First published in the July 15 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
Closing arguments were presented Wednesday in a civil lawsuit, seeking $6.25 million for each plaintiff, against the South Pasadena Unified School District in which two female track athletes allege they were touched inappropriately while being given massages by their coach.
In 2015, the coach, Pierre Jonas (P.J.) Hernandez, pleaded no contest in a criminal trial and was sentenced to 180 days in jail to be served with electric monitoring, five years of probation and 30 days of community service.
According to documents, the massages, which involved the athletes’ calves and under their buttocks, occurred one time for each athlete, and involved the young woman who was at the center of the criminal case in 2015. The other incident happened previously in 2013.
As of the Review’s press deadline on Wednesday, jurors were set to deliberate on the case.
The amount sought currently in the civil case includes about $3 million for past trauma and the remainder for possible future emotional and mental distress.
Attorney Dana McCune, representing the school district, said he didn’t think the jurors would find the district negligent at all, but if they did, he thought a more reasonable amount would be $100,000 for each plaintiff.
As part of past testimony, all of the psychologists who interviewed the young women found the prognosis for each of them was “excellent,” according to McCune.
One major witness in the case was Janet Anderson, who was principal at South Pasadena High School at the time of the incidents.
In her testimony last week, she said that when she found out about the incidents, she met with the students and their parents, turned over the matter to law enforcement, told Hernandez to not enter school property and later terminated his employment.
However, Michael Carrillo, attorney for the plaintiffs, said in his closing arguments that Anderson, who was part of the school district, created a culture that protected certain members of the sports program. She retired last year after 41 years with the district.
McCune countered that there was no negligence on the part of the district or Anderson because there were no previous incidents reported involving Hernandez or others in the sports program, other than an incident 10 years prior.
That incident involved a coach named Harry Plotkin, who Anderson said she terminated for inappropriate behavior, including running around on the field shirtless and interacting with female athletes, specifically when they were stretching.
During closing arguments, Carrillo brought up the topic of grooming, where someone befriends a minor to lower their inhibitions with the objective of sexual abuse. Carrillo pointed out that the actions by Hernandez could be interpreted as grooming. However, McCune countered that if Hernandez had planned to groom an athlete, he had 14 months to groom the first female student athlete and he did not.