needs student who was kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a former bus driver.
The settlement was announced Tuesday in San Joaquin County Superior Court and at a press conference outside the Stockton courthouse by the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
A jury unanimously determined that the school district was liable for hiring Richard Dale Evans despite district officials’ knowledge that Evans had a misdemeanor conviction for having sex with a prostitute in downtown Stockton.
“(Lodi Unified) didn’t check for references,” Vince Finaldi, an attorney for the plaintiff, said at the press conference. “They said they relied on intuition.”
A $4.2 million settlement was offered in late October, but Lodi Unified officials and the district’s insurance company, Nor Cal Relief, rejected the offer, Finaldi said.
Nor Cal Relief is a self-insurance that is funded by tax dollars from the 330-member public school districts, Lodi Unified Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer said in an emailed statement.
“Lodi Unified School District is pleased that Nor Cal Relief and the plaintiffs in this case have reached a settlement that will provide resources for the family of the student who was harmed,” Nichols-Washer said in her emailed statement Tuesday afternoon. “The district regards this situation very seriously.”
Attorney Marina Pitts, representing the school district, wasn’t immediately available for comment Tuesday.
In a 2011 criminal trial, Evans pleaded guilty to multiple counts of child molestation, including kidnapping and lewd acts on a minor. He received a 25-year prison sentence.
The victim, who was 8 at the time and is now 11, is suffering from fear, anxiety and emotional distress, according to the two-page claim filed in the lawsuit.
The jury in the civil trial determined on Feb. 27 that Lodi Unified was 90 percent liable and Evans 10 percent. The second phase of the trial, to determine how much in damages Evans and the school district should pay the child’s family, was scheduled to be completed by the end of the week.
“I think this settlement is the first step in the family’s recovery,” said Ken Meleyco, another attorney for the plaintiff. “This child needs therapy right away, and with this settlement, she’ll get it.”
Meleyco and Finaldi said they hope the enormity of the settlement will prompt school district trustees and administrators to change their hiring practices.
Lodi Unified administrators said during the trial that they followed the same procedures for years, Meleyco said. They knew that Evans pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of having sex with a prostitute in a potato chip delivery truck in 2000, yet Lodi Unified hired him as a full-time school bus driver in 2004, Meleyco said.
“How that can be is beyond me,” Finaldi said. “Something’s got to be done in this district.”
Nichols-Washer was unavailable for comment Tuesday about the possibility of changing board policy.
“The health and safety of our students is the highest priority for Lodi Unified School District,” Nichols-Washer said in her emailed statement. “We understand how important this is to the parents of our community who entrust their children to us each day.”
Evans was fired in November 2010 after the girl told her parents about the incidents, Meleyco said. The two incidents, in October and November 2010, were filmed by videotape.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.