A former Inderkum High School student filed a civil suit Thursday in Sacramento Superior Court complaining that school officials failed in their legal duty to protect her and tolerated the “red flags” of an inappropriate sexual relationship with one of her teachers.
The lawsuit, filed by a plaintiff identified only as Mary A., now 18, alleges that the teacher over several years cultivated a mentoring relationship with the student and then manipulated her through flattery and wooing into a sexual relationship during her senior year. It names as defendants Inderkum High School, Natomas Unified School District and the teacher.
The former teacher Byron Wallace, 34, already faces eight felony counts of illegal sexual relations and is scheduled to enter a plea later this month, online court records show. He was placed on administrative leave from his job in May 2015, when the Sacramento Police Department launched its investigation. Four days after his arrest Oct. 23, a second teenager came forward and claimed the teacher also had engaged in a sex act with her in 2014.
Mary A.’s attorney, Robert A. Buccola of Sacramento, described the teacher’s actions as predatory and said school officials ignored the warning signs of an improper relationship.
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The complaint outlined a scenario in which the teacher groomed Mary A. so he could exploit her sexually, emotionally and financially.
The girl was a student in Wallace’s classrooms during her freshman and junior years starting in 2011 and 2013, when the teacher sought to counsel, advise and mentor her. The suit alleges that Wallace urged her to wear dressier clothing and change her hairstyle “so as to appear more attractive and mature.” He encouraged her to think of him as a father figure.
In her senior year, the lawsuit says, the teacher sent her sexually laden texts and pictures and encouraged her to do the same, which she did. She showed a text to a friend. Soon after, someone told administrators at Inderkum that Wallace was engaging in a sexual relationship with Mary A., then 17.
An administrator told Wallace about the report, the suit said. Then Mary A. received a text message “from an unknown source” instructing her to delete all of her text messages and photos to and from Wallace and instructing her to report their relationship “as a father/daughter relationship” if Inderkum administrators questioned her.
Soon after, Mary A. was called into the assistant principal’s office where she was asked for her phone. She showed the Assistant Principal Daniel Motherspaw the text, which he read aloud. She denied any improper relationship.
“He shockingly and recklessly failed to ask any probing questions or report the incident to law enforcement as required,” the suit said. District spokesman Jim Sanders said that Motherspaw cannot comment on pending litigation.
In January 2015, Wallace encouraged Mary A. to convert to Christianity from Islam, the suit alleged.
Wallace regularly invited Mary K. to his classroom, the suit said. She spent “significant” time there during the start of her senior year, even though she was no longer a student in any of his classes. He wrote her notes excusing her absences from other classes. He told her she was beautiful and “the first person who caused him to want to be unfaithful to his wife.”
And he began extracting money from her, the suit said. “He told her ‘a real woman buys things for her man; mature women make their men feel spoiled.’ ” Under this pressure, she gave him money on several occasions for a variety of requests, including shoes, a watch, and extra funds for Inderkum’s senior trip.
The suit said Wallace coerced Mary A. into having sex by asserting his authority and “explaining that he is deserving of such pleasures because of all the help she had received from him over the years.” The sexual encounters continued until Mary A.’s graduation.
In spring 2015, Mary A. was accepted to the University of California, Merced, and state universities in San Diego and San Jose. “She declined all of them to stay in Sacramento because Mr. Wallace promised to marry her after her 18th birthday if she fully complied with his demands,” according to the suit.
Sacramento police began their own investigation. The parents learned of it on the day of their daughter’s high school graduation, the suit said. By then, the school had already advised parents that there had been a report of an improper relationship between a teacher and their daughter but that the school’s investigation showed it to be “wholly unfounded.”
Wallace could not be reached immediately for comment. His court-appointed county public defender did not immediately return a call.
The school district issued a statement Thursday saying that any suggestion of inaction by site administration regarding Wallace “is based upon the plaintiff’s perspective.”
“Throughout this process, the district has investigated, cooperated with authorities, placed the employee on leave, reported the allegations to the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and proceeded to terminate his employment. As a result, he resigned from the district,” according to the emailed statement. “The district will continue to respond through the appropriate legal processes.”
Buccola said his client is humiliated and her family is devastated.
“You send your kids away to school with the belief they’re going to be in a safe environment (and that the school will) at least take reasonable actions to look into reports of misconduct of any kind,” Buccola said. “It didn’t happen here.”