Alumnus – NBC Bay Area
A former Los Gatos High School star athlete responds to an NBC Bay Area investigation saying she was sexually abused on campus years ago and the school failed to protect her.
Former Los Gatos High School star athlete and sportscaster Heather Hennessey opens up about her alleged abuse at school in the late 1990s.
“I suffered in silence for so long,” Hennessey said.
Hennessey says a student rally last summer and the recent two-part report from the school’s #MeToo movement investigation unit encouraged her to go public with her sexual abuse allegations by former Los Gatos High School track coach Chioke Robinson. The abuse happened when she was a high school student between 1998 and 1999, she said.
In a lawsuit filed last month, Hennessey said Robinson “repeatedly sexually abused [her,] try to touch her [inappropriately] on the LGHS campus. She said Robinson followed her from Archbishop Mitty High School to Los Gatos High School (LGHS). She left Mitty, she said, trying to escape Robinson. The Diocese of San Jose, which oversees Mitty, said in a previous report that it takes all allegations of abuse seriously and supports victim-survivors.
Reacting to the Investigation Unit’s report into a recent spate of complaints of sexual assault and harassment of students by current and former LGHS students, Hennessey said she was upset “this [LGHS] the culture still exists.
Specifically, Hennessey says the school does not believe in or protect students who come forward with sexual abuse complaints. She says school officials failed to protect her when she reported Robinson’s abuse to her boss.
“I reported to my head coach [Robinson’s supervisor] that I was abused and he covered it up,” she said. “He told me my career would be ruined. That I couldn’t continue to attend USC – using scare tactics to shut me up.
Some 20 years later, in 2019, Robinson was arrested and charged with sexually abusing at least three other girls. Robinson has pleaded not guilty and is out on bail pending court proceedings. The former LGHS head coach never responded to requests for comment from the Investigation Unit.
Hennessey isn’t the only Los Gatos High School alumnus to allege abuse by Robinson on the LGHS campus. Jane Doe – whose real name is not identified in court documents – is also suing Los Gatos – Saratoga High School District. Attorney Lauren Cerri is representing Doe in his lawsuit against the district.
“So when I saw [the Investigative Unit’s] reports…and I saw these statements [by the superintendent] “It’s one of the hardest things for school districts to deal with…when it’s happening off-campus.” Well, you don’t even handle it appropriately when it happens on campus,” Cerri said.
Robinson is identified but not named as a defendant in Hennessey’s lawsuit. He did not comment on Hennessey’s claims.
Robinson is named in Doe’s case. A lawyer representing him in this lawsuit sent a statement that reads in full:
“Mr. Robinson was surprised and devastated by the allegations and categorically professes his innocence. He has been a coach and mentor of all ages, genders and backgrounds, and a pillar of the community for almost 20 years. a potential monetary reward, this calls into question the motives of the plaintiffs. There has been a one-sided narrative portrayed throughout this process. We ask the media not to present a one-sided story as fact. We hope that the lawsuit will light on his innocence and these one-sided allegations.The law and the presumption of innocence must be followed in order to achieve fairness and justice.
Cerri also represented the family of Audrie Pott. Pott was the second year at Saratoga High School who committed suicide in 2012 after three male students sexually assaulted her at a party and were allowed back on campus.
Saratoga High School and Los Gatos High School are in the same school district. Like other federally funded institutions, the district must abide by federal Title IX laws prohibiting sex discrimination and sexual harassment, which includes rape.
Los Gatos – Saratoga High School District did not have a Title IX coordinator when it received a Title IX complaint in August 2020. It hired an outside law firm to handle the case. The company determined that the accused student and the school did not violate Title IX laws, according to investigative documents obtained by the investigation unit.
The district has since hired Title IX coordinator Megan Farrell, whose LinkedIn profile shows she started the role in December 2020.
“How is it possible they just appointed a Title IX coordinator,” Cerri said.
School District Superintendent Mike Grove said he could not comment on the pending civil lawsuits. In previous statements, he said the district has expanded staff training and student counseling. In August 2020, the school board approved the hiring of law firm Hirschfeld Kraemer to conduct an independent investigation into broader allegations regarding school culture and student sexual abuse.
The Investigative Unit learned that firm investigators were not receiving as much student participation as they had hoped. In an email, Grove wrote that “the reasons for the low turnout…are unknown,” but could be due to a lack of in-person schooling. Several students tell the investigation unit that they do not trust the investigation or the sincerity of the district. A student quoted Grove’s email last month to parents as saying student sexual misconduct is “not a pervasive problem in [the] Piece.”
“The way Heather’s case was handled, the way my client’s case was handled is exactly the same way the girls are handled now,” Cerri said. “It sends a message that they can’t talk.”
Farrell provided the investigation unit with the following statement Monday morning:
“I would like to let Ms Hennessy and Ms Doe know that we hear them and our hearts go out to them.
As you know, all of the alleged events that gave rise to Chioke Robinson’s trial occurred before the current District leadership team was in place. Nonetheless, our team has made the education of our students and their protection from sexual misconduct/assault one of our top priorities.”
Candice Nguyen is an investigative reporter for NBC Bay Area. To contact her about this or other stories, email email@example.com.