SAN BERNARDINO—(March 6) A jury on March 2 awarded Fontana Unified School District administrative technician/police dispatcher Amanda Vandervoort $1.487 million after a 21-day trial in her lawsuit in which she alleged negligence on the part of the district and sexual assault by former district police officer John Frank Garcia.
Before the punitive damages phase of the trial was to begin on March 3, the jury was informed that the attorney for Garcia, Michael Marlatt, had agreed on $5 million punitive damages stipulation.
Unless the district appeals the award amount, Vandervoort will indeed receive the $1.487 million, which will be paid out by the district. Her prospect of receiving the $5 million is dim, since it was assessed against Garcia, who does not have sufficient assets to make such a payment. The school district, while liable for actual damages, as a public agency is immune under the law from having to pay punitive damages.
Vandervoort and three other female district employees claimed that Garcia, a former coordinator of the Fontana Leadership Intervention Program (FLIP), either sexually assaulted or harassed them while they were at work and in the field. According to statements on file with the court, Garcia repeatedly made sexual advancements to the women while making reference to his sexual prowess and bragging about his sexual conquests of two mothers of FLIP students.
Vandervoort’s ordeal with Garcia culminated in three incidents, one on November 25, 2010 and two others on unspecified dates in February and April 2011. In the first encounter, Vandervoort was working as a dispatcher for school police services during the evening shift. When Garcia’s shift ended at 11 p.m., he attacked her, forcibly disrobing her and raping her. He repeated that action some three months later and five months later.
Vandervoort eventually reported what had occurred to Fontana School Police Chief William Megenney. An internal investigation of Garcia was conducted, but he remained in place as a police officer. Vandervoort took a stress leave in November of 2011, and sought and received psychological treatment, according to court testimony.
The district considered Garcia, who was hired by the district in June of 2008, an “award winning” officer. After he was assigned to Fontana A.B. Miller High School, Garcia was recognized for several arrests he effectuated on weapons and drug possession and drug sales charges, which involved activity in close proximity to a school or city park. Due to “his commitment to duty,” Garcia received the district’s Excellence in Policing Award on May 21, 2009.
Garcia, however, had a somewhat checkered history as a police officer prior to landing with FUSD. He went to work for the Riverside Police Department in April 2001 and resigned in October 2005 for undisclosed reasons, perhaps to take a job with the Fontana Police Department, which hired him the same month. He did not make it past his 18-month probationary term after he was accused in September 2006 of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old female police cadet. He also briefly worked for the Riverside Sheriff’s Department.
A complaint relating to Garcia’s sexual assaults of Vandervoort and another district employee went to the district attorney’s office, which declined to prosecute him over either matter.
Vandervoort did not leave the employ of the district, and continues to work as an evidence clerk for Fontana Unified’s police division. The district indicated it might appeal the jury’s damage assessment, though that was seemingly contradicted by a public statement to the effect that the jury’s award was for less than 10 percent of the amount Vandervoort and her attorneys, Brian Hannemann, Angel Plaus and Joshua Milon, sought. The district sought to put the best face on the situation, declaring, “Fontana Unified School District is committed to ensuring a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct or sexual harassment in the workplace and is doing everything in its power to help ensure a safe environment for all employees, students, and parents.”