SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – A $25 million verdict was announced on Monday in a civil lawsuit brought against Santa Barbara Unified School District for the sexual abuse of a student identified as John Doe #2 by former security guard and assistant football coach Justin Sell at Dos Pueblos High School.
According to the law firm that brought the suit on behalf of the second survivor, Taylor & Ring, John Doe #2 detailed that the abuse occurred from 2008 to 2011 and that Sell groomed the young man beginning when he was 14.
John Doe #2's lawsuit was filed in March of 2022 and a Santa Barbara jury awarded $25 million after a three-week trial on Dec. 8, 2023, apportioning 80% of the blame for the incident on Santa Barbara Unified School District.
“The jury recognized the lifelong harm that childhood sexual abuse inflicts on its victims,” explains Natalie Weatherford, an attorney with Taylor & Ring. “The verdict represents a step forward in the young life of the Plaintiff and validation that the abuse was not his fault.”
Taylor & Ring Law Firm also detailed that Sell sexually abused at least two other students, identified as John Doe and John Doe #3 in court documents.
According to the lawsuit, Sell leveraged a series of gifts, threats of exposing the abuse, and interactions as the weight room supervisor, coach, and on-campus security to abuse John Doe #2 and repeatedly sexually abused John Doe #2 both on and off campus.
Sell even physically assaulted John Doe #2 by punching him in the face and throwing him to the ground while on school grounds after John Doe #2 had changed sports and was spending less time interacting with Sell detailed the lawsuit.
That assault was not reported to law enforcement as required by state law explained a press release about the verdict from Taylor & Ring Law Firm.
According to Taylor & Ring, Santa Barbara Unified School District entered into a confidential resignation agreement with Sell and agreed to a "neutral" recommendation for future employers in June of 2011.
“The school district and its employees had multiple missed opportunities to get rid of a person they acknowledged was a problematic employee” said John Taylor, one of the attorneys with Taylor & Ring that filed the case on behalf of John Doe #2. “They repeatedly chose to protect the employee over the safety of the kids.”
Sell was arrested in June of 2013 and charged with multiple felonies including sexual abuse and stalking for which he was convicted and sentenced to one year in County Jail and five years probation detail Taylor & Ring in a press release.
Santa Barbara Unified School District issued the following statement when asked for comment on the announcement of the verdict:
"There is never an excuse for abhorrent behavior from an employee regarding a minor student. The school district deeply empathizes with any student who finds themselves in a vulnerable position in a school environment where children should feel safe. Although the conduct in this matter occurred more than a decade ago, the school district has an ongoing commitment to strict standards of professional conduct, proper supervision of employees, and a variety of methods of reporting inappropriate behavior.“