LA Archdiocese agrees to $8M payment in sex abuse case

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has agreed to pay $8 million to a teenager who was sexually abused by the athletic director at her Catholic high school who had continued to work despite prior allegations of misconduct, it was announced Tuesday.

A court finalized the settlement last week of a negligence lawsuit, said David Ring, an attorney for the teenager.

The archdiocese has paid out more than $740 million in sexual abuse settlements over the past 15 years. Ring said the $8 million is the largest payment to a single individual in any of the cases.

“The Archdiocese recognizes that there was serious harm done to the life of the victim-survivor,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “We hope that the settlement will allow her to heal and move forward with her education and lifetime goals. The Archdiocese apologizes for the impact that this caused in her life.”

Juan Ivan Barajas, a health teacher and athletic director at San Gabriel Mission High School, began having sex with the girl, then 15, in 2016 and eventually kidnapped her, according to court documents.

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He took her to Las Vegas after his wife discovered evidence of the abuse on his cellphone, the records said.

After five days on the run, Barajas was arrested and the girl was rescued.

Barajas, now 38, pleaded guilty to felony statutory sexual seduction and was sentenced to six years in prison.

The lawsuit alleged that the archdiocese failed to take action despite repeated complaints of misconduct by Barajas involving other students at the all-girls school.

“You had months of complaints about this individual … yet nothing was done,” Ring said in an interview with The Associated Press. “There are parents who made complaints. There are other girls who made complaints.”

Anonymous letters sent to school officials in 2015 contained allegations of misconduct by Barajas. One sent to Monsignor Sal Pilato, the assistant superintendent of high schools for the archdiocese, said: “He takes the ones he likes to the office,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

A year before Barajas was arrested, a coach at the school reported to the principal that on more than 50 occasions Barajas took a girl into his office where the two were alone, the Times said, citing court documents.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is emotionally scarred and suffers panic attacks and flashbacks, according to court records.

Her attorney said the teenager is graduating from a non-Catholic high school and wants to attend college.

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“She’s still struggling emotionally,” he said. “She’s come a long way but she has a long way to go.”

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/

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