JUST IN: LAPD investigates Esquith, lawyers ‘declare war’ on LAUSD
Mike Szymanski | August 14, 2015
LA School Report has confirmed that an LAPD sex crimes unit has an open investigation of celebrated teacher Rafe Esquith involving allegations of “inappropriate touching.” Meanwhile, Esquith’s attorneys are striking back with threats of additional lawsuits and a “declaration of war against LAUSD.”
One of Esquith’s attorneys, Ben Meisales, said, “This continued defamation by LAUSD knows no bounds. This is a slap at all hard-working teachers and it has created a declaration of war against LAUSD.”
Lead attorney Mark Geragos added, “People all across the country are watching these unscrupulous tactics. LAUSD is acting as a criminal cartel that needs to be put out of business, and we will put them out of business.”
Meanwhile, the Sexually Exploited Child Unit of the West Bureau Sex Crimes of the Los Angeles Police Department has a case that is opened against Esquith and being investigated by Detective Rachel Saavedra. The attorneys for Esquith said they were unaware of the investigation, which is being conducted by police at the Olympic Division of the LAPD in the district of the Hobart Boulevard Elementary School where Esquith taught fifth grade until he was unceremoniously taken out of the classroom last April and confined during the day hours to the “teachers jail” in a downtown LA building.
On Thursday, Geragos filed a class action lawsuit against LA Unified not only claiming age discrimination and unfair business practices, but defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Hours after receiving the lawsuit, LAUSD issued a letter for the first time dealing with alleged serious allegations against Esquith, including “highly inappropriate conduct involving touching of minors” during his time as a district teacher as well as “inappropriate photographs and videos of a sexual nature” on his school computer. The letter also mentions allegations of “threats to a parent and two students” and “possible ethical” violations of district policy regarding Esquith’s nonprofit after-school program, the Hobart Shakespeareans.
Through attorneys, Esquith denies all the allegations. Esquith is the author of some popular books about teaching, won the National Medal of Arts from President Obama and was named one of the best teachers in the country by The Washington Post.
School officials are required by law to report all sexual allegations involving children to the proper authorities, and because of the “inappropriate touching” allegations, LA School Report asked LAUSD if police officials were notified.
Shannon Haber, the district’s director of Communications & Media Relations, issued a statement reading, “Yes, as mandated reporters, we always report allegations of suspected child abuse to the appropriate agency.”
LAPD officials had no further details about the ongoing investigation.
Meanwhile, Geragos said he plans to ask for a criminal investigation against the school district by going to the Department of Justice, and they also plan to file a lawsuit against Toni Tosello, the liabilities claims coordinator who wrote the Aug. 13 letter from LAUSD’s Risk Finance and Insurance Services department. The letter said that while investigating the original allegations (of a reading from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), they discovered “additional serious allegations of misconduct” by the 61-year-old teacher.
Meanwhile, Esquith’s attorneys claim the noted teacher is a victim of a “witch hunt” and that after one day, their class action has gone from about 200 hundred teachers to more than 1,000 who have contacted the office with similar complaints.
“The only child who was been hurt by all this is one of Rafe Esquith’s students who when LAUSD started this witch hunt attempted to commit suicide when [Esquith] was taken from the classroom,” Meiselas said.
Meanwhile, in a letter dated Thursday from Student Safety Investigation Team director Jose Cantu, the district asked for an interview with Esquith for the “investigation of alleged misconduct” according to the letter. They planned the interview on Aug. 18 with investigator Ray Johnson. That interview won’t happen, Esquith’s representatives said.
“The only discussion now about this will be in court,” Meiselas said.