BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Fairfax School District and Fairfax Assembly of God church are being sued in connection with the alleged sexual abuse of a minor by a man who, at the time, was a vice principal in the district and a church board member.
The suit, filed Monday, stems from allegations against Donald Ricketts, who pleaded no contest in 2013 to lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was vice principal of Fairfax Middle School at the time he was charged.
Attorney Daniel Rodriguez, who filed the suit, said it involves some of the things people trust most in their lives: churches and schools.
“It’s about how our church and our school, in this case, ignored, failed and ultimately betrayed an 11-year-old girl,” Rodriguez said.
District Superintendent Michael Coleman said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and declined to comment on it.
Pete Baker, former pastor at Fairfax Assembly of God, which is now called Alta Vista Assembly and at a new location, said there were two sets of accusations against Ricketts before his conviction in 2013, and in both instances the church contacted and cooperated with authorities. He said the investigators who handled the first accusation found it inconclusive, and no charges were filed.
The church forced Ricketts to step down from leadership roles following the first accusation, Baker said. When a second accusation was made, Ricketts was asked not to return to church.
Baker said he believes the lawsuit was filed by the alleged victim in the first case. He disagreed with the lawsuit’s contention that church officials didn’t immediately follow procedures for reporting abuse.
“We are advocates for kids,” Baker said. “It’s really important that people understand we’re the ones who turned him in both times.”
The alleged abuse occurred both at the church and school, Rodriguez said. Officials refused to listen to reports of the abuse and follow their own bylaws and training, according to the attorney.
“There were a ton of red flags in this case, and they were ignored,” Rodriguez said.
In one instance, a woman walked into a dark room inside the church. She flipped the lights on and saw Ricketts with a little girl on his lap and his hand where it shouldn’t be, Rodriguez said.
The woman reported what she saw to the church. Nothing happened, the attorney said.
“As best as we can tell from the police report, the church told (Ricketts) to not be alone with girls in the future,” Rodriguez said.
The suit says Ricketts groomed the girl for abuse, and made her believe that if she reported it no one would believe her and she would be thrown out of the church. Rodriguez said that’s exactly what happened when the girl came forward.
“What happened was she was kicked out of church,” the attorney said. “She was banished from church, as opposed to this man.”
Baker denied anyone who reported abuse against Ricketts was asked to leave the church. He said the opposite occurred — Ricketts was told to stay away.
Why a seven-year delay in filing the lawsuit? A change in state law that took effect this year allows survivors of childhood sexual assault to file a lawsuit up until the age of 40, Rodriguez said. That opened the way for the suit.
The survivor in this case, according to the suit, has suffered fear, shame and has post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the alleged abuse. Rodriguez said they’re seeking accountability in he form of compensation from those who ignored or failed to stop the alleged abuse.
They’re also seeking to review the protocols and rules the school and church had in place to see if they were adequate, Rodriguez said. If it’s found they were adequate, he said, they want to find out what will be done going forward to ensure they are enforced.