Kennedy High AD admits Orange County school should have reported Joshua Owens sex abuse allegations
Kennedy High School assistant water polo coach Joshua Owens was nervous.
It was Monday, December 14, 2015 and Owens had been summoned to a meeting with one of the school’s athletic directors, Dave Jankowski, about allegations that the coach was trying to date a freshman girl on his team and had previously dated another girl on the squad.
“As soon as I thought Jankowski knew anything happened, I was like, great, I’m going to jail for the rest of my life is literally what went through my head,” Owens recalled in a sworn deposition earlier this month. “Jankowski is going to throw me under the bus and I’m dead is what literally went through my head as (I was) thinking about it.”
Owens’ concern, however, proved unfounded.
Depositions by Dean Wang, another Kennedy athletic director, Owens and other documents obtained by the Orange County Register show that Jankowski and other officials at the Anaheim Union High School District school cleared Owens within hours despite not interviewing the freshman girl Owens was allegedly targeting, the girl he had allegedly dated or the former player who raised the allegations.
“I know he really didn’t look into it,” Owens said referring to Jankowski.
Wang acknowledged in his deposition that Kennedy officials failed to conduct a proper investigation into the December 2015 allegations and that the charges met the reasonable suspicion threshold that requires school employees to report such allegations to Child Protective Services or law enforcement under state law. Kennedy officials did not report the allegations.
Do you think you handled the Owens case correctly? Owens was asked in his deposition.
“I do not think I did,” he answered.
The depositions and documents show how a series of missteps and failures to report Owens to CPS or law enforcement over a nearly two year period enabled Owens to continue sexually abusing two teenage athletes, begin sexually abusing a Kennedy freshman athlete in 2016 and sexually harass at least two other Kennedy students before he was arrested in November 2016.
Owens even admitted in his deposition to molesting a 15-year-old victim while they were in his Ford Mustang in the Kennedy faculty parking lot during school hours.
“A complete and utter failure despite bright red flags everywhere,” said Morgan Stewart, an attorney representing former Kennedy players in suit filed in Orange County Superior Court against AUHSD, Owens, Wang, Jankowski, former Kennedy principal Russell Earnest, former water polo head coach Eric Pierce and current Kennedy teacher Ian Sabala.
Owens pleaded guilty last August to one count each of oral copulation with a victim younger than 16, and sexual penetration of a victim younger than 16 and six misdemeanor counts of child annoyance. He was sentenced to six months in jail, according to plea agreement documents.
The depositions and documents also reveal that Earnest, Wang, Jankowski and Pierce were aware of allegations of sexual misconduct as early as December 2014 yet did not report the allegations to CPS or law enforcement, did not issue a written warning to Owens despite his admission to giving a ride to a female player in violation of district policy. Owens said he discussed the 2014 incident with then Kennedy principal Russell Earnest at the time. Owens’ deposition contradicts a sworn statement by Earnest earlier in the year that he was unaware of misconduct allegations against Owens in 2014. Owens said he spoke with Earnest in the school’s front office.
“It was just a verbal warning,” Owens recalled. “Hey, this is your warning. Don’t do anything stupid basically.”
Owens also recounts in the deposition that despite being told by Earnest and other school officials not to be alone with students, after the December 2014 allegations he was repeatedly allowed to be alone with female players on school property.
“You’ve got five staff members all dropping the ball and all assuming the other guy is going to something about Owens,” Stewart said. “It’s remarkable how you can have an entire administration that didn’t do a single thing right and then admit after the fact that that we all blew it.”
AUHSD officials did not respond to requests for comment. Earnest, now a vice principal at Duarte High School, did not respond to requests for comment.
On the evening of Sunday December 13, 2015, Sabala received a series of emails and texts from a female former Kennedy student and water polo player then attending college out of state.
“I recently (like today) found out that one of the assistant coaches is trying to get at one of the freshman players,” the former student wrote. “..This isn’t the first time this assistant coach has tried to date a player on the team. Last year he actually dated one of the players and when it was brought to the attention of the head coach it was quickly swept under the rug.”
Sabala forwarded the emails and texts to Earnest, Jankowski and Wang that night. Pierce, however, said in a deposition he wasn’t shown the emails and texts under January 14, 2017, 13 months after they were first sent and a two months after Owens was arrested.
“I was trying to save my job or be — stay as Kennedy coach,” Pierce said.
“I would have loved to have had this email,” Pierce continued. “I would have definitely passed this along too the — I would have reported — I don’t know if I would have gone directly to Child Protective Services or that police department.”
But when questioned by police about the December 2014 allegations Pierce said, “I didn’t take it seriously,” according to a police report.
Wang said he and Jankowski met about the second set of allegations on the afternoon of Dec. 14, 2015, a day after they were sent.
“I asked him if he knew anything about it, and we kind of touched bases,” Wang said.
Wang said neither he nor Jankowski were aware of the events detailed in the allegations.
Wang and Jankowski agreed to interview Owens and report to Earnest.
Owens was cleared by Jankowski later that afternoon without interviewing players on the team or the former student.
“Coach Owens cleared up the misunderstanding but after meeting with water polo head coach Eric Pierce, agreed the contact was inappropriate and would no longer put himself in a position where he would be alone with a student,” Jankowski wrote Earnest.
Owens, Jankowski wrote, also “suggested the perception he is ‘trying to get at one of the freshman players’” was because he had recently dated the older sister of two then Kennedy team members.
“I reiterated the need for Coach Owens to establish clear boundries between himself and the players so as to eliminate perceptions like these as much as possible,” Jankowski wrote. “He assured me he has tried to be very careful about this aspect of coaching the team.”
During his deposition Wang was asked if he thought allegations of Owens dating a player and pursing a freshman player constituted “reasonable suspicion in your mind?”
“Yes,” Wang said.
He was then asked why he didn’t report Owens to CPS or law enforcement? Wang responded four times that he thought he needed more information at the time.
But when Wang was asked if he contacted the former student who sent the emails he admitted he had not.
Did he ask somebody else to contact her?
“I did not,” he said again.
“I’m not sure,” Wang replied.
He was asked if it ever crossed his mind to contact the whistleblower?
“After the fact,” he said.
How soon after the fact?
“I’m not sure,” Wang answered.
A day? Months?
Six months ago?
“After the Joshua Owens — after November 20th (2016)..” Wang continued.
“After he was arrested?” an attorney asked.
“Yes,” Wang said.