DA Rethinking Selective & Overextended Felony Charges Against Vice Principals

A third member of the staff/faculty at Wilmer Amina Carter High School in Rialto has been criminally charged for failure to properly report that one and perhaps more of the students at the school had been sexually abused.
The addition of a misdemeanor filing against another school staff member at the high school where two school administrators are being subjected to novel felony prosecutions relating to sexual assaults perpetrated by a student or students against another underage student or other underage students may complicate the ability of the prosecution to obtain convictions of two original defendants in the case.  The three adults criminally charged in the case were not directly involved in nor did they have prior knowledge of those assaults, and their being held to account when the one known juvenile perpetrator of the assaults is not being charged is creating a stir in both legal and educational circles. Moreover, the enlargement of the case to a third school employee intensifies already existing questions about why the principal who was in place when the sexual abuse of one of her students was ongoing has not been criminally charged even as two of her assistant principals were.
Lindsay Morton, who was a counselor at Wilmer Amina Carter High School was formally charged by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office on March 7 with misdemeanor failure of a mandated reporter to report child abuse or neglect, Penal Code § 11166, stemming from an event which the district attorney’s office alleges occurred on November 1, 2021. Morton was arraigned before Judge Ingrid Uhler on April 25, 2022.
Morton’s travail follows those of David Shenhan Yang and Natasha Harris-Dawson, who on February 23 were each hit with three criminal charges, those being felony willfully causing or permitting a child to suffer, Penal Code § 273 (A), stemming from an incident occurring on September 1, 2021; a misdemeanor charge of failure of a mandated reporter to report child abuse or neglect, Penal Code § 11166, stemming from what was apparently the same incident occurring on September 1, 2021; and another misdemeanor charge of failure of a mandated reporter to report child abuse or neglect, Penal Code § 11166, stemming from an incident occurring on November 5, 2021. Morton, who is represented by attorneys Scott Simmons and Grady Clay Schwartz, entered a not guilty plea.
Yang and Harris-Dawson were arraigned before Judge Uhler on April 28, entering not guilty pleas.
Yang is represented by attorney Joshua Peter Visco
Harris is represented by attorney Gregory Christopher Gardner
Of note is now that Yang and Harris have been bound over for trial, their freedom is no longer conditional upon the posting of bond but have now been provided with cite releases, an extremely rare concession by authorities pursuing felony charges against a defendant. For many observers, that signaled an underlying difficulty with the case, one which Judge Uhler and prosecutors, including District Attorney Jason Anderson, recognize can prove to be highly problematic.
There are a multitude of underlying facts in the case, a few of which are clear and specifically known and far more which are generally known but are opaque. A desperate effort was made, the Sentinel is informed, by the Rialto Police Department, Rialto Police Chief Mark Kling and elements within the Rialto Unified School District to contain what at one point threatened to be a scandal that would consume some of the Rialto community’s most reputable, respected and highly thought-of personages as the matter went public. The police department has now effectively thrown a cordon around the case, capping at three the number of district employees who have been criminally charged, while it is simultaneously cooperating with elements outside the department to lionize one district employee on the hope that a narrative in which she is represented as heroically wading into the situation to assist a student will satiate the public curiosity as to what occurred, and stem further examination of the action, or lack thereof, of a host of those involved in minimizing the sexual abuse of children in the community.
On Wednesday, February 23, 2021, Yang and Harris-Dawson, both of whom were up to that point vice principals at Wilmer Amina Carter High School, were arrested and taken into custody by Rialto Police and booked into West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga on a single felony count each of child abuse under conditions likely to cause great bodily injury or death, and two misdemeanor counts each of failure to report child abuse or neglect.
What was put out at that time was that both had temporized for nearly five months before reporting that a student they oversaw as educational administrators had raped a student in September and then held off for three months before informing authorities about the same student sexually assaulting another student in November.
There were indications that a wider number of both high school and school district officials as well as members of the police department had the circumstance relating to the student offender brought to their attention last fall.
As of February, the 17-year-old who engaged in the alleged sexual assaults in September and November and another one in January had been contacted by the police but not arrested. He was instead given a citation and released to what the police department indicated were his parents.
School district employees fall within the category of professionals such as social workers, physicians, teachers, educators or counselors who come into contact with what are termed “vulnerable elements of the population,” and are accordingly under legal obligation to report to the appropriate state agency any objectively reasonable sign of child abuse or elder abuse that he or she sees or encounters.
By late January 2022, there were reports extant in Rialto about sexual predators at large among the Wilmer Amina Carter student body and that Wilmer Amina Carter High School Principal Robin McMillon was being indolent in the face of what was occurring. Specific incidents were cited, including an alleged rape in September 2021, another sexual assault in November 2021 and a similar incident in January 2022, after which the names of students involved were being freely mentioned among students at the Wilmer Amina Carter campus. Despite that, no police action was taken at that time or the ensuing weeks.
One rumor or point of speculation was that there was some order of personal involvement, perhaps a guardianship arrangement, between one of the vice principals or the school principal or an individual employed in the district superintendent’s office and the alleged perpetrator. Another was that the vice principal that first heard about the sexual assault did not deem the report credible. That version of events is problematic, however, since a second report relating to a second victim implicating the alleged perpetrator was received two months after the first, followed by a third report after that.
Events soon overtook the high school, the district and the police department.
On February 20, 2022, Stephanie Olvera under the pseudonym “penelope_73” with the hashtag “justice for Johanna” posted a video to TikTok which captured both the visuals and audio of Olvera confronting an unidentified school official. “How dare you tell me I had nothing to worry about,” Olvera can be heard saying. “You told me I didn’t need to leave my job. How dare you? My daughter was traumatized by the time I got home.”
The school official can be heard on the video asking Olvera to identify herself, to which Olvera responds, “Who am I? Well, what type of mom are you? How dare you? How dare you not call the cops yesterday for her defense?” When the school official says, “I will call them,” Olvera replies, “Oh, now you will. I called them already.”
During further exchange about her daughter, identified by Olvera as “Joanna,” the school official can be heard saying, “Let me tell you, your daughter begged me, ‘Please, don’t call…’” At that point Olvera and an unidentified man accompanying Olvera react strongly, their utterances drowning out the school official, who attempts to continue. “It doesn’t matter,” Olvera says. “She’s a student.” The man can be heard saying, “Your protocol is to call for her. You’re not here to be her friend. You’re here to do your job. That’s it.”
With Olvera and the unidentified man, possibly Olvera’s husband and Johanna’s father, dominating the exchange with the school official, Olvera can be heard saying, “I heard you know about this student already, and nothing’s been done.”
Accompanying the TikTok video was the blurb, “[P]lease help me share my daughter [J]ohanna[’s] story[. S]he was sexually abused by a student in Carter [H]igh[S]chool and the school failed to contact me and the police to cover up for the student because he was considered a son to the vice principal[. S]o for that reason they convince[d] my daughter to keep quiet[,] if not she would be expelled[. T]hey failed to protect my daughter and she has not been herself ever since[. P]lease help me share so we can get all the staff involved to be accountable for failing to do their job protecting our children.”
Despite the rumblings about sexual predators on the Wilmer Amina Carter campus in January, the Rialto Police Department at this point maintains it did not get wind of the sexual assaults until February 16, 2022. At that point, the department was given an explicit report that a 15-year-old girl at Carter High had been sexually assaulted by a 17-year-old student on what the department later said was “several times over the past three months. When detectives investigated the allegations they learned there were two additional female students, ages 15 and 16, who were sexually assaulted by the same suspect.”
Within a week, the department assembled a case and took action against both Harris and Yang. The department did not include any other school or district personnel in its action plan, despite information that school staff at a level below Harris and Yang had direct knowledge about the assaults on students and despite information to indicate that Harris and Yang’s superior at Wilmer Amina Carter, Principal Robin McMillon, was within the loop and subject to the same reporting requirement that they were. A month previously, Wilmer Amina Carter students and parents of Wilmer Amina Carter students had been criticizing McMillon for her tolerance of the overly-sexually aggressive students active on the high school campus.
In making the arrests of Harris and Yang, the police department put out a statement. “As mandated reporters, both Harris and Yang are required by California State Law to immediately alert law enforcement of child abuse or neglect,” it pronounced. The police department statement did not mention McMillon.
Further, in his statement relating to the arrests of Harris and Yang and the extraordinary move by his office to charge them not just with misdemeanors but a felony, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson omitted any reference to McMillon. Anderson did not hesitate in tearing into Harris and Yang, saying that their failure to act destroyed “the trust that students and parents alike should have regarding the safety and protection of all the children in their care. Their failure as mandated reporters to notify law enforcement led to further victimization of two students, and the sexual assault of a third victim, which was preventable.”
Similarly, the Rialto Unified School District made no reference to Wilmer Amina Carter High School Principal Robin McMillon in its official statement, which held that “The safety and well-being of students is our number one priority.” The allegations against Yang and Harris, the district said, were being “taken with extreme seriousness. The district will continue its internal investigation until all the facts related to this matter are brought to light. We will also continue to work with local authorities as they conduct their own investigation.”
Yang and Harris-Dawson, upon being booked, were initially being held on $150,000 bail. Each spent Wednesday night, February 23 and early Thursday morning in jail. Harris was released shortly before 6 a.m. February 24, after someone posted bail on her behalf. Yang was let go after a bond was pledged on his behalf around 9 a.m. February 24.
By March 9 the court had moved to exonerate bail for both Yang and Harris-Dawson, a first sign that the case against them was running into stiff headwinds.
The Rialto Unified School District quietly moved to transfer McMillon out of the principal’s slot at Wilmer Amina Carter High School, sending her to a middle school. The district then promoted Johanna Cuellar, one of the three assistant principals serving under McMillon, to step up into the acting principal position at Carter High. Simultaneously, a legend in which Cuellar is celebrated as having done the right things is being widely circulated in the Rialto Community. According to that narrative, when one of the students who had been victimized by the 17-year-old perpetrator was seen by a teacher cowering and crying after one of his onslaughts, the girl was sent to Cuellar, who without hesitation contacted the student’s mother and angled the matter toward an investigation by the Rialto Police Department.
Cuellar’s advancement in the aftermath of the arrests of her fellow and sister vice principals and the exiling of the school’s principal raises a certain question as to how it was that the district and the police department waltzed past a serious examination of how much the senior administrative level at Carter High knew about sexual assaults and sexual batteries that some of the school’s students were being subjected to and which students were openly discussing. Since February, McMillon has avoided questions, posed by the Sentinel and others, as to how she escaped the criminal charges that have been lodged against Yang and Harris-Dawson.
Now acknowledged or alleged is that all three of the school’s vice principals knew of the sexual assaults that were taking place on the school campus and that two of those vice principals were criminally culpable by failing to act and one acted responsibly and rightly under the law. Undealt with is the implication that either McMillon, too, failed to act or that she was so indifferent to and disengaged from what was going on at the high school where she was principal that she had no conception of what her three immediate underlings knew pertaining to the sexualized abuse of students at her school.
Reports are that the police department, from Lieutenant James Mills, who was assigned to investigate the assaults, to Police Chief Mark Kling, to the school district, including board members Edgar Montes, Stephanie Lewis, Nancy O’Kelley, Dina Walker and Joseph Martinez, as well as Superintendent Cuauhtémoc Avila, to Rialto’s mayor and city council members were highly averse to dragging McMillon, who has been with the district for some time and who has a doctorate in education, through the mud. Reportedly, McMillon was given an opportunity to lawyer up before her culpability in the affair was probed by the police department, a courtesy that was not extended to Yang and Harris.
The police department insists that its investigation, which allegedly turned up that a student who had been victimized by the 17-year-old had told Morton of her ordeal after which Morton failed to follow through with a report to the police, need go and will go no further than it already has. Morton’s failure to report what was told to her about the assault is the basis of the charge against her. In assigning blame for the reporting failures and delays, the department is unwilling to go beyond circumscribing Yang, Harris and Morton.
It is unclear where in the informational loop Morton stood in relation to Yang and Harris-Dawson. It is alleged in a lawsuit filed on May 19 by attorneys Michael Alder and Samantha Hernandez-Ortega on behalf of one of the 17-year-old’s victims that three days after she was “sexually, physically and verbally assaulted” on November 5, 2021, the victim/plaintiff spoke with Yang about what had occurred. Yang, according to the suit, had the victim put into writing what she had experienced, after which he summoned Harris-Dawson. Harris-Dawson offhandedly dismissed what the girl had gone through, according to the suit, indicating the students preying upon the female students “are just boys.” Harris-Dawson, according to the suit, questioned whether the victim “was seeking attention.” Harris-Dawson also questioned whether the victim had told her assailant “No” loud enough and repeatedly enough, according to the lawsuit. At some point, Harris-Dawson stated, according to the lawsuit, that she did not want to know any more about the situation and that she was not prepared to do anything about it.
According to the lawsuit, Yang told the girl that he and Harris-Dawson would have a word with the 17-year-old. It is not clear whether the misdoer was given a talking-to.
The suit filed by Alder and Hernandez-Ortega does not make any reference to Morton.
Word has reached the Sentinel that Anderson is having difficulty finding a deputy prosecutor to take on the case, as concern is growing that it represents one of selective prosecution, by which individual staff members at Carter High as culpable in what the district attorney’s office is alleging against Yang and Harris-Dawson and now Morton have not been similarly charged. The reports that came over from the Rialto Police Department and upon which the prosecutor’s office is proceeding, the Sentinel was told, are patently incomplete. The Superior Court record for the cases against Yang, Harris and Morton does not provide the identities of the deputy prosecutors assigned to the case. This is because, the Sentinel was told, Anderson bit off more than he could chew by making the felony filings against Yang and Harris. Anderson shortly after the headline-grabbing February 23 arrests came to realize he had overcharged the two vice principals, the Sentinel is informed, and that is why on March 7, a mere 12 days later, he refrained from charging Morton with a felony, confining the case against her to a misdemeanor.
The Sentinel this week made eight phone calls to Rialto Police Chief Mark Kling, seeking clarification as to why his department’s report did not extend to McMillon. Kling did not return any of those calls.
McMillon ignored a Sentinel request for a statement and did not consent to have her lawyer speak on her behalf.
Mark Gutglueck

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