Lawsuit accuses several Santa Maria High officials of covering up 2019 bullying incident

Lawsuit accuses several Santa Maria High officials of covering up 2019 bullying incident

062014 SMHS building 1.JPG

Students enter the current entrance to Santa Maria High School on Camino Colegio. District officials plan to move the main entrance to Morrison Avenue.

A former student is accusing several Santa Maria High School officials including former principal Joe Domingues, of civil rights violations and attempting to cover up an incident in which he was allegedly bullied by fellow students on a school bus in 2019, according to a May 15 lawsuit. 

In the lawsuit filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, Matthew Clayton alleges that Domingues, current principal Steven Campbell, athletic director Brian Wallace and varsity baseball coach Michael Roberson attempted to silence Clayton after he tried to report an April 2019 racially-charged incident in which teammates verbally and physically assaulted him on a bus enroute to a baseball game. 

Additionally, Clayton accuses them of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act because he is considered a "504" disabled student, which refers to a law that protects students with mental impairments from discrimination in school programs. Clayton was a member of the high school's varsity baseball team for two seasons before graduating in June 2019.

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Santa Maria High School officials are aware of the lawsuit but declined to comment, according to spokesman Kenny Klein. 

Clayton, who is white, alleges that on April 12, 2019, teammates Jesse Perez, Brian Esparza and Adrian Domingues, who are Hispanic, verbally harassed him with racial slurs and punched and choked him while on a bus headed to Paso Robles. 

The three students reportedly called Clayton a "white piece of sh--," a "cracker" and "white privileged," which was witnessed by school coach Beto Guerrero, according to the lawsuit. 

Days later, Clayton alleges that Joe Domingues and Campbell tried to suppress his statements in several attempts to dissuade him from reporting the incident. 

On April 15, Clayton tried to give a statement to a school resource officer, but instead Joe Domingues reprimanded him and the three teammates by making them pick up trash and suspending the four of them for three games, according to the lawsuit, although no suspensions occurred. 

Clayton said Joe Domingues also bribed him with a $130 watch and promised him more playing time if he dropped the issue, but was later told by Campbell that the school placed Domingues on leave for unknown reasons. 

In addition, Roberson declared Clayton academically ineligible to play baseball games. 

As a result of the incident, Clayton said in the suit he suffered serious and permanent injuries, including severe headaches and anxiety, and seeks unspecified monetary damages and attorney's fees. 

The lawsuit is scheduled for a case management conference on Sept. 16 in Department 4 of the Santa Maria court. 

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of one of the defendants in the lawsuit filed by Matthew Clayton. The defendant was incorrectly identified as Ricardo Esparza; the correct name is Brian Esparza.


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The following is taken from the Santa Maria Police Department's calls-for-service log and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office daily arrest log. Those appearing as "arrested" are only suspected of the crime indicated but are presumed innocent.

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