Former Dos Pueblos football coach Justin Sell was sentenced to one year in jail and five years’ probation on felony sexual assault charges in 2014. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

A second victim filed a civil suit against former Dos Pueblos High School coach and security guard Justin Sell — who was convicted in 2013 and sentenced to one year in County Jail and five years’ probation for stalking and engaging in sexual acts with a teenage male student — seeking damages stemming from the abuse over a decade ago.

The lawsuit was filed on March 15 by David Ring and Neda Lotfi, representing the anonymous plaintiff, and names Sell along with the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) itself, and current and former district employees who failed to “properly investigate” and report child abuse that the plaintiff alleges occurred both on and off school grounds.

The plaintiff, referred to in court documents as “John Doe #2,” is the second victim of Sell’s to file a civil suit in the past year; in July, another victim filed a similar suit against the former coach, with both lawsuits alleging that Sell abused his power as coach and security guard to “groom” and sexually assault them.

In the most recent suit, Doe #2 describes a cycle of abuse from September 2008 until 2012, with Sell using his position as football and wrestling coach to help the teenager lift weights and train. Eventually Sell would take the boy for rides in his muscle car, buying him gifts and even paying for a gym membership. Doe #2 alleges Sell also used the boy’s problems at home to take advantage of him, making sexual advancements under the guise of being supportive. The lawsuit also alleges Sell performed oral sex in the school’s weight room on more than one occasion.

Doe #2’s lawyers further claim that SBUSD “teachers, administrators, and personnel did nothing” to investigate Sell’s inappropriate relationship, and in fact, he was “allowed to continue, unhindered, in his predatory conduct.” The district was negligent, the suit alleges, and failed to report abuse they either “knew or should have known” was occuring on school grounds.

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“Had they properly investigated, they would have discovered Sell was unfit to be employed as a coach and security guard,” the lawsuit reads.

Sell was arrested in June 2013 as a result of abusing another one of the plaintiff’s classmates, and he was subsequently charged again in November 2013 for stalking another victim. He has since been released, but is required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. During the criminal trial, prosecutors said Sell “systematically and methodically groomed” the victim, and that forcing him to register for life was the “number one priority” of the District Attorney’s Office.

Craig Price, the counsel representing the Santa Barbara Unified School District, only recently received the documents and said it was too early to see if any of the claims will be substantiated. 

“Anytime something happens to a district student, it’s horrifying,” Price said, but since there were no actual reports of Sell’s inappropriate activities at the time, he said it would be difficult to prove the district’s liability.

The language in the suit would likely be more concrete, he said, if there was evidence that the district employees knew something and failed to report. To hold the district liable for one employee’s actions would require an immense amount of evidence to hold up, Price said. “Much more than the mere fact that an employee did something wrong.”

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