The former athletic director at Cabrillo High School has filed a civil lawsuit in Santa Barbara County Superior Court against a family who accused Gary West of physically assaulting a student. 

West, former athletic director and interim football coach, initially filed the lawsuit in early August and submitted an amended complaint in late October alleging defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

Named as defendants were the student, Benji Dunson Jr., plus his parents, Benji Dunson Sr. and Julie Dunson, along with up to 50 unnamed defendants.

The lawsuit centers on allegations that West had choked and shoved the ninth-grade student during a Feb. 1 football class with about 40 students, according to the civil complaint.

The alleged altercation occurred after the boy had asked to retrieve his backpack from another classroom only to be told by West to wait until he had completed roll call. The student persisted, leading West to tell the boy to retrieve the backpack and report to the counseling office. 

West contended that he and the boy remained 10 feet apart and that the incident never became physical.

The allegations led to investigations by district administrators and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. 

“After thoroughly investigating the matter, Deputy (Dennis) Thomas determined that the accusations against Plaintiff were not true and that Plaintiff had not touched or otherwise choked and/or pushed Defendant Dunson Jr.,” the lawsuit stated.

District leaders placed West on administrative leave and later terminated his employment in late June, according to the civil complaint. 

West’s lawsuit contended that he had received positive reviews from administrators and “been the recipient of hundreds of positive reviews and thank you letters on behalf of the students whom he has guided, coached and assisted during their high school careers.”

The civil complaint filed by Roger Frederickson of Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani LLP in San Diego contended that the allegations caused West “to suffer humiliation, pain and suffering, significant financial and emotional damages.”

“In addition, Plaintiff has suffered significant damage to his reputation and good name throughout the educational community and community in which he lives,” the complaint states.

In the response, the Dunsons’ attorney, Rebecca Martino of Coddington, Hicks and Danforth in Redwood City, issued a general denial along with contending that the civil complaint failed to state a cause of action and failed to mitigate any potential damages.

The defense attorney, noting that the Dunsons had Topa Insurance Co., cited nearly two dozen affirmative defenses. 

“Plaintiff is barred from relief in that he has either impliedly and/or expressly waived and released any and all claims he has made against said answering defendants,” according to the defense answer to the lawsuit. 

The Dunsons’ response also contended that West filed his lawsuit “with ‘unclean hands’ and is in some manner responsible” for the alleged circumstances described in the first amended complaint. 

It wasn’t the first time West was accused of putting his hands on a student.

In March, the incident involving West and Benji Dunson Jr. led to comments during the Lompoc Unified School District board meeting in which one former student said that the 2010 attack left him with post-traumatic stress disorder 12 years later, according to minutes from March 8. 

Julie Dunson also said the encounter left her son with emotional trauma, in need of counseling and fearful for his safety.

However, at a different meeting, a student athlete and team captain who was in the classroom at the time of the alleged incident with Benji Dunson Jr. denied any physical contact occurred, according to the March 22 minutes.

The lawsuit seeks general damages, special damages for  loss of income, earnings benefits, medical expenses, and other consequential damages along with punitive damages, lawsuit costs and attorney’s fees.

The attorneys are scheduled to return to Judge James Rigali’s courtroom on March 6 for a case management conference. 

Meanwhile, the LUSD board rejected West’s legal claim in December. Legal claims typically serve as a prelude to someone filing a civil lawsuit against a public agency.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at