Education

Catholic school should have known coach was sexual predator, lawsuit says

Michael Martis
Michael Martis

St. Francis High School “knew or should have known” that its former softball coach was a predator who pursued students for sexual gratification, according to a lawsuit filed this week in Sacramento Superior Court.

The civil lawsuit was filed on behalf of Bailey Boone, who was 16 when she was sexually abused by her St. Francis softball coach, Michael Martis. Martis pleaded guilty to having sex with minors and in November was sentenced to four years in state prison that he will serve in the county jail.

Boone, now 21, accuses St. Francis and the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento of failing to protect her and other students who crossed paths with Martis when he was a softball coach from 2010 through 2014.

One of her attorneys, Robert Wilson, said Boone wants to educate schools and parents about the threat and dangers of “grooming,” a term that refers to the practice of befriending and gaining the trust of a child in order to take advantage of the youngster for sexual purposes. She is asking for unspecified damages for “severe emotional distress” and psychological and emotional problems that she has suffered as a direct result of her relationship with Martis, according to the lawsuit.

In a letter to parents of St. Francis students this week, school president Theresa Rodgers said that Martis passed a criminal background check required of all volunteers and staff members at the school, and that administrators received no complaints about him before he left in 2014 for a coaching position at Oak Ridge High School. Martis “completed all mandated Safe Environment courses” designed to help spot and prevent abuse, Rodgers added.

“St. Francis High School stands for everything he does not,” Rodgers said in a public statement. “We exist to nurture and support young women. We help them achieve their full potential as women of vision, as leaders and as productive citizens. Knowing that even one student was injured by him is one too many.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to his victims.”

Boone played softball at St. Francis beginning in 2011 under the tutelage of Martis, who players knew as Coach Mike, according to the lawsuit. During her freshman year, Martis gave her and other players free one-on-one hitting lessons on the St. Francis campus.

Martis, according to the complaint, “groomed” Boone for childhood sexual abuse during her freshman and sophomore years, building “emotional dependence and trust.” In 2013, the two began exchanging “sexually aggressive and inappropriate” text messages.

The coach “progressively sexualized the relationship” with Boone, cultivating a feeling that “she was loved and appreciated by Coach Mike in a way that others, including her parents, could not provide,” the suit says.

The two began having sexual intercourse in May 2013, when Boone was 16 years old. That summer, he arranged for her to work a “sham summer job” that took her to his home once a week, the complaint alleges.

Boone’s mother contacted police in 2015 after discovering sexually suggestive text messages on her daughter’s phone, the lawsuit says. In June 2016, Martis was arrested and charged with six felonies, including sexual intercourse, oral copulation and penetration with a foreign object. Later that year, prosecutors added an allegation that Martis sexually abused a different minor, who was 15 at the time, between 2006 and 2007 while she was a member of a different team that he coached.

The lawsuit alleges that St. Francis failed in its duty to protect Boone, in part by allowing Martis to communicate with students through his cellular phone and personal email account. The coach’s special hitting lessons should have been supervised by another adult, it continues.

The Diocese and the school “knew, or should have known, that Coach Mike was acting inappropriately with minor students,” including Boone, it concludes.

As a result of her relationship with Martis, the lawsuit says, Boone has suffered problems for which she continues to need medical and psychological treatment.

Cynthia Hubert: 916-321-1082, @Cynthia_Hubert

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