District, coach hit with lawsuits over sexual abuse

Multiple lawsuits have been filed by victims of Jeremy Haggerty, a former basketball coach in the William S. Hart Union High School District who was convicted of sexual abuse charges.

Haggerty was sentenced in July after being accused of sexually assaulting nine victims over the course of nearly a decade, who ranged between 14 and 17 years old. For pleading no contest to six counts of a lewd act upon a child and three counts of sexual battery, all felonies, Haggerty was ordered to serve nine years in prison.

Three lawsuits, filed last year by former student-athletes who were coached by Haggerty, allege Haggerty gained access to his victims through Hart District schools and private facilities and training camps. The lawsuits seek monetary damages for the victims.

The Hart District is not commenting on the cases. “We do not make comments about ongoing litigation,” said Hart District board President Linda Storli.

In one lawsuit, filed by a John Doe 1, the complaint states the victim was abused for four years by Haggerty, with the instances beginning his freshman year, and lasting until Haggerty was fired in the student-athlete’s senior year. The instances, according to the complaint, occurred in the “locker room area” the team used, and involved sexual touching.

“Plaintiff alleges that the (Hart District), and the Canyon High School basketball coaching staff, including, but not limited to, Chad Phillips, continued to be aware of Haggerty’s interactions with plaintiff and other boys during (the) school year,” the court documents said.

The lawsuit lists a variety of causes of action against Haggerty and/or district staff, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, failure to report and negligence.

In addition to a lawsuit against the district, lawsuits have also been filed against Mike Penberthy, a former Los Angeles Laker and Master’s College (now known as Master’s University) basketball player. The lawsuits, filed in September 2019, allege that Penberthy owned Starting5, a basketball and fitness training program that two of Haggerty’s victims were enrolled in while they were victims of Haggerty in Santa Clarita.

Penberthy’s attorney did not immediately return a request for comment.

While both lawsuits name the Athletic Club, Swish3, Michael Penberthy and Jeremy Haggerty as defendants, one lawsuit involving John Doe 3 — with John Does 1 and 2 being a different victim and his father — also names Fitness Edge as a defendant.

The complaint states Haggerty worked for Penberthy’s company as a basketball instructor, and that Haggerty abused them at the Athletic Club, on Wiley Canyon Road, and Fitness Edge, on Town Center Drive. The lawsuit also alleges that the two fitness centers failed in their duty to control the conduct of Haggerty and that Haggerty had a key to both gyms, giving him access to the facilities during both open and closed hours.

The defense for Penberthy submitted an answer to the complaint denying the charges.

“Each cause of action contained therein fails to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action against (Penberthy),” said the answer.

Further down, in the fourth point of defense, Penberthy’s response states: “Plaintiffs failed to exercise for their own protection the proper care and precautions which prudent persons under the same and similar circumstances would have exercised.”

On Jan. 16, 2020, the Athletic Club filed its answer to the complaint, stating there was insufficient evidence, a statute of limitations and denies John Doe 3 “suffered any injuries or been damaged in any sum whatsoever.”

Calls placed to the legal representation for the parties involved were left unanswered as of the publication of this story.

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