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Jury Awards Autistic Twins $45 Million in Case Against SMMUSD


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Santa Monicans for Change endorse Lana Negrete and Armen Melkonians for City Council
By Jorge Casuso

October 20, 2022 -- A Los Angeles Superior Court jury on Thursday awarded $45 million to two autistic School District students who the jury unanimously found were abused with corporeal punishment by a behavioral aid.

The lawsuit also charged that a number of Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) employees and administrators were aware of the abuse but failed to report it to authorities and law enforcement agencies.

This failure compounded "the long term psychological and behavioral injuries suffered by the students," according to the plaintiffs' attorney David W. German of Vanaman German LLP.

Vote Armen Melkonians for City Council

“District administrators failed the twins by allowing them to be abused for months despite clear warnings they were being harmed," German said.

"Even now, they refuse to acknowledge the extent of the harm their employee caused.  Fortunately, the jury saw through their continued attempt to cover-up what occurred.”

The nonverbal twins, who are now 12, were attending Juan Cabrillo Elementary in Malibu when the alleged abuse took place during the 2017-18 school year.

Filed in February 2019, the lawsuit names Galit Gottieb -- who was assigned as behavioral support person for the twin brothers -- and numerous District officials as defendants.

According to the lawsuit, Gottlieb "repeatedly applied chemicals to the dried, chapped, hands" of the twins and "repeatedly grabbed and touched" them "in a manner intended to inflict pain."

Both of these acts "were harmful and offensive forms of contact" and "were in fact harmful and did in fact cause pain," according to the lawsuit.

"As a proximate result of the above-mentioned conduct, (the plaintiffs) suffered general damages, including, but not limited to bruising, emotional distress and pain, suffering and inconvenience."

The two children also suffered special damages that included "counseling expenses, behavioral interventions, and increased living expenses and costs for additional individual support throughout their lives, in amounts to be determined at trial."

In February 2020, the Office of Administrative Hearings for the State found that the District had denied the students a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), a provision in federal law that mandates certain rights for students with disabilities.

Also representing the plaintiffs was Omar Qureshi of Qureshi Law.

Superintendent Ben Drati issued the following statement to The Lookout Friday night:

"We are working with our legal team to explore options to respond to what we believe to be a verdict that was not justified by the evidence presented,” Drati wrote.

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