Six former Colton High School football players in San Bernardino County are suing the Colton Joint Unified School District and its former athletic trainer, alleging that she sexually abused them more than a decade ago.
The lawsuit, filed in the San Bernardino County Superior Court on Friday, was brought under Assembly Bill 218, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2020, and gives victims of all ages three years to file cases. The statute of limitations for statutory rape in California is one year for misdemeanor charges and three years for felony charges.
The men, referred to as John Does in the lawsuit, allege that during the 2000s, when they were varsity football players, they were sexually abused by the school’s athletic trainer, Tiffany Gordon. She is the daughter of the school’s former head coach and athletic director, Harold Strauss, who died in 2019. Gordon began working for the district around 2001 and was most recently the athletic director at Grand Terrace High School.
They also allege that other members of the football team, the players’ parents and the staff knew about Gordon’s alleged misconduct between 2002 and 2006 and that the school district failed to report and investigate the alleged abuse.
“Despite rampant rumors surrounding Gordon’s misconduct, CJUSD knowingly, intentionally, willfully, deliberately, negligently, and/or recklessly allowed Gordon to continue abusing Colton High School’s varsity football players, including plaintiffs,” according to the lawsuit. “In doing so, defendants fostered a pervasive and hostile environment that utterly disregarded the rights and safety of minor athletes who were entrusted to CJUSD.”
The district confirmed in a statement that Gordon has been placed on administrative leave and the district has made itself “completely available to the Colton Police Department.”
Gordon didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment Monday.
“Although the current administrative team members were not in leadership roles with the district 20 years ago, the district leadership team is extremely concerned about the allegations being made,” according to a district statement. “Our commitment is always to the safety and well-being of our students, families and staff, and we will work with local law enforcement to protect our community and lend our support to any victims in this case.”
John Doe 7042, who began attending Colton in 2001 and joined the varsity football team during his freshman year, said he was sexually assaulted by Gordon while he was seeking treatment for his injuries. The abuse escalated weeks later, when he was allegedly raped by Gordon in the school’s locker room while his teammates were at practice. Throughout the rest of his time at high school, John Doe 7042 was allegedly raped on campus, including the locker room, bathrooms, weight room, training room and football trailer.
John Doe 7047, who joined the football team in his sophomore year in the fall of 2000, alleges that he was also sexually abused by Gordon. When he was 16, he said, Gordon allegedly raped him, which continued through the rest of his high school career.
According to the lawsuit, John Doe 7043 transferred to the high school during his senior year in the fall of 2003, when he was 17. The alleged abuse began during the 2003 football season, when Gordon allegedly began flirting with the then-student, including inviting him a date to a drive-in theater and sexually abusing him in the back seat of the car. John Doe 7043, during at dinner at Strauss’ house, said he witnessed Gordon leave the room with John Doe 7047, who later told him that Gordon had sexually abused him in that instance.
John Doe 7044 had heard rumors as early as his freshman year that Gordon was allegedly abusing students, according to the lawsuit. During his senior year, he allegedly confronted Gordon over text about the rumors; in return, Gordon allegedly told him to send her pictures of his penis and sent her nude photographs of herself. She allegedly sexually assaulted him the next day in the locker room and the abuse continued throughout his senior year until he cut off contract with her.
John Doe 7046 also alleges that he was sexually abused by Gordon while he was on the team. On Halloween in 2007, he alleged that Gordon was sexually abusing him in the locker room when Strauss interrupted them and asked why the lights were off. Gordon allegedly said that they were “just closing up and leaving.” The alleged abuse continued throughout John Doe 7046’s senior year.
One of the men, John Doe 7045, also said that he disclosed to a coach that he and another student were thinking about telling the district about Gordon’s alleged misconduct. The coach’s wife then told him that Gordon would “likely blame the students for her misconduct” and the administration wouldn’t believe him because of Gordon’s authority and status. The men didn’t end up reporting the misconduct to the school.
The men said that they believed that the alleged abuse was “normal, and even lauded” because of the coaches’ minimization of the assaults. They said that it “significantly affected and shaped the students’ perceptions of intimacy, relationships and responsibilities at a young and impressionable age.”
“The magnitude of the abuse and the number of individuals involved highlights the importance of this lawsuit, particularly from an institutional perspective,” said Brian Williams, an attorney for Greenberg and Gross, representing the alleged victims. “This degree of systemic abuse exemplifies what can happen when a school district fails to properly supervise its own personnel, as well as the students under its care. Educational institutions must do a better job of protecting kids.”