A former Los Gatos High School star track athlete is responding 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 sports broadcaster Heather Hennessey is speaking out about her alleged abuse at the school in the late 1990s.
“I suffered in silence for so long,” Hennessey said.
Hennessey says a student rally last summer and the Investigative Unit’s recent two-part report on the school’s #MeToo movement encouraged her to go public with her allegations of being sexually abused by ex-Los Gatos High School track coach Chioke Robinson. The abuse occurred when she was a student at the high school between 1998 and 1999, she said.
In a lawsuit filed last month, Hennessey said Robinson “repeatedly sexually abused [her,] trying to touch her [inappropriately] while 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 it takes all allegations of abuse seriously and supports victim-survivors.
Reacting to the Investigative Unit’s reporting on a recent outpouring of student sexual assault and harassment claims by current and former LGHS students, Hennessey said she was upset “this [LGHS] culture still exists.”
Specifically, Hennessey says the school fails to believe and protect students who come forward with sexual abuse claims. She says school officials failed to protect her when she reported Robinson’s abuse to his boss.
“I reported to my head track coach [Robinson’s supervisor] that I had been abused, and he had covered it up,” she said. “He told me that my career would be ruined. That I wouldn’t be able to go on to attend USC – using fear tactics to silence me.”
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 awaiting court proceedings. LGHS’ former head track coach never responded to the Investigative Unit's requests for comment.
Hennessey isn’t the only former Los Gatos High School student alleging 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 represents Doe in her lawsuit against the District.
“So, when I saw [the Investigative Unit’s] reporting…and I saw those statements [by the superintendent] ‘This is one of the hardest things for school districts to deal with…when it happens 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 hasn’t commented on Hennessey’s claims.
Robinson is named in Doe’s case. An attorney representing him in that lawsuit sent a statement which reads in full:
“Mr. Robinson was surprised and devastated by the allegations and adamantly professes his innocence. He has been a coach and mentor of all ages, genders and backgrounds, and a pillar in the community for almost 20 years. Whenever there is a potential monetary award, it puts claimants' motives into question. There has been a one-sided narrative portrayed throughout this process. We ask the media not to portray a one-sided story as fact. We expect the trial to shed light on his innocence and these one-sided allegations. One must follow the law and the presumption of innocence in order for there to be any fairness and justice.”
Cerri also represented the family of Audrie Pott. Pott was the Saratoga High School sophomore who took her life 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 follow federal Title IX laws prohibiting gender 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 firm determined the accused student and the school did not violate Title IX laws, according to investigative documents obtained by the Investigative Unit.
The district has since hired Title IX coordinator Megan Farrell whose LinkedIn profile shows she started the position in December 2020.
“How is it possible that they’ve just appointed a Title IX coordinator,” Cerri said.
The school district’s superintendent Mike Grove said he couldn’t comment on the pending civil lawsuits. In previous statements, he said the district expanded staff training and student counseling. In August 2020, the school board approved the hiring of Hirschfeld Kraemer law firm to conduct an independent investigation into broader claims around school culture and student sexual abuse.
The Investigative Unit learned investigators from the firm aren’t receiving as much student participation they had hoped. In an email, Grove wrote, “the reasons behind the lower participation…are unknown” but could be because of a lack of in-person schooling. Several students tell the Investigative Unit they don’t trust the investigation or the district’s sincerity. One student cited Grove’s email last month to parents saying student sexual misconduct is “not a pervasive problem in [the] District.”
“The way that Heather’s case was handled, the way my client’s case was handled is the exact same way the girls are being treated now,” Cerri said. “It sends a message that they can’t speak up.”
Farrell provided the Investigative Unit the following statement on Monday morning:
"I would like to let Ms. Hennessy and Ms. Doe know that we hear them, and our heart goes out to them.
As you know, any alleged events that gave rise to the Chioke Robinson lawsuit occurred before the current district leadership team was in place. Nevertheless, our team has made educating our students about and protecting them from sexual misconduct/assault one of our top priorities."
Candice Nguyen is an investigative reporter with NBC Bay Area. To contact her about this story or others, email firstname.lastname@example.org.