Court Sanctions Moreno Valley Unified School District for Hiding Evidence of Its Abuses of Students With Disabilities

On October 18, 2023, the court slapped Moreno Valley Unified School District (MVUSD) with a bevy of sanctions as punishment for hiding evidence. According to HSRD partner David Clay Washington, “C.B. has a team of excellent attorneys. Stonewall enough and you’ll find yourself between a rock and a hard place. The defendants in this case found that out the hard way.”

HSRD Partners David Clay Washington and Dan Stormer, alongside Disability Rights California, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and the law firm Barajas & Rivera APC sued the MVUSD and its administrators and security staff for repeatedly violently striking and handcuffing an eleven-year-old Black student with disabilities (C.B.). For two years and throughout the course of discovery in this case, MVUSD evaded its obligation to produce documents and witnesses, presumably because it was aware of the devastating effect the truth would have if it came to light. The coalition sought and achieved orders leveling monetary sanctions on MVUSD for these practices, but it did not stop MVUSD from hiding evidence.

Two of the security staff named as defendants in this case, Demetrius Owens and Loniesha King, failed to appear to be deposed. After being ordered to appear, counsel for MVUSD claimed to have “lost contact” with King. Meanwhile, Owens appeared for his deposition but attempted to proceed with an attorney who was not admitted to practice in federal court. Meanwhile, numerous other MVUSD witnesses refused to appear or appeared but had no knowledge of the subjects for which they were called to testify.

As a result of MVUSD’s repeated attempts to hide the gravity of their systemic abuses of innocent children, the coalition sought an order sanctioning the district, including

  1. An instruction to the jury that it should infer from Defendants King and Owens’ failures to appear at deposition that their testimony would have been harmful to them;
  2. An instruction to the jury that it should infer from MVUSD’s failure to designate and produce witnesses to testify regarding policies and training provided to school security regarding students with disabilities that such testimony would have been harmful to MVUSD;
  3. Adverse inferences in deciding C.B.’s motion for summary judgment against MVUSD;
  4. Preventing MVUSD from introducing any evidence at trial concerning:
    1. MVUSD’s policies, procedures, practices, protocols, or trainings regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitiation Act;
    2. Any tracking of data regarding MVUSD personnel’s uses of force, handcuffs, shackles, or other restraints on MVUSD students; and
    3. The authenticity, reliability, or accuracy of data regarding (i) MVUSD personnel’s use of force, handcuffs, shackles, or other restraints, and (ii) MVUSD personnel’s referrals of disabled students to police officers or school security staff.

On October 18, 2023 the District Court granted this relief, adopting the Magistrate’s ruling, which chastised MVUSD for its “pattern of producing unprepared witnesses, only to withdraw them at the time of deposition, or to cancel the deposition altogether.” The Court also chastised Defendants King and Owens, stating that their “failure to follow through on their promises and comply with the court’s order has effectively concealed evidence from plaintiff to plaintiff’s prejudice.”

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