In possibly the largest settlement for a victim of a single-victim case, a young student was rewarded $23 million for enduring nearly a year of sexual abuse from his teacher at the time.
In this case, Forrest Stobbe, a veteran teacher at Queen Anne Place Elementary School, pleaded “no contest” to two counts of a lewd act with a child and to continuous sexual abuse of a child younger than 14.
Stobbe began molesting the boy in October 2008 when the 10-year-old was his student. He continued the abuse through the following July when he was finally arrested. Throughout that duration, Stobbe molested the child in the classroom and gave the boy numerous gifts. He also earned the trust of the boy’s family, and would get their permission to take him on trips to amusement parks, where he would molest the boy before dropping him off at home.
Human rights advocate Steve Estey of Estey & Bomberger LLC, was one of the attorneys who represented the young boy in the case. When asked about how the process of manipulation and eventual sexual abuse initiates, Estey explained that “what the perpetrator will do, he’ll groom them. In other words, he will gain their trust, and then he’ll start to push boundaries.”
It was also pointed out in an interview with Steve Estey that, while the L.A. Unified School District has a relatively high population of Hispanic students, the proportion of Hispanic students who are sexually molested in comparison with the number of white students is disproportionate. Estey explained that perpetrators “ . . . look for children in broken homes or who have single-parent situations.” It just so happens that areas with high Hispanic populations tend to be lower socioeconomic neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, the victim that Estey represented in the lawsuit was likely not the only victim of Stobbe’s abuse. There were other questionable behaviors and warning signs that Stobbe exhibited in his years at Queen Anne Place, almost all of which the principal had been informed of or had observed. These behaviors included eating private lunches in his classroom with students, which was prohibited (this is where the student who filed the lawsuit’s molestation began), stroking a little girl’s hair and later touching her buttocks and having a young female student in his car. Another time, a student pushed Stobbe down a flight of stairs – authorities believe that this student may be another victim of Stobbe’s sexual abuse. Although the principal was aware of these actions, no report was made.
In December 2012 a jury awarded the now 14-year-old boy $23 million. The judgment was that the L.A. Unified School District was 30% responsible for damages, meaning that the district would pay out $6.9 million. Forrest Stobbe was responsible for the remaining 70%. The main reason that the school district has been held at fault is the principal’s role in the case. Schools have a legal liability, responsibility and obligation to keep children safe while in their custody. The principal should have exercised her responsibility to screen, monitor and supervise the teachers; instead she demonstrated a lack of oversight, missed pivotal warning signs and failed to provide proper supervision. “It’s the school’s job to keep the predators away from the children, and so when they don’t do that they can be held responsible,” Estey explained.
Stobbe is presently serving a 16-year prison sentence. L.A. Unified is currently facing close to 200 pending molestation and lewd conduct claims. Estey believes that, sadly, the problem will get worse before it gets better.