A judge dismissed two misdemeanor charges Tuesday against a pair of former wrestling coaches at Cabrillo High School, before the defense witnesses took the stand in the jury trial on the remaining count of battery of a minor.
Former head coach Chad Johnson and former assistant coach Matthew Giles were charged with three misdemeanors stemming from a Dec. 9, 2013, incident involving three team captains and a wrestler. The coaches were charged with battery on a minor on school grounds and contributing to the delinquency of minors.
A sophomore student, Fabian, claimed that three team captains — referred in court by the first names of Nico, Kodey and Jose — gave him a beating, causing injuries.
The three captains testified Monday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Maria that the coach instructed them to “deal with” fellow wrestler Fabian’s poor attendance, off-campus fighting and poor grades. After talking to Fabian, the captains decided among themselves to conduct an ironman, or series of wrestling matches, when coaches weren’t present.
After the prosecution rested Monday, defense attorneys requested the judge dismiss all three charges against the two coaches, with Michael Scott, who is representing Johnson, calling the prosecution’s case “so bereft of evidence.”
“I do not think the people have met their burden of proof in regards to count one,” added Adrian Galvan, Giles’ attorney.
On Tuesday morning, Judge James Rigali confirmed his tentative ruling made the previous afternoon, dismissing two of the counts.
“I don’t believe that the contributing to the delinquency of a minor is applicable to this fact pattern at all,” Rigali said. “I think that there is no basis in the law to allow this jury to convict these men of the crime of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”
Deputy District Attorney Paul Greco argued that the coaches were filling in as temporary guardians, had a responsibility to keep students’ safe and essentially abandoned those duties temporarily.
“What Mr. Johnson does in essence is ask minors to discipline other minors,” Greco said, adding the coach didn’t provide any guidance to the teens.
But Scott said there’s no evidence the coaches had ever delegated discipline to team captains. The three captains earlier testified they decided among themselves to hold the ironman.
“That is an intervening act. The coach did not set that in motion. He asked them to talk to him which they did. It was their decision,” Scott said.
The coaches’ undue influence led the student-athletes astray, Greco said.
“The people that were left alone together was not the debate team,” he said. “It wasn’t the chess team or the golf team. We’ve gone through much evidence in this case that wrestling is a violent sport, a combat sport as defense counsel referred to it repeatedly.”
Greco contended the wrestling program culture meant the coaches knew what would happen, especially since Giles told to the captains not to leave facial marks on Fabian.
But Galvan said the only reason Giles’ faces a battery charge is “based upon the stupid statement that he made — no facial marks.”
Giles’ attorney also said Fabian consented to the ironman since the teen wasn’t coerced or falsely imprisoned.
The criminal case in the Santa Maria courtroom is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning with jury instructions and closing arguments from the prosecution and two defense attorneys.
Before the criminal charges were filed March 7, Fabian and his mother earlier filed a civil lawsuit against the men plus a third coach Chuy Medrano and the Lompoc Unified School District.