SAN BERNARDINO – A jury has awarded a former Fontana Unified School District police dispatcher nearly $1.5 million after the woman sued the district and one of its former police officers, who she accused of raping her while on duty.
Following a 21-day trial that began on Jan. 20 and spanned six weeks, a jury returned Monday with a judgment of $1,487,000 in compensatory damages against the school district and its former police officer, John Frank Garcia.
The second phase of the trial, in which the jury would hear testimony and then decide on whether punitive damages should be awarded the plaintiff, was set to begin at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday before Judge Donald Alvarez in San Bernardino Superior Court, but Garcia and his attorney agreed on a judgment of $5 million in punitive damages, said Brian Hannemann, attorney for the plaintiff, who is not being identified because she is the victim of alleged rape and sexual assault.
The plaintiff, however, will never see the $5 million, as the stipulation does not require Garcia to actually pay those damages, but only that the damages be reflected in the court record. The school district, a public entity, is precluded by law from having to pay punitive damages, Hannemann said.
Garcia was never charged criminally in any of the alleged rapes and sexual assaults due to insufficient evidence.
“We’re very pleased that the jury rendered justice, especially because the school district, instead of accepting responsibility for hiring this rogue cop, they blamed the victim, making it worse,” Hannemann said.
The plaintiff, who now works as an evidence clerk for Fontana Unified’s Police Services, said she felt vindicated.
“I’m glad that the jury restored my good name,” she said.
The school district issued a statement Tuesday saying the jury’s verdict represented less than 10 percent of the amount the plaintiff asked the jury to award.
“Fontana Unified School District is committed to ensuring a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct or sexual harassment in the workplace and is doing everything in its power to help ensure a safe environment for all employees, students, and parents,” according to the school district’s statement, which also said the district is considering its legal options regarding the jury’s decision.
Garcia’s attorney, Michael Marlatt, said, “We appreciate the jury’s verdict” following Tuesday’s court proceedings.
The plaintiff sued Garcia and the school district on Nov. 13, 2012, alleging Garcia groped her, then forcefully removed her clothing and raped her in the police dispatch center shortly after 11 p.m. on Nov. 25, 2010. Garcia sexually assaulted the woman on two subsequent occasions: In February 2011 in his office and in April 2011 in the dispatch center, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said allegations of sexual assault trailed Garcia from each police department he worked at, and that each of those law enforcement agencies was aware of Garcia’s spotty record when they hired him.
Garcia, of Riverside, began working for the Riverside Police Department in April 2001 and resigned in October 2005 for undisclosed reasons. He began working for the Fontana Police Department in October 2005, but never made it past his 18-month probationary period after allegations surfaced in September 2006 that he sexually assaulted a 20-year-old cadet.
Garcia then went to work for Fontana Unified Police Services in May 2008, where he worked for more than three years before several employees accused him of raping and sexually assaulting them, which triggered an investigation. Garcia was placed on leave in September 2011 and subsequently fired in December 2012.
Three other current and former female Fontana Unified Police Services employees filed separate lawsuits accusing Garcia of sexually assaulting them while on duty in 2010 and 2011. They said they were reluctant to report the alleged abuse out of fear of retaliation or being fired.
Those three lawsuits are still pending, Hannemann said.
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