MORAGA -- A third Jane Doe has filed a $10 million claim against the Moraga School District and three former district administrators over sex abuse allegations dating back to the 1990s.
The victim, now 29, claims former Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School science teacher Daniel Witters sexually abused her repeatedly during the 1996-97 school year, when she was a 13-year-old eighth-grader. She claims the district and retired Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School Principal Bill Walters, retired Assistant Principal Paul Simonin and retired Superintendent John Cooley failed to report Witters to the proper authorities after a girl had reported sexual abuse two years earlier, and that they "lied" about their knowledge of past complaints.
Jane Does 1 and 2 filed similar claims last month against the same defendants for $15 million each. A claim by Kristen Cunnane, an assistant swim coach at UC Berkeley, was denied, and in September she sued for unspecified damages.
All four women claim sexual abuse at the hands of Witters while they were students at the middle school. After a handful of girls came forward in November 1996, Witters was placed on administrative leave; he killed himself days later. Witters never faced charges over the girls' allegations, and Moraga police stopped their investigation upon his death.
An investigative story by this newspaper in May first alerted all four women to the district's failure to act on Witters' earlier abuse
District Superintendent Bruce Burns sent out a news release Tuesday acknowledging the new claim. He said the district will begin mediation with all four claimants in early 2013. He added that the three claims, and Cunnane's lawsuit, will be discussed at the Dec. 11 school board meeting.
"The Moraga School Board continues to express deep regret for what happened to these students in the 1990s," the release states. "Two of our former employees abused children who were entrusted to our care. This will be a source of sorrow and regret as long as we are a district."
Jane Doe No. 3's claim depicts a scary scene of an emboldened Witters in his final months, sexually molesting her during classes.
Seated in the very back of the classroom, Jane Doe No. 3 would get frequent massages while doing classwork or taking tests.
"Witters' conduct would then develop into reaching under Claimant's shirt from behind and touching her skin," the claim alleges. "This conduct would then often progress to Witters unsnapping Claimant's bra, leaving her in an uncomfortable, violated and vulnerable state during the remainder of her science class."
Witters would whisper sexually suggestive comments into her ear, the claim states, and the abuse continued after class, when he would get the girl alone and rub her skin underneath her pants and tops.
"Each day, Claimant would dreadfully sit through Witters' science class fearing that he would make her stay afterwards," the claim continues. "At no time did Claimant welcome or want this conduct to occur."
Around mid-November 1996, Jane Doe No. 3 saw Witters kiss another student on the cheek in class and commented to the student after the incident. Physical education teacher Julie Correa overheard the conversation and took Jane Doe No. 3 to the principal's office, where she was interviewed about what happened, she claimed.
"Claimant then revealed some, but not all, of the things that Witters had done to her," Jane Doe No. 3's claim says. Despite those revelations, she wasn't removed from Witters' science class until her mother demanded it, according to the claim.
Correa would later sexually abuse Cunnane and was sentenced in November 2011 to prison time.
Jane Doe No. 3's attorney, Judith Yedidsion, of Beverly Hills, said the girl was ostracized after Witters' death.
"She was the one blamed for his suicide," Yedidsion said. "So she has had that additional emotional impact, in addition to the molestation by the teacher."
Yedidsion's client did not learn of the district's previous unheeded warnings until this newspaper's article in May.
"She was absolutely shocked," the attorney said. "She felt betrayed by the district and faculty, who she thought were protecting her, and angry for all those years she thought she caused his suicide.
"The fact that the school and the district did not act until so late in the game, when so much damage was already done, was a choice in and of itself," Yedidsion said. "And unfortunately for everyone involved, especially the victims, it was clearly the wrong choice."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.