Jurors heard opening statements Tuesday in the civil suit filed against former Saybrook College Master Antonio C. Lasaga and the New Haven Board of Education by the family of the boy Lasaga was convicted of sexually assaulting.
Lasaga met the boy, who is being called John Doe for the purpose of the trial, through a mentoring program operating in his New Haven school, Vincent Morrow Elementary School. Frederick Trotta, the attorney representing Doe’s family in the suit, argued Tuesday in New Haven Superior Court that the city failed to adequately protect Doe and is culpable for the damage inflicted on him by Lasaga.
Lasaga is currently serving a 15-year federal sentence for the possession and receipt of about 150,000 images of child pornography, concurrently with a 20-year state sentence for the sexual assault.
Judge Richard Arnold, who is hearing the case, said Lasaga defaulted on the case because of a failure to appear. Jurors will only have to determine the damages Lasaga should pay Doe, not whether he is liable, Arnold said. The city of New Haven is contesting the case, meaning jurors must first determine if the Board of Education is liable, and if so, the extent of the damages for which it is responsible.
In his opening statement, Trotta said the city should never have allowed Lasaga to mentor Doe.
“A mentor is defined as a trusted friend,” Trotta said. “John Doe needed a mentor. Tony Lasaga was not his friend.”
Trotta also said Christine Noguera, a city social worker, encouraged Doe’s mother to continue letting Lasaga see her son after the mother became concerned.
Martin Echter, deputy corporation counsel for the city, said the mentoring was set up through School Volunteers of New Haven, a mentoring program not affiliated with the city. Echter argued that Lasaga alone is responsible for damages, using the story of Genesis in his opening statement.
“In God’s own garden there was a snake, and he was slick and he could talk well,” Echter said. “Snake that he was, [Lasaga] learned how to ingratiate himself with people.”
Echter said Noguera had no reason to suspect Lasaga was molesting Doe when she met with Doe’s mother and was not acting as the boy’s social worker at the time, since Doe had moved to Wallingford.
Following opening statements, Trotta called a number of school administrators, including the former principle of Vincent Morrow, a teacher in the Wallingford school system, and New Haven public school superintendent Reginald Mayo.
In his testimony, Mayo said the mentoring program was an entity distinct from the New Haven Board of Education, though the two share office space and Mayo has sat on the program’s board of directors.
Trotta asked Mayo what procedures he would have to go through to gain access to a school as a mentor.
“What qualifies me to have you send me your children?” Trotta asked.
Mayo said he did not know what was required to register as a mentor.
Jurors are scheduled to hear testimony today from a Yale psychologist who treated Doe, a worker with the Conn. Department of Children and Families, and Noguera.
Doe is scheduled to testify on Thursday and Echter said he expects to begin his defense Monday.
Yale had previously been named as a co-defendant in the suit, but the suit was withdrawn. Trotta has said he intends to sue Yale again.