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Lawsuit claims San Jose high school teacher forced student to abort child after impregnating her, abuse continued

Lawsuit claims South Bay teacher forced student to abort child after impregnating her
Lawsuit claims South Bay teacher forced student to abort child after impregnating her 04:00

A woman is suing San Jose's Campbell Union High School District, claiming that after impregnating her as a student, a teacher forced her to have an abortion and then continued sexually abusing her, even as the teacher's wife - the school dean - became aware of the abuse and blamed the victim.

Last month, police arrested 56-year-old Shawn Thomas, a teacher at Leigh High School and a football and track and field coach at Los Gatos High School, booking him on charges of rape and sexual assault of a minor. The arrest came after a woman accused Thomas of grooming her and repeatedly raping and sexually assaulting her on campus between 2002 and 2003 when she was a 15-year-old freshman at Leigh High School. 

shawn-thomas.jpg
Shawn Thomas San Jose Police Department

"It has impacted every facet of her life. It has changed the trajectory of her life," attorney Lauren Cerri, who is representing the woman, told CBS News Bay Area.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday claims Thomas allegedly groomed her for his sexual advances and then engaged in sexual intercourse with her in his portable classroom and in a storage room within the boys' locker room. According to the complaint, Thomas's wife Sarah Thomas, at the time the school's dean, walked in on the two alone in his classroom after the two abruptly stopped having sex because they saw her approaching.

The lawsuit states that after he impregnated the 15-year-old student, Thomas insisted that she get an abortion, which she did. The student then disclosed to Sarah Thomas that her husband had been having sexual intercourse with her, and Sarah Thomas responded by blaming the student, asking her how she could do this after all she had done for her, according to the complaint.

"So that is why most people remain silent, because they're not believed, and they're victim blamed, and that's exactly what happened here," Cerri went on to say.

The lawsuit also says even after the victim reported the abuse, neither Thomas's wife nor any district employee took any action to protect the victim or hold Shawn Thomas accountable, and the sexual abuse continued on school grounds.

"Leigh High School had every opportunity to prevent the abuse of my client," Cerri said in a prepared statement. "There were red flags everywhere that Shawn Thomas was a sexual predator. Even worse, a direct report was made by my client and completely ignored."

The school district is accused of failing to respond to complaints of Thomas's alleged misconduct and grooming behaviors with students such as isolating them, giving them rides in his personal vehicle to and from campus during school hours, and making inappropriate comments to them. The lawsuit says the district also failed to properly investigate a complaint Thomas had sexual intercourse with a student and failed to report the suspicion of child abuse to law enforcement, as well as failing to educate other district staffers on how to detect and deter teachers from engaging in inappropriate grooming behavior with students.

The victim's sister spoke to CBS News Bay Area about the lawsuit. Her name has been withheld to protect her identity.

"For so many years my sister thought it was her fault. She felt so much shame and guilt, especially after being forced to abort her child. Mrs. Thomas blamed her, so she blamed herself," the sister said. "She is now, for the first time, after 20 years coming to the realization that she was just a child. The school district failed to protect her, they protected him instead. It wasn't right and they need to be held accountable."

Cerri said it's believed there could be many more victims and urged anyone with information about Thomas to call her office at 408-289-1417.

In a statement to CBS News Bay Area, a spokesperson for the Campbell Union High School District said,

Although the current leadership team was not at the District in 2003, they take the allegations seriously and are deeply concerned.

The District remains prepared to continue to cooperate with law enforcement throughout their investigation, and provide access to all necessary information.

Our foremost commitment remains the safety and well-being of our students, families, and staff. We will continue working with law enforcement to protect our community and support any victims in this case. 

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