Torrance Unified School District to Pay 24 Molested Wrestlers $31 Million

The Torrance Unified School District will pay $31 million to 24 high school wrestlers whose coach molested them under the guise he was conducting naked "skin checks" to promote cleanliness, attorneys said Wednesday.

The agreement came a week before the civil trial involving former Torrance High School coach Thomas Snider was set to begin in Los Angeles Superior Court. Snider is in prison, serving a 69 years to life term.

Attorney John Manly, who represented the wrestlers, said the settlement was believed to be one of the largest paid in the country involving a single perpetrator at a school.

"The hope is that there will be a cultural change at Torrance Unified," Manly said. "This money is being paid because frankly the evidence showed that the School District was well aware that Mr. Snider was a threat to kids. There were multiple complaints and they allowed him to stay as a teacher and didn’t even investigate it. Had they investigated this, he would not have been able to continue as a teacher and he would not have been able to continue as a wrestling coach."

In a statement, Torrance Unified Superintendent George Mannon said the safety of students in the district was "a primary concern for all of us."

"This settlement spares these students and their families the difficulties of a protracted trial, while at the same time being mindful of the financial consequences stemming from settlements. As a result we believe we have struck a reasonable balance between these objectives," Mannon said. "Our priority has been to resolve these cases without the need for potentially painful litigation for these families. We know these settlements will provide for the future needs of these students. We believe this will help close this chapter for these families."

Dana McCune, an attorney representing the district, was not available for comment.

During Snider’s three-week criminal trial in 2016 at the Torrance courthouse, teenage victims described Snider's "skin checks" in a dimly lit storage room, where he knelt before them with a flashlight to examine their genitals, or put his fingers inside their underwear to move their penis from side to side. Snider also performed massages on injured wrestlers, asking them to lie naked on a bench with their leg draped over his lap.

The boys did not know anything was wrong until they mentioned the "skin checks" to opponents at Torrance's West High School. Those students told their coach who, in turn, reported Snider to the district. He was abruptly suspended Jan. 26, 2015, ending his two years as coach.

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During his trial on more than 40 counts of child molestation and lewd conduct, Snider acknowledged the checks, but said he performed them to rigorously prevent impetigo, ringworm and other skin illnesses. Prosecutors, however, contended the husband and father used the children to carry out his fantasies, scenes played out in gay pornographic movies he watched on the Internet. Snider could not explain his repeated visits to gay pornographic websites that were discovered on his computer.

Testimony during the case revealed a former student, now in his late 30s, had repeatedly called the district in 2004 to report that Snider sexually assaulted him on a camping trip when he was an 11-year-old Madrona Middle School student some 25 years earlier. Testimony revealed administrators contacted the police, but otherwise did not conduct any investigation. A police detective told the man to stop harassing the school with his calls.

In 2013, Principal Karim Girgis appointed the computer teacher to head the wrestling program.

Citing war hero and Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini, Manly said Torrance has a storied history of athletics and should have done better. He suggested voters question whether to return the district's school trustees to the board in November.

"This could have been the first school bankruptcy in California had they not resolved this," Manly said. "This was completely avoidable. This hurt dozens of kids. Parents should be able to drop their kids off at school in Torrance with the absolute confidence that their kids are safe. With that board I would not have that confidence."

Last week, KCET reported that TUSD’s attorneys filed court documents attempting to present evidence that the boys willingly participated in the molestation to reduce the damages the district might pay. The request ran counter to a 2015 law that prevents consent as a defense in civil cases involving an adult predator and minors.

Watch SoCal Connected's indestigation: LAUSD Hired Other Archdiocese Employees Accused of Sexual Abuse, Despite Warnings

"Nobody from the district has ever apologized to these kids," Manly said, adding some remain in therapy. "The only thing they’ve been subjected to is depositions, subpoenas and attacks."

TUSD previously settled a separate case involving one student for $1.75 million. Two more cases involving grown men who allege they were molested in the 1990s remain.

Most of the settlement will be paid with insurance, Manly said.

In his statement, Mannon said that the district has reviewed its safety measures,  and has provided every high school student with a list of crisis hotlines on the backs of their identification cards.

"Students can call any of the numbers (anonymously) and get immediate support or help," Mannon said. "As always, we encourage students if you 'See Something, Say Something.’”

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