SANTA CLARA — Mission College has agreed to pay $7.6 million to settle a lawsuit from a physically and mentally disabled woman that says the school failed to protect her from an instructor charged with raping and sexually assaulting her, according to the woman’s attorneys.
The plaintiff, whose name is withheld in a criminal complaint and is referred to as Jane Doe in her lawsuit, alleged that former instructor Raymond Lawrence Ruiz groomed her for as long as two years before an encounter where he took her to a campus restroom, pulled her off her wheelchair, and raped her.
“Imagine this young lady being wheeled into a restroom, knocked off, can’t do anything, and being so helpless,” said plaintiff attorney Mark Boskovich. “The assault itself is so egregious. It makes for a tragic story.”
Ruiz, a 71-year-old San Jose resident, was an instructor at the Santa Clara-based college’s defunct Program for Students With Developmental Disabilities, which was aimed at teaching students assorted life skills to help them live independently. According to the lawsuit and criminal charges, Doe is in her mid-to-late 20s and has cerebral palsy and cortical visual impairment, uses a wheelchair, and has the intelligence of a 13-year-old.
Ruiz was arrested in July 2020 and has been charged with rape, kidnapping and two other sexual assault counts, which also encompasses an allegation that after the reported rape — said to have occurred between December 2019 and March 2020, when the program was shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic — Ruiz sexually assaulted Doe in a campus shuttle van.
Doe’s lawsuit blames West Valley-Mission Community College District staff for repeatedly failing to report and respond to suspicious and sexually aggressive behavior by Ruiz, including a claim of inappropriate touching in 2016 that led to a student being pulled out of the program.
The suit, filed in September 2020, also claims that Ruiz’s wife, a co-director of the program, sought to cover up her husband’s actions by gaslighting victims and portraying them as liars to other students.
“We’re hoping this sends a message not only to the West Valley-Mission College district but the other districts that run these kinds of programs,” said Boskovich, whose law firm Corsiglia, McMahon and Allard specializes in school sexual abuse cases. “Hopefully this encourages (victims) and parents to say something, and encourage these college districts running these programs to make sure they’re doing the right things.”
Boskovich added, “They’re such a vulnerable population, you can manipulate them mentally and physically. My client was relegated to a wheelchair and had the mental capacity of a 13-year-old; you can see how a predator can use that against somebody.”
Ruiz is out of jail custody and his next scheduled court date is a trial-setting hearing on Oct. 19. His attorney and the community college district did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Before the reported rape, the lawsuit states that Ruiz favored Doe with personal attention that included buying her food and ice cream, phone chargers, clothes and a bracelet, and texted her “personal messages unrelated to school and called her during non-school hours.”
Doe also alleges that Ruiz “insisted” on physically helping her in and out of her wheelchair even though she did not need help, and that there were “instances when Raymond Ruiz transported plaintiff alone to the restroom,” for which his wife admonished him, according to the suit.
After Ruiz’s arrest two years ago, the district said it swiftly removed Ruiz, who had been a contract employee with the school starting in 2015.
Boskovich said that should have happened sooner, when suspicions about Ruiz started surfacing within a year of his hire. He said the settlement signals to him that the district acknowledged the “overwhelming” evidence of what happened to Doe.
“Give them credit for stepping up and doing the right thing,” he said.
Boskovich added that he hopes the settlement will provide Doe and her family with needed security and stability.
“Jane Doe has a lot of needs and I’m hoping this settlement will give her what she needs to get mental-health treatment and just to make her life easier, and can bring some peace to her life,” he said. “She’s still afraid from what happened.”
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