Originally posted at 5:37 p.m. Aug. 19, 2013.
Richard Rack used his position as a math teacher at Shorecliffs Middle School to get to know female students and “test” them to see who would make easy targets for his sexual advances, Deputy District Attorney Vanessa Woods told a jury during opening statements today.
What ended up being inappropriate behavior with children would start out as hand-holding, compliments on students’ appearance and would morph into hugs, kisses, very personal conversations during and after school, sexually charged texts and in one case, oral copulation at a student’s house.
But David Cohn, Rack’s attorney, said his client was simply a nice man, known as the “go-to teacher” to relate to students and their problems. He said some of the students who will testify in the case have motives for lying.
Rack is charged with six felony counts of lewd acts on a child ages 14 or 15, one felony count of lewd or lascivious acts with a minor under 14, and one felony count of oral copulation of a minor under 16. Woods said some of the allegations took place on campus.
Woods said hand-holding was often the entry point for Rack, who would sometimes hold a girl’s hand, sometimes with both of his, for an extended period of time to see what kind of reaction it would produce.
His victims would often be in the midst of conflicts with parents or boyfriends or have “daddy issues,” Woods said.
“There’s a reason why these girls are here,” she told the jury of six men and six women.
Earlier during jury selection, two teachers and a social worker were excused from service. A retired social worker remains as part of the panel.
Referencing the kind of compliments Rack would give, the teacher said to one 13-year-old girl who was stressing over boys: “You’re so f-ing sexy. How could anyone not like [you]?” Woods reported in her opening statements.
Both parents and investigators poured through thousands of text messages, finding sexually charged conversations and nude photos sent by one student, (Patch is calling her No. 1)., Woods said. The first two No. 1 sent unsolicited, the third was at Rack’s request, Woods said.
Cohn said that first photo was sent by mistake and was meant for a boy, not Rack.
No. 1’s father testified later in the day that he noticed Rack was showing up in the summer of 2011 at random places, such as while the family went surfing at San Onofre or at his daughter’s hot yoga class.
Catching Rack twice at the yoga studio, the father contacted Rack and demanded a sit down. The two met at Las Golondrinas restaurant, where the father convinced Rack to write down on paper that he would never see or make contact with his daughter again.
The note, along with a photo the dad took of Rack while penning it, were introduced into evidence.
But the most sexually evolved relationship may have been with a 14-year-old investigators found after the first allegations came to light. She appeared in Rack’s text history with the moniker “Don’t Be Stupid,” Woods said.
Investigators discovered the girl took a very suggestive – although not nude – picture of herself and uploaded it to PhotoBucket with a password, which she gave to Rack, Woods said.
“He would masturbate or get excited to it,” Woods told the jury.
Although she was not one of his students, he would help her with math, Woods said. The girl reported that he would touch her buttocks and breasts while tutoring and also offer hugs and kisses.
On campus, “she actually masturbated his erect penis until he ejaculated,” Woods said.
On another occasion, the girl performed oral copulation on Rack at her home, the prosecutor said. The girl said she didn’t know how to do it, so he guided her head down and “graciously told her he would show her how to do this,” Woods said.
But Cohn said the girls testifying in the case may have motivation to lie. In one case, a girl became close with Rack and shared what he determined was abuse. When he reported the girl’s mother to Child Protective Services, she became upset with him.
Not long after came the allegations of inappropriate touching, first reported to the principal and then the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Cohn said. Rumors start flying “out of the woodwork,” he said.
Suddenly, things that were actually “innocuous” become sexual in nature in the retelling, Cohn said.
“There’s some motivation, some interconnection between the girls to potentially fabricate what they’ve said in this case,” Cohn told jurors.
Meanwhile, the girl known as “Don’t Be Stupid” may have been jealous because she thought Rack was starting a relationship with her mom, Cohn added.
Besides hearing from one of the alleged victim’s fathers, a former student, now 18, testified that Rack made her uncomfortable while an eighth-grader at Shorecliffs.
The Saddleback College student said initially, her relationship with Rack was a supportive one, where she could discuss her struggles with her mom, life and politics. Compliments about her being smart and very mature were then replaced with comments about her being “sexy and hot,” she testified.
“He said if he were younger or I was older, he would like to be with me,” the 18-year-old said. “I interpreted it that I would be the kind of person he would like to date.”
Testimony continues Tuesday at 9 a.m.