Crime

Woman claims sexual abuse by Los Banos teachers in lawsuit

A lawsuit filed against the Los Banos Unified School District and two former high school teachers reveals details about a woman who claims both men sexually and emotionally abused her.

The lawsuit, copies of which were sent to the Enterprise and Sun-Star on Thursday by the law firm representing the now-26-year-old woman, details her claimed relationships 10 years ago with Gary A. Bettencourt and Dusty Norris.

It claims she was victimized by both men while they were teachers at Los Banos High School and that an investigation into Bettencourt led the woman to divulge information about her relationship with Norris.

Bettencourt, 41, and Norris, 37, are facing separate felony charges of having sexual relationships with minors.

Bettencourt, an English teacher at Pacheco High School who has been on unpaid administrative leave since September, has been charged with 13 felonies, including unlawful sexual intercourse, oral copulation with a minor and lewd acts upon a child.

Bettencourt’s charges involve at least two teenage girls. He has pleaded not guilty.

Norris also pleaded not guilty to sexually abusing at least two teenage girls during his time as a vocational instructor at the high school. Norris left his role as a teacher in 2007 and became a Los Banos police officer in 2008. The Police Department fired him on June 14.

The lawsuit, filed by Corsiglia McMahon and Allard LLP with the Merced Superior Court on June 23, calls for damages in excess of $25,000 on complaints of sexual abuse of a minor, breach of mandatory duty, negligence of district employees and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In addition to Bettencourt, Norris and the school district, the lawsuit lists 50 as-yet-unnamed defendants.

The complaints allege that Bettencourt and Norris sexually abused the woman while she was an underage senior at Los Banos High School during the 2006-07 school year.

The lawsuit also alleges that the school district and others had knowledge of the acts and didn’t perform their statutory obligations to protect the victim.

An investigator’s report released May 26 suggests that Norris confronted Bettencourt about initial allegations of sexual abuse of minors in a way that was out of character.

It also claims that photos of Norris exposing himself were found on Bettencourt’s computer.

Claimed abuse described

According to the lawsuit, the woman, identified as “R.T.,” had a relationship with Bettencourt that started during her junior year in 2005 and 2006.

Bettencourt started flirting with her while she was enduring difficult events such as her brother’s deployment to Iraq, the lawsuit reads.

Her father allowed her to join the high school drama club, advised by Bettencourt at the time, because Bettencourt assured him his daughter would get home safely, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges the relationship grew during her senior year, while she was still a minor, to include physical contact such as kissing, touching and oral copulation after rehearsals in the school theater and in the classroom.

Her senior year is also when she was sexually assaulted by Norris, the lawsuit claims.

She enrolled in an elective course taught by Norris, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit describes Norris texting the victim during class one day, asking her to stay after class. It says he then put her against the wall and physically molested her in a nearly windowless room.

The lawsuit states that Norris also molested her while other students watched movies during class.

Norris would arrange the chairs to face away from his desk, have the victim kneel down and would molest her, the lawsuit states, adding that Norris would have her perform oral sex on him in the classroom between classes.

According to the lawsuit, the victim thought she was being singled out as “special” and “did not appreciate that it was wrong.”

Norris also told her, according to the lawsuit, that he would kill her and her family if she ever told anyone about their relationship. This led to her never reporting the incident.

Bettencourt call

Years later, in October 2015, the woman received a phone call from Bettencourt admitting that he was in some trouble involving sexual acts with another minor and that he “was very angry, blaming the other minor,” according to the lawsuit.

The woman learned that the other relationship occurred in or around the 2004-05 academic year, and resulted in communication from the school to parents, according to the lawsuit.

The woman claims Bettencourt begged her to not say anything about their own past relationship to avoid adding to his troubles.

“This was the first time plaintiff started to realize that what had happened with Bettencourt was wrong,” the lawsuit reads.

She then realized her relationship with Norris was also wrong after the phone call from Bettencourt and a separate phone call from the mother of the other person believed to have been a victim.

According to the lawsuit, the woman was interviewed by the investigator in the case of the other possible victim and the woman was asked how she felt about it, “at which point plaintiff broke down, finally experiencing the pain and acknowledging the fact that she was sexually abused.”

Jeff Hammerschmidt, an attorney defending Bettencourt in his criminal case, said Friday that he is reserving comments pending review of the lawsuit after the July 4 holiday weekend.

Deputy Public Defender Christopher Loethen, who is defending Norris in his criminal case, didn’t return requests for comment Friday.

School district officials have said they cannot publicly comment on the lawsuit.

Robert Allard, the attorney representing the woman, called for drastic changes in the California public school system to stop pedophile teachers before sex crimes can occur.

He said in a statement that a rigorous training program should be implemented that helps educators to identify “red flags.”

“This is the second act in this tragedy,” Allard said in a statement, referencing Norris and Bettencourt. “At stake is the health and welfare of students everywhere.”

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