Former Los Gatos High Student Files Sex Abuse Lawsuit Against 2 Coaches, School District
A former Los Gatos High School student filed a sexual abuse lawsuit on Tuesday against two former coaches and the Los Gatos-Saratoga High School District, alleging that the school placed the reputation of its award-winning track team ahead of the well-being of its athletes.
The former student said her high school allowed Chioke “Chee” Robinson to sexually abuse her for more than three years, starting when she was a freshman on the girl’s track team in 1998.
The lawsuit also names former Los Gatos High School head track coach Willie Harmatz as a defendant because he allegedly allowed the abuse to continue by suppressing evidence and threatening the student-athletes, including the victim, when they notified him about Robinson’s abuse.
“The school district held nothing back in its zeal to protect a storied track program,” attorney Robert Allard said. “To think that a track coach was allowed to suppress evidence in a childhood sexual abuse investigation to the point of silencing two critical witnesses so that his pedophile assistant could keep getting access to children is absolutely terrifying.”
The suit alleges that abuse of the victim started when she was 14, when Robinson used tactics to gain her trust, and that, by the age of 15, Robinson was kissing her and forcing her to touch his genitals on school grounds, according to the lawsuit.
The abuse progressed, and Robinson forced her to engage in oral sex and intercourse in the school’s track and field shed.
The abuse was reported when her mother found a pregnancy test and sexually explicit love letters written by Robinson in her daughter’s trash can.
Robinson was arrested in 1999, as a result. However, after his release Robinson was allowed back onto campus to continue coaching. The victim was 15 at the time.
“Despite sexually explicit letters written by Robinson to me, a recovered pregnancy test and confirming witnesses, Los Gatos High School continued to allow Robinson to coach on campus,” the victim said, “and he continuously abused me.”
In fact, before her mother reported the abuse, another student-athlete, who had transferred to Los Gatos to get away from Robinson’s misconduct at another school, had reported the predatory behavior to Harmatz.
“(The student) had been stalked by (Robinson). And he followed her (to Los Gatos High School),” attorney Laura Cerri said. “When she had complained to coach Harmatz about him he said, ‘just head over to the other side of the tracks.'”
The lawsuit claims the police investigation of Robinson was impeded by Harmatz by “threatening to make a student-athlete’s career difficult if she didn’t stop ‘lying’ about Robinson.”
When the school’s principle told Harmatz that she was intent on firing Robinson in light of the police investigation, Harmatz “protested enough” that the principle relented and let Robinson off with a warning to “use common sense” in the future, according to the complaint.
“My only options were to continue my being sexually abused by my coach or to stop running track,” the victim said. “I had been a rising athlete my entire life. Being an athlete was my identity.
“Ultimately, I became so weak during this tumultuous time I was forced to relinquish my identity,” she added.
She said she was on track to become a star athlete, with dreams of being in the Olympics.
At age 11, she was the second-best jumper in California in her age group and before starting high school, she was invited to an elite track and field summer camp and trained by retired Olympians.
“My dreams of running in college or even going to college were shattered,” she said. “I did not even get to walk at my high school graduation.”
She left the school after her junior year, “as I had endured as much as I could at that point,” she said.
“It was the start of lifelong issues with anxiety, instability, insomnia, depression,” she said. “What happened to me in high school followed me over the next two decades and continued to drown me throughout my life.”
Everything was kept under wraps, her attorneys said, until April 2001, when the high school newspaper, El Gato, reported that Robinson had been “abruptly dismissed” for “poor judgment.”
In that article, Harmatz went to bat for Robinson again and insisted his assistant coach would continue coaching at practices “every single day.”
By February 2019, Robinson was arrested by San Jose Police and charged with sexually assaulting four girls, including the victim now suing him.
Now in 2021, in addition to compensation for her abuse, she’s demanding that Los Gatos High School and the district restructure policies, procedures, trainings and the system for students to report abuse.
“The whole system they have has to be ripped up and torn down and rebuilt,” Allard said.
This is especially true, Allard said, because Robinson and Harmatz weren’t the only coaches on Los Gatos’ campus who abused students. And within the last year, dozens of Los Gatos High School students came forward as survivors of sexual assault.
In 2000, softball coach Todd Lafferty was arrested and convicted of sexually abusing a student, and in 2020, the school’s former track and field coach, John Rembao, was named in a sexual abuse lawsuit.
The victim in this latest suit is being represented by the law firm Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, which filed another sexual abuse lawsuit against San Jose private school Valley Christian High School about two weeks ago.
Allard said the comparison to the Valley Christian case is “remarkable.”
“In each case, that the administration was put on notice of sex abuse of their students and they quietly passed the trash to another school,” Allard said. “School administrators need to take immediate action against both the perpetrator and also protecting the children that has to be at the forefront of their minds at all times.”
Attorneys in this latest suit believe there are more students at Los Gatos High School who were subject to sexual abuse and are asking those individuals to contact the law firm.
Los Gatos High School and the Los Gatos-Saratoga High School District did not immediately respond for comment.
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