September 24, 2023

A lawsuit alleges that administrators at a Catholic high school in Sacramento knew or should have known that a running coach was using his role as a trusted campus authority figure to “groom” a student for child sexual abuse.

The civil lawsuit was filed last week against St. Francis Catholic High School, a private all-girls school in East Sacramento. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a former St. Francis High student, who was 15 years old in 2020 when she was sexually abused by her coach.

Aaron Daniel Rios was a track and cross-country coach at St. Francis High, and he also coached for Sac Elite Youth Running Club, which he founded.

Sacramento Police Department detectives arrested Rios in August 2020. He was convicted last year for sexually abusing the girl. The 41-year-old former running coach is currently serving a maximum sentence of 16 years and 8 months in High Desert State Prison in Susanville.

St. Francis High, Rios and the Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Sacramento are listed as defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed Sept. 11 in Sacramento Superior Court. The former student is identified in court documents as “Jane Doe.”

“Defendants, St. Francis and Diocese, knew that sexual predators could groom children on and off its premises during school related functions and that social media and technology are tools used for grooming,” the lawsuit, filed by Diem Tran, an attorney with the Berg Injury Lawyers firm representing the teen, reads in part.

The lawsuit alleges that Rios used an online training app called Final Surge to begin communicating with the girl “in a manner that exceeded a coach and athlete relationship.” The plaintiff’s attorney said the online app was authorized by St. Francis, allowing Rios to communicate with student athletes.

The lawsuit argues that school officials had access to or received copies of messages sent through Final Surge and did not monitor these communications.

St. Francis High officials said they are aware of the civil lawsuit filed against the school, but they declined to respond to the allegations made by the plaintiff’s attorney.

“We are not able to comment on pending litigation,” school officials said in a written statement sent to The Sacramento Bee. “Our prayers continue to be with all victims of sexual abuse. While knowing Aaron Rios is serving the maximum sentence for his crimes brings some closure, there is still much healing to be done.”

Rios first met the girl in 2018, when she was 13 years old and had joined his youth running club, according to the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office. She was a St. Francis High student in March 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions to prevent further spread of the disease shut down the high school’s running program and resulted in Sac Elite athletes running in smaller groups.

Prosecutors said Rios began running with the girl in training sessions, which created opportunities for him to be alone with her and gradually develop an inappropriate relationship with her.

The lawsuit alleges that St. Francis High coaches and administrators, including then-athletic director Mark McGreevy, decided that the student athletes were to continue to train offsite, and Rios was authorized and directed to continue practicing with the running team through Sac Elite. Rios started the private running team in December 2018.

McGreevy, who is not listed as a defendant, left his role as the St. Francis athletic director in 2022 and is now assistant athletic director at Sierra College, according to his LinkedIn page and the Rocklin community college’s online directory.

Prosecutors said Rios downloaded an app onto the girl’s phone that deletes messages after they’re received, because he wanted to erase “inappropriate messages” he would send her.

In July 2020, Rios kissed the teen on her mouth and told her it would be their “little secret,” according to the District Attorney’s Office. In another incident, Rios grabbed the teen from behind and forcibly groped her, before he told her not to say anything, prosecutors said.

In an email to parents on the week of Rios’ arrest, St. Francis High administrators said school officials had received “a report of inappropriate contact” involving Rios and a student during the previous weekend, and they forwarded that information to law enforcement. Rios had resigned as the school’s track and cross-country coach the preceding week. He had worked at the school as a coach since 2017.

A jury on Nov. 15 found Rios guilty of six counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a 15-year-old, one count of forcible digital penetration of a minor and one count of sexual battery by restraint. He was sentenced to prison in January.

In the civil lawsuit, the plaintiff’s attorney argues that St. Francis High and officials with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento knew or should have known the running coach “engaged in openly inappropriate, intimate and sexual behavior” toward the girl, which was observed by St. Francis students, volunteers, parents, coaches and staff.

The lawsuit alleges that students and parents complained of the inappropriate conduct to school employees and representatives. The plaintiff’s attorneys also allege that St. Francis High and diocese officials “were negligent in failing to reasonably supervise, train and control” Rios.

The diocese earlier this year acknowledged that it is facing financial insolvency following more than 200 lawsuits alleging the sexual abuse of minors.

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