In one of the largest civil jury verdicts in Santa Clara County history, the Union School District in San Jose has been ordered to pay $102.5 million to two young women who were sexually abused by former Dartmouth Middle School band director Samuel Neipp.
The school district has sought to overturn the verdict.
“It’s a high number but we’ve shown the court the verdict is justified,” attorney Lauren Cerri said. Ms. Cerri, from San Jose-based Cerri, Boskovich & Allard, represented one of the two women in the case.
“We know that school officials negligently supervised and retained Neipp, and failed to prevent the abuse from occurring,” Ms. Cerri said. “Before his arrest, neither of these two young women came forward and told their parents or told the school what was happening to them. There is no evidence that this school knew that this teacher was sexually abusing these students. But what did they know?”
A timeline developed for the trial shows they knew Neipp was a sexual predator at least as far back as 2010, when a parent complained to Dartmouth’s principal and the Union School District’s superintendent about Neipp exchanging inappropriate text messages with her daughter.
Ms. Cerri said, “one of the big issues in my case was the fact that this teacher was an at-will employee for several years while complaints were coming in against him. So, they could have gotten rid of him for no reason, any reason, but instead they granted him tenure.”
Neipp was reprimanded in January 2013, when yet another parent complained about him.
“So, what do they do? Do they fire him? Do they call the police? Do they have extra eyes on him, do they send out a letter to the parents saying don’t allow text messaging and all the things they’re doing? No. In 2013, they award him Teacher of the Year.”
Ms. Cerri said that while parents’ complaints were swept under the rug, “the information the school was giving to the students and the parents was how great this guy was – we grant him tenure, we’re giving him awards…”
Ms. Cerri said, too, that the case as a “common-sense case” and cited the fact that the ongoing abuse occurred on school grounds
“They failed to supervise this teacher,” she said. “If they had acted reasonably and responded to the complaints, my client would have never met Neipp.”
Ms. Cerri’s client was awarded $65 million of the $102.5 million jury verdict by a San Jose jury.
“In my closing I asked for a million dollars a year for every year from when she was 13 until the rest of her life and she has another 60-plus years to live,” Ms. Cerri said. “My client’s life was shattered by this. The fact that she was held emotionally captive led to one expert testifying that she’s one of the most damaged victims he’s ever seen.”
Neipp, meantime, is spending the rest of his life behind bars. In 2019, he was criminally convicted of sexually abusing the two female students and sentenced to over 50 years in prison. Read more in the San Jose Mercury News.