Media reports of an alleged sexual assault in the bathroom at Lincoln High School were “misleading” and following a trend of “calling rape,” according to the school’s Principal Jose Soto-Ramos in a recording obtained by NBC 7 Investigates.
The statements were made during a 2018 staff meeting that followed NBC7’s first reports on the alleged incident.
An audio recording of the meeting was provided to NBC7 by a meeting attendee and it was confirmed by other Lincoln High staff members.
On the tape, Soto-Ramos can be heard speaking out against those, he thinks, provided information to NBC7 about the alleged assault.
“That is completely not right. It’s unethical and it’s against the law,” Soto-Ramos can be heard saying in the recording. “The truth is, from the day the incident was observed and reported to Lincoln staff, Lincoln administrators and faculty took immediate action and made a report to law enforcement.”
When NBC 7 Investigates first asked questions about the alleged assault last October, a spokeswoman for the school district said the assault did not happen. At the same time, a San Diego Police Department Captain said he could not find any police reports on the assault.
However, weeks into our reporting on the alleged incident, NBC7 obtained two separate San Diego Unified School District and Police Department reports, detailing the 2016 incident had taken place. The school’s investigation was incorporated into the police department’s incident report.
In the audio recording, Soto-Ramos said all information on the incident had been immediately handed over to the San Diego Police Department, and after that, “Lincoln had no further control over whether the conduct was found to be criminal or whether law enforcement or the DA’s office would pursue the matter. Moreover, the school had no control or influence over the outcome of law enforcement’s investigation. That’s the truth.”
Both police and school reports document the alleged incident between two special education students in the bathroom of Lincoln High. NBC7 Investigates is withholding the name of the alleged perpetrator who was a minor at the time.
The school’s report, also included in the police report said, with summer school in session, a teacher’s aide at Lincoln High had walked into the bathroom on August 3, 2016. In a detailed witness statement to the school, the teacher’s aide wrote that he saw what appeared to be one student sexually assaulting another.
The alleged victim was a 17-year-old severely disabled learner who cannot speak more than a few words at a time and requires an aide to take him to the bathroom, according to the reports. The other student was a moderately disabled student whose student disciplinary records, shared with NBC7, show he had been reprimanded for sexual or violent offenses more than 10 times since he was 11 years old.
According to the school’s report, Acting Principal Anne Marie Klin for Lincoln High’s summer school program contacted school police about the alleged assault on August 4, 2016.
In the school reports, a Lincoln High employee wrote the victim is “so severely disabled that he most likely didn’t even have a clue what had just happened to him.”
Last year, the alleged victim’s mother, Eileen Sofa said her understanding of what happened in the bathroom that day in 2016 was that another student had “pantsed” her son, not assaulted him.
When Sofa heard the information in the reports, she started to cry.
“I feel betrayed by the school,” Sofa said in November 2017. “My son can’t speak for himself. He can’t tell you if he’s hurting or if someone is hurting him.”
When Sofa tried to obtain a copy herself of the police and school reports herself, she said the San Diego Police Department told her she could not have the reports.
“My mom went to Washington D.C. and she went to the Board of Education to get my brother’s (story) out,” Eileen’s daughter Jahnella Alai said. “It was really stressful for her and when she came back, she didn’t come home.”
Eileen Sofa passed away after a trip to Washington D.C. to share her son’s story with the U.S. Secretary of Education. From the airport, Sofa went to the hospital where she passed away from blood pressure issues and other medical conditions, her family says.
On June 6, Sofa’s family filed a lawsuit against the San Diego Unified School District and the San Diego Police Department, accusing Lincoln High School administrators of conspiring with police to conceal the alleged assault from the victim’s parents.
“Everybody is Calling Rape”
According to Lincoln High staff members, in April 2018, Lincoln High Principal Jose Soto-Ramos called an all staff Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) meeting. WASC is a school accreditation and improvement program.
If a school loses its WASC accreditation, that could jeopardize the school’s eligibility for state and federal funds.
But teachers tell NBC7 that Soto-Ramos’ meeting wasn’t really about Lincoln High’s WASC standing. Instead, teachers say Soto-Ramos launched into a nearly hour-long speech about the August 2016 bathroom incident.
“You can talk smack on Mr. Soto. You can say he’s not doing what he’s supposed to be doing,” Soto-Ramos can be heard telling teachers in the audio recording. “But when you violate privacy acts and when you violate the law, that is a completely different arena for me.”
Soto-Ramos can be heard telling teachers the San Diego Unified School District was working with their IT and HR departments to find out who was leaking information on the alleged 2016 assault.
“I sat in on conversations with upper management, and I defended you! When they come here and they see somebody who is not willing to work and I say ‘No, give them time!’” Soto-Ramos says on the recording, his voice cracking. “They see people who are not committed and I say ‘No!’ they can grow. But, they sit by me, to go behind my back, behind our backs and sneak information out, when we are a family. We are your community and we are fighting the same fight.”
Soto-Ramos continued detailing 13 points for the staff of what he considered misleading information shared by the media on the case.
“I am going to dispel certain inaccuracies and I’ve outlined them one-by-one because I don’t want you to mistrust me. And, I don’t want you to doubt and I don’t want to ask the staff to follow the same trend as everybody does,” Soto-Ramos said. “They are calling rape. They are calling killings. They are throwing all of these things out there when in reality the only thing we’ve done is support, encourage and love.”
The lawsuit states the school district never told Eileen Sofa that a teacher had let her son go to the restroom alone and in the care of another student, which is against the requirements of his special needs plan.
It states San Diego Police Department Detective Michael Weaver was assigned to the case on August 5, 2016. Weaver opened and closed the case on the same day “with no apparent follow-up investigation,” the lawsuit said.
In the police reports, Weaver relies on the school’s investigation and concludes “neither the victim nor the suspect was able to articulate a crime.”
Dell’Anno, the victim’s attorney, said school administrators and police concluded that because the victim does not speak very much, there was no reason to pursue the case.
“They [the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego Unified School District] conducted an investigation and basically ignored every piece of information they were given. Not only that, they withheld information they were given, which overwhelmingly showed there was a crime that had been committed, and they kept that info from my client’s mother,” Dell’Ano said.
Dell’Anno said police should have at least contacted the District Attorney’s office about the case.
“Instead, the San Diego Police Department basically took it upon themselves to ignore everything in the report, to do zero follow up investigation, to confirm statements that clearly show a sexual assault had taken place and basically, I can’t think of any other word for it. They just covered it up,” Dell’Anno said.
The San Diego Police Department said it is conducting its own internal affairs investigation into whether or not anyone in their department shared information about the case with NBC7 Investigates. A spokesman told NBC7 the department could not comment further on the ongoing litigation.
Dell’Anno said since Sofa’s death, she has become even more determined to get justice for her son.
“(She) became a very good friend of mine and she passed away and much, I believe, due to the stress of this situation, and what it had on her,” Dell’Anno said. “As a mother, I just respect so much the way that she fought for her child and I promised her that I would continue to do that and I am going to continue to do that.”
In their La Mesa apartment, a poster of Eileen Sofa takes up nearly an entire wall of the family’s living room.
“So we can see her when we walk in the door and before we leave and at night when we’re saying our prayers,” Jahnella Alai said.
She and her sister Jahmela carry a responsibility most teenagers will never know.
“The last words she told us was to take care of my brother,” Jahmela Alai said.
The sisters help their brother through most of his daily tasks and said they have noticed a slight behavioral change since the alleged sexual assault and the death of their mother.
“The majority of the time he’s quiet,” Jahmela said. “He doesn’t talk but sometimes he’ll show attitude and he was never like that.”
The sisters have their dad and grandmother for support, but they said caring for their brother and going through a lawsuit has become stressful for the family. Especially without their mother.
“Every day that passes by, it feels like our family is falling apart,” Jahnella told NBC7.