By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter
The conviction last week of nationally acclaimed high school track coach Clyde Turner on charges of having unlawful sex with a 15-year-old team member leaves parents and school officials in Pasadena facing a tough and painful question: Who knew of Turner’s alleged penchant for seducing under-age boys, and when did they know it?
The Pasadena Superior Court jury returned its verdict after deliberating for two days. On additional charges that Turner molested a second boy, the panel hung 10-2 in favor of acquittal, and Turner’s lawyer vowed to appeal his conviction on two felony counts. But evidence presented at trial and statements by police investigators indicate that Turner’s bosses at John Muir High School had received a series of reports over the years that Turner had made inappropriate advances toward young men under his supervision.
Similar allegations are detailed further in two separate civil lawsuits filed by the parents of the boy Turner was convicted of molesting, and by the guardians of the second alleged victim in the criminal case, a male student who claimed Turner tried but failed to persuade him to have sex. The suits allege that Turner’s criminal conduct was known, or should have been known, years prior to these incidents to officials at Muir High and the Pasadena Unified School District, but that these officials did nothing to stop it.
Both suits suggest that the silence was motivated by Muir High’s long-standing reputation as a sports school — it counts Jackie and Mac Robinson among its many standout graduates. Turner was a consistent standout as a coach until his arrest in April 1998. His track teams won five state championships and never lost a dual meet.
Aside from potential liability, the allegations of crime and cover-up could shake the city’s education establishment. "If this was actually happening, why didn’t anybody intervene?" asked parent and longtime schools gadfly RenĂ© F. Amy. "If this is true, they [top Pasadena school-district officials] ought to fry."
The parents of the boy whom Turner was convicted of molesting filed their suit in late April, alleging that school-district officials "turned a blind eye" toward the coach’s "sexual encounters with a number of students." The school district "intentionally secreted Turner’s past history for over a decade," the suit alleged.
To date, district officials have not answered in court filings the specific allegations.
In effecting its cover-up, the lawsuit alleged, the district failed to report incidents involving Turner to the proper state and county child-care authorities. According to the suit, "This failure [was] all done in an effort at self-preservation, maintaining a winning track team and to desperately attempt to minimize liability, all with reckless disregard to and for the rights of victims and plaintiff."
The other lawsuit, filed in December by the parents of the child Turner was charged with but not convicted of molesting, is equally critical of the district. That suit names Superintendent Vera Vignes, her predecessor Ramon Cortines and other top school officials as partially responsible for failing to corral Turner. Prosecutors have not yet decided on recharging the part-time coach for those alleged crimes.
The parents of both boys did not want to comment at this time. School officials also declined to address the allegations, though in the year after his arrest they denied any prior knowledge of Turner’s sexual proclivities toward young boys.
Superintendent Vignes, who was personnel director five years before taking over the district’s top job for Cortines in 1992, declined to be interviewed in person and did not return calls to her office. Cortines, who went on from Pasadena to head school districts in both New York and San Francisco, could not be reached.
The most damaging testimony against the district did not come from the alleged victims of the crimes for which Turner was charged. Instead, it was the claims of Christopher Martin and two other men, who testified they were sexually molested by Turner when they were teen-agers in the early 1980s, that suggested the complicity of district officials.
Martin is 31 now. But he claims that Turner molested him when he was 16, in 1983, at a time when Martin was fighting with his parents and staying at the trusted coach’s home a block away from the school campus. The day after the incident, Martin testified that he went back home and told his mother, Isabelle Tate, who, in turn, called for a meeting with school officials to discuss what had happened.
Martin’s charges were recorded in a memo that was placed in Turner’s personnel file the following February, after a meeting between Martin, Tate, and top officials from Muir High School and the district. The memo was never admitted into evidence during Turner’s criminal trial, but Turner’s attorney made a copy available. The memo, which was addressed to Cortines, says Turner was accused by Martin and his mother only of inappropriate touching of the boy’s buttocks.
Both Martin and his mother say that’s a fabrication. Martin testified at trial that the molestation went well beyond Turner’s touching his buttocks. According to Martin, he had slept at Turner’s home for a week and, on his last morning in the coach’s bed, "woke up and found his penis between my legs."