Richard Rack booking photo
COURTESY OF ORANGE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
A San Clemente man told a jury Monday that he was so concerned about his daughter’s relationship with her math teacher at Shorecliffs Middle School that he met with the man and demanded he promise to stop contacting her.
After his wife learned their daughter had sent Richard John Rack a photo of herself naked, the man arranged to meet with Rack at Las Golondrinas restaurant in San Clemente, where the now-former teacher wrote and signed a statement promising to never contact the girl again..
“I’m a convincing person,” said the father, whom the Register is not identifying to protect the identity of his daughter because she is believed to be a victim of sexual abuse.
The father saved the note, along with a photo of Rack writing it. Both were entered as evidence in Rack’s sexual-abuse trial, which began Monday in Orange County Superior Court. The jury will be able to review the items while deliberating.
Rack, 51, is charged with eight felonies: six counts of lewd acts on a child age 14 or 15, one count of lewd or lascivious acts with a minor under 14 and one felony count of oral copulation of a minor under 16. He faces up to 12 years and eight months behind bars if convicted and would have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
He was fired from the Capistrano Unified School District in September and remains in jail with bond set at $1 million. He had taught math at Shorecliffs since 2002.
The testimony from the father of one of the alleged victims came after testimony from two former students of Rack who described contact that ranged from prolonged handholding and touching to sexually charged comments.
“I liked him as a teacher, but I thought he was creepy,” said one girl, now 15. “He would bite his lip sometimes, and it made me uncomfortable the way he looked at me and the gestures that he made.”
The other witness, now an 18-year-old student at Saddleback College, told jurors that she was so bothered by Rack’s prolonged hugging and his comments toward her that, at the end of the school year, she had a friend deliver him a letter she had written “expressing to him that I would not want him to treat anyone else that way.”
That was in 2009. Rack continued to teach at Shorecliffs until December 2011, when he was placed on administrative leave after school officials learned of the allegations.
The girls were the first witnesses called by Deputy District Attorney Vanessa Woods to testify against Rack, who has been in jail since June 2012.
They didn’t describe overtly sexual acts or criminal behavior by Rack, but Woods said their stories should help jurors understand Rack’s history as a sexual abuser who targeted girls through his daily interactions with them while teaching math or tutoring them during breaks and after school.
The girls saw the academic benefits of their close relationship in the classroom, Woods told jurors.
“Grades would go up. They wouldn’t have to try as hard in class. He would allow them special privileges” and invite them for study sessions in which “he would actually walk them though the tests,” Woods said.
But Rack’s lawyer, David Cohn, said Rack has long had a reputation as a caring listener for troubled students and has been unfairly accused of taking his behavior further than it went. Cohn said the allegations emerged just after Rack told Child Protective Services about potential abuse described by one of the girls regarding her mother.
Under cross examination from Cohn, the 15-year-old girl admitted to downplaying the accusations when first talking to police.
“I think I said that I was trying to defend him, in a sense,” she said.
Cohn said jurors will hear from three former students who have the “utmost respect” for Rack and never observed inappropriate behavior.
Cohn said jurors also will hear from a male student who walked in on one Rack with one of his accusers and saw nothing inappropriate. The boy also says the classroom door was open, contradicting the girl’s claims that it was closed, Cohn said.
Rack also will testify in his defense, Cohn said.
Cohn said some of Rack’s behavior may seem “unorthodox,” “strange” and “inappropriate,” including text messages sent to two girls that Cohn called “above and beyond.” But, Cohn said, if jurors focus on the timing of the allegations and put everything in context, “you will see in the end that Mr. Rack is a caring teacher. Always has been.”
“Everyone’s got their own definition of inappropriate,” Cohn said.
The charges against Rack relate to three girls, each of whom is expected to testify. All were 13 or 14 and students at Shorecliffs at the time the alleged abuse occurred. Two girls say Rack touched them inappropriately and made sexual comments about them and himself.
The third girl was contacted by investigators who noticed Rack had sent her sexual text messages. The girl eventually told police that Rack abused her several times, including forced sex acts.
But Cohn said the girl’s mother was essentially dating Rack and that the girl was jealous of her mother’s relationship with a man she had come to view as a father figure.
Cohn also urged jurors to disregard the testimony of girls who described inappropriate behavior after they learned of Rack’s arrest.
“They’re thinking Mr. Rack is a creeper. Now at this point, anything Mr. Rack did for them, holding their hand, giving them a hug, giving them a kiss on the forehead, they’re interpreting as sexual in nature,” Cohn said.
Testimony continues Tuesday before Orange County Superior Court Judge Sheila Hanson at the courthouse in Santa Ana.
By MEGHANN M. CUNIFF and JOSH FRANCIS / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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