The families of seven girls who were molested by the janitor at their middle school in the City of Industry filed a lawsuit against Bassett Unified School District, their lawyers said Thursday, two days after the man was sentenced.
Michael Anthony Barry, 60, was given 14 years in state prison after pleading no contest to charges including child molesting and committing lewd acts on a child.
He had worked at Torch Middle School for 16 years prior to his arrest in July 2017, investigators said.
Parents of the victims, who prosecutors said were between 10 and 12 years old, allege that the school district was negligent in allowing Barry to pull girls out of class and retaining an employee who had touched students in front of other staff, according to their lead counsel, Michael Carrillo of the Carrillo Law Firm.
All the crimes occurred on campus while school was in session, said Ralph Rios, another lawyer on the case.
"The kids knew him, the staff knew him, and he could do basically what he wanted," Rios said. "We have a report of a student who was actually molested in front of a nurse, and from the evidence that we have the nurse just laughed it off."
Barry would lure students into his broom closet or office by the girls' bathroom with things like chips and candy, then touch them inappropriately, Carrillo said. The suit alleges there was at least one case where a girl was given marijuana "as a gift."
One victim's mother, who asked her name not be used to protect her daughter, said her daughter told her Barry would "ask (girls) to dance for him" in return for candy.
The woman said her daughter was in seventh grade when the abuse occurred. Now a freshman in high school, she's been deeply scarred, her mother said.
"They failed her," the woman said of the district. "I'm scared sometimes now of sending my daughter to school because I don't think she's protected. I send her to school to learn, not to be touched by a pervert."
The father of another victim said his daughter went into a depression after Barry tried to touch her, and she felt guilty and embarrassed even though most other students didn't know she had been targeted.
"My daughter was always very open, very spunky, would jump around. After this experience, she doesn't want to leave her room, anti-social, don't want to eat, sleep," he said. "It's very hard, and it's the kind of stuff that you don't want to push on your kids because, personally, I don't know how to deal with this myself. What can I tell her?"
Carrillo said that other victims had contemplated suicide.
The father, who also asked that his name not be used, said Barry tried holding his daughter's hand, playing with her hair and grabbing her leg — but she was able to fight him off.
But the father said the inappropriate behavior occurred in front of a faculty member, who "just laughed it off," which he finds especially concerning.
The district, too, has tried to keep the abuse "hush-hush," he said.
"I haven't had contact with the district at all," the father said. "Not even an apology."
Superintendent Debra French issued a statement on the lawsuit: "The 14-year sentence provides a judicial outcome for the acts committed by our former employee. Bassett Unified continues to focus on ensuring the safety and well-being of our students and community."
Both parents said they did not think Barry was given a harsh enough sentence.
"He gets to serve 14 years and walk out," the father said. "Our daughters, they're going to serve a life sentence, because they're going to live with this for the rest of their lives."
Carrillo said Barry has at least 13 known victims, but he believes there are more. He asked others in the community to "not be afraid to come forward" if they have any information on other instances of abuse.
"We know for a fact that there were other victims in years past, and we're here to tell the victims that you're not alone, you will not be harassed," he said. "Please feel free to come forward because as it is today, the lives of these little girls have been affected forever."