A judge ruled Wednesday that two former Cabrillo High School coaches were “factually innocent” of a battery charge stemming from a Dec. 9, 2013, incident involving three team captains and a wrestler who claimed they gave him a “beatdown.”
Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge James Rigali's ruling came after a jury found former head coach Chad Johnson and former assistant coach Matthew Giles not guilty of misdemeanor battery of a minor on school grounds. The jury also rejected a lesser charge of assault.
The former wrestling coaches initially were charged with three misdemeanors .However, the judge on Tuesday dismissed the two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, leaving jurors to decide just one count.
Immediately after the jury’s verdict Wednesday afternoon, Rigali ruled in favor of the defense attorneys’ motion to find both men did not commit any crime in the case.
The ruling “removes the stain” of the allegations by sealing the records so the charges won’t come up during a background investigation or law enforcement check, according to defense attorney Michael Scott, who represented Johnson.
“That was a good result,” Scott said after the jury’s verdict and judge’s ruling.
Giles attorney, Adrian Galvan from the Public Defender’s Office, said that since the beginning of the case he felt his client hadn’t committed any crime.
He also said he didn’t know what prompted the District Attorney’s Office to proceed with the case.
“I would say it seems as though the DA’s Office believes the community interest or a desire to make an example out of the coaching staff and pressure from Fabian’s family probably drove his prosecution,” Galvan said referring to the sophomore wrestler who claimed he was the victim of a “beatdown.”
District Attorney Joyce Dudley said she stands by the decision to file the charges against the two coaches.
"We filed these charges because we believed the victim and we felt we had the evidence to prove this unpopular case," Dudley said. "I accept both the Court's ruling and the jury's verdict but I stand by our office's decision to file this case as charged."
Johnson said was glad the facts of the case came out during the trial.
“I’m happy with it,” Johnson said as a smiling Giles stood nearby.
When a sophomore wrestler Fabian got into an off-campus fight on the heels of poor grades and unexcused absences from practice, the head coach told the team captains — Nico, Jose and Kodey — to “deal with it.” On Dec. 9, the three captains said, they talked to Fabian and decided among themselves to hold an unsanctioned ironman that involved each taking a turn grappling with him.
In his closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Paul Greco said the coaches spurred the team captains into disciplining their fellow wrestler, telling the jury, “sometimes in life things aren’t as direct and obvious as they appear.”
Greco urged the jurors to “hold these two coaches accountable for putting this chain of events in motion.”
The teen received a bloody nose plus swollen eyes, bruises and scrapes, according to the prosecutor.
But defense attorneys said the prosecutor didn’t prove the two coaches did anything to prompt the team captains to do more than talk.
“This isn’t a cult,” Scott said during his closing argument. “It’s a wrestling program.”
The coach instructed the team captains to talk to Fabian for peer counseling, and didn’t order them to commit an act of battery.
“This was not a beatdown,” Scott said. “This was wrestling.”
As he left the wrestling room where the team captains and Fabian remained, Giles told them not to leave facial marks
“Fabian said, ‘He was kind of laughing about it,’” Galvan said during his closing argument.
At least one team captain also testified Giles made the comment in a joking manner, Galvan noted.
“There is no other reason for Mr. Giles to before you but for ‘no facial marks,’” Galvan said.
The wrestling program that Johnson led was well respected, Scott said, adding the Fabian’s allegations damaged its reputation.
“You can now correct part of that injustice,” Scott told the jurors.
Scott contended Fabian had an incentive to exaggerate about the the ironman. Before criminal charges, the teen’s mom filed a claim against the coaches plus the Lompoc Unified School District.
A “timid” school district settled the civil claim, Scott told the jury, later saying the agency paid approximately $31,000.