San Leandro teen: Catholic school, church diocese failed to prevent sex abuse by counselor

San Leandro teen: Catholic school, church diocese failed to prevent sex abuse by counselor

By Matthias Gafni, The Mercury News

SONOMA — A San Leandro teen sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa and an embattled school for traumatized boys Tuesday, claiming employees failed to prevent his sexual abuse by a counselor who took advantage of his troubled past.

Last fall, school officials discovered 22-year-old school counselor Angelica Malinski hiding inside the boy’s Sonoma dorm room. Malinski was arrested a short time later and charged with misdemeanor unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, as the boy was 17 at the time. Weeks earlier, Hanna Boys Center officials were put “on notice” about the pair meeting at night but did little about it, the lawsuit alleges.

“It’s absolutely appalling that Hanna Boys Center and its executive director had actual knowledge of an inappropriate relationship between an adult employee and one of its students in its treatment center and didn’t stop it,” said attorney Micha Liberty, who is representing the San Leandro student, who is now 18.

A Hanna Boys Center spokesman Chris Jones said the school had yet to see the lawsuit and was limited in what it could say with pending litigation.

“We’ve been in mediation with the family up until now and we were expecting a lawsuit to be filed,” Jones said. “We’re eager to move forward.”

The Santa Rosa diocese did not immediately return calls for comment.

The teen is just the latest former student to sue the Hanna Boys Center, which has been besieged by scandals in the last year involving alleged sex abuse by another staff member, accusations of unabated bullying and a critical state review of the facility.

HBC clinical director Kevin Thorpe was arrested and charged June 10 with multiple counts of molestation stemming from his alleged abuse of other boys over a period of years. The San Leandro teen does not allege Thorpe abused him, but Liberty alleges that the clinical director’s legal trouble shows intentional lax supervision on campus so that Thorpe could abuse children and not get caught.

“Malinski was successful in preying on (the boy) and felt comfortable committing the unlawful sexual acts in her Hanna Boys center-issued staff bedroom because she knew about HBC’s deficiencies and lax attitude regarding supervision and enforcement of its policies,” Liberty wrote in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Sonoma County Superior Court.

The teen was attending San Leandro High School when in the summer of 2016, his family reached out for professional psychiatric help for their son’s “impulsive/reactive behaviors.” They were referred to Hanna Boys Center, a facility founded by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa.

The facility advertises that it takes “at-risk” youths and changes them through “faith, education and caring.” Many of the boys come from “multi-traumatic backgrounds of abuse — including emotional, physical and sexual,” according to its website.

The boy enrolled in June 2016, and his entire “vulnerable” history was shared with the school’s staff, Liberty said. Due to lack of supervision, Malinski began “grooming” the boy, which led to “numerous sexual encounters,” the suit alleges.

On Oct. 10, 2016, a Hanna Boys Center night watchman saw the boy jump from his bedroom window and run away. About a half hour later, he returned to the campus, but he was given no additional supervision.

The next day, he was missing during bed checks. After a search, he appeared at the front door, and after being questioned, he admitted he had been in counselor Malinski’s bedroom, the suit alleges.

Staff said the teen and counselor told them they were “just talking,” according to the lawsuit, and the pair were counseled over the incident. After that, the HBC chief of operations posted a security guard in the boy’s dorm when Malinski worked the overnight shift, the suit alleges.

The school “had been on notice that Malinski was potentially engaging in wrongful behavior with (the boy),” Liberty wrote.

On Oct. 24, 2016, an HBC night watchman was assigned to the boy’s dorm to keep an eye on Malinski because “he was told there were concerns and he was to watch out for anything inappropriate,” the suit alleges. The security guard watched the boy sneak through the hallway and into an infirmary room with Malinski behind him. Instead of stopping the pair for violating policy about a counselor entering a room at night with a student, the watchman called his superiors, who eventually ordered him to conduct a bed check.

The security guard found the boy in bed in the infirmary, covered by a blanket. He saw movement under the  covers and heard an “unidentifiable voice saying to be quiet,” according to the suit.

Eventually, Malinski walked out of the infirmary a half hour later and “admitted that she was hiding in the room between the bed and the wall,” according to Liberty. The boy alleges they had sex at least three times before in Malinski’s staff room and that she convinced him to delete all the pair’s text messages and to lie about their relationship.

The teen also alleged that minors at Hanna Boys Center were able to get alcohol and marijuana from employees at the school because of the “lax attitude toward enforcement.”

The center has weathered a string of bad news.

On Dec. 22, 2016, state social services investigators found that a “lack of supervision” led to altercations between children in care, leading to multiple violations of state code.

In May, HBC’s former clinical director, Dr. Timothy Norman, filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging a failure to stem bullying among students dating back to 2014. He said the concerns by himself, other staff, students and parents went ignored by Executive Director Brian Farragher, who allegedly fired Norman for speaking up.

The allegations against Thorpe, who was arrested in June, include molestation of a 15-year-old boy that was witnessed by a religion and social justice teacher who allegedly walked in on the pair and instead of intervening or reporting to police, covered his eyes and said “Oh God!” before turning around and leaving, according to a separate lawsuit.

In 2013, Farragher’s predecessor, the Rev. John Crews, resigned after allegations that he sexually abused a student in the 1970s.

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