Krystyna Gomez was a senior at Savanna High School in Anaheim when she told a school counselor that the history teacher had kissed and groped her in his classroom.
Another student had confided in Gomez that she lost her virginity to the teacher. There was talk among students about an inappropriate relationship between the instructor and a third girl, Gomez said, but she was the only one of the three to come forward.
The teacher, David Sepe, was charged by the Anaheim city attorney with two misdemeanor counts of annoying or molesting a child under 18. He denied the allegation and a jury acquitted him of the charges in 2004. He later sued Gomez alleging defamation.
“My response to these charges has always been consistent,” Sepe wrote in court records in the defamation case, adding that he “never touched” Gomez.
By 2008, Sepe had transferred to a neighboring high school where he continues to teach.
Gomez, 37, is one of three women who have filed lawsuits in recent months against the Anaheim Union High School District alleging that Sepe groomed them — building their trust and acting as a confidant — before touching them inappropriately in the early 2000s.
In interviews with The Times, the women described their lawsuits as an attempt to force the district to take their concerns seriously and bar Sepe from contact with teenagers.
“I know what he’s done and what he’s capable of doing and it irks my whole being that he’s still a teacher,” Gomez said. “In my heart I believe tigers don’t change their stripes.”
Sepe did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Sepe began working in the district in September 1995, just a few months after he first received his teaching credential, according to state licensing and district records.
Gomez alleged in the lawsuit and during an interview with The Times that while she was Sepe’s teaching assistant, he asked her to stay after class or join him after school in the classroom where he would kiss and grope her.
The lawsuits, filed in Orange County Superior Court, allege that the district “turned a blind eye to his misconduct” and gave the teacher “access to a new pool of minor students” after Gomez came forward with allegations.
“As a whole, these lawsuits paint a picture of a serial abuser who was left unchecked and unsupervised,” one of the lawsuit’s states.
District spokesman John Bautista wrote in an email to The Times that the district “has not received any lawsuits and, consequently, has no comment.” Sepe, who has also coached football and baseball, is currently teaching at Katella High School.
The lawsuit was filed under a California law that opened a three-year window for victims of childhood abuse to sue when the statute of limitations has already expired.
Gomez, Krystal Slocum and a third former student who is not named in the complaint are seeking unspecified damages in their lawsuits against the school district.
Slocum, now 37, was a sophomore at Savanna when she was placed in Sepe’s history class during the 2000-2001 school year. They became close during that time and Slocum often confided in him, she said.
Slocum and other female students would frequently spend time with Sepe in his classroom during lunch and after school, according to the lawsuit.
“It was well-known on campus that Sepe had groupies, all of whom were young female students that spent an inappropriate amount of time with him,” the lawsuit states.
The alleged abuse started during her junior year, the lawsuit said, after Sepe selected Slocum to be his teaching assistant. In an interview with The Times, Slocum said the topic of her and Sepe “dating” was first discussed when she dropped off brownies she had made for him at his classroom the day before winter break.
“He pretty much went into how mature I was and how smart I was and this diatribe about what’s really the difference between an 18-year-old and a 17-year-old,” she said.
Slocum, who was 16 at the time, was in advanced placement classes, was vice president of the associated student body and eventually graduated with honors. She was often told by adults how mature she was for her age, she said.
“And so when he was like, ‘You should date me instead of the little boys at Savanna,’ I agreed,” she said. “It was really simple for him and I know that he definitely targeted me for that reason.”
At one point, according to the lawsuit, Sepe tried to kiss her in his classroom after school. She pushed him off, afraid she would get in trouble.
Sepe invited her to visit his apartment in Fullerton where he would sexually assault her, the lawsuit said.
“His special treatment of her and professions of love, combined with plaintiff’s young age, allowed Sepe to manipulate her into unwavering loyalty,” the lawsuit states. In the months that followed, Slocum “found it difficult to admit that Sepe sexually abused her, as she was terrified of getting him in trouble,” according to the lawsuit.
A third plaintiff, who is not named in the complaint, alleges that during her sophomore year she began receiving phone calls from a man who identified himself as her secret admirer, the lawsuit states.
The Times generally does not identify people who have reported being victims of sexual assault.
The caller would ask the girl, who was 15 at the time, “if there were any teachers she would like to have sex with or if there were any teachers she had fantasies over,” the lawsuit states.
The woman could hear the man masturbating while on the phone, according to the lawsuit. Ultimately, the man identified himself as Sepe, the lawsuit states, and soon after began touching her inappropriately in class.
After he was acquitted of the misdemeanor charges, Sepe sued Gomez and her mother alleging malicious prosecution and abuse of process, seeking more than $300,000 in damages. He alleged in court documents that his “reputation was ruined over a childish school girl infatuation.”
Sepe dropped the lawsuit in December 2006, according to court records.
The period was extremely challenging for Gomez, she said. She was ostracized by her peers and transferred to another high school to finish her senior year.
“Since the beginning, honestly, all I’ve wanted to do is the right thing and get this guy away from kids,” she said.