According to 12 News, a coach was arrested after being accused of having sex with an underage student while working as a coach at Okeechobee High School, located at 2800 US-441, Okeechobee, FL 34972.
The 31-year-old coach, Omar Ayala, was arrested after being on the run since April 2023. The alleged victim's mother alerted authorities that Ayala had an inappropriate relationship with their daughter when she was between 16 to 17 years old. The mother had reported suspicion to the Okeechobee School Board in 2020 regarding the coach. The school board responded by prohibiting Ayala from contacting the victim and coaching girls' sports. Unfortunately, gathering evidence to support the allegations for an arrest warrant took three years. Ayala fled the country, and with the help of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, he was located in Mexico, extradited back, and taken into custody.
Throughout the investigation, it came to light that Ayala had a friendship with a Deputy from the Osceola Sheriff's office. This Deputy had been utilizing the department's database to access Ayala's information, enabling them to warn Ayala in advance if the authorities were actively pursuing him. The Deputy has since been arrested and charged with our felonies, including accessory after the fact to unlawful sexual activity with a minor.
In the fight against sexual assault in high schools, the pursuit of justice for victims remains a paramount concern. We recently interviewed Michael Haggard, Esq., a school sexual assault attorney based in Florida. In this conversation, Mr. Haggard sheds light on the legal avenues available to victims who have suffered at the hands of trusted figures like high school coaches. Join us as we explore the empowering measures victims can take to hold those accountable, foster safer educational environments, and seek the justice they rightfully deserve.
Darla Medina: Sexual assault in educational institutions is a deeply concerning problem. In light of recent events involving a high school coach accused of sexual abuse, could you tell our readers what steps victims can take to pursue justice through a civil case against those responsible?
Michael Haggard, Esq.: Absolutely, Darla. When it comes to sexual abuse cases involving school personnel, several legal avenues are available for victims seeking justice. Civil cases can be instrumental in holding those accountable for their actions.
Darla Medina: That's important information for our readers to understand. Could you walk us through the process a victim would typically go through when considering a civil case?
Michael Haggard, Esq.: Of course. The first and most critical step is for the victim to find a compassionate and experienced sexual assault attorney who specializes in school abuse cases. This attorney will be a key ally, offering legal guidance and support throughout the process.
Darla Medina: That makes sense. So, how does the attorney build a case against those responsible?
Michael Haggard, Esq.: The attorney will conduct a thorough investigation to gather evidence, which may include testimonies from witnesses, surveillance footage, and any available documentation related to the incident. In cases involving a coach or other school staff, it's essential to examine whether the school administration had any prior knowledge or if there were any lapses in supervision.
Darla Medina: I see. And what legal options do victims typically have in such cases?
Michael Haggard, Esq.: Victims of school sexual abuse can pursue various legal claims, such as negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and in some cases, premises liability. Each case is unique, and the appropriate legal strategy will depend on the specific circumstances of the abuse.
Darla Medina: That's informative. What outcomes can victims expect from filing a civil case against those responsible?
Michael Haggard, Esq.: Successfully litigating a civil case can result in compensation for the victim's pain and suffering, medical expenses, therapy costs, and other damages. Additionally, holding the responsible parties accountable through civil litigation can contribute to creating safer environments in schools and prevent future incidents.
Darla Medina: That's crucial for fostering a safer educational environment. How long do these civil cases typically take to resolve?
Michael Haggard, Esq.: The duration of civil cases can vary widely, depending on the complexity of the case and whether a settlement or trial is pursued. Some cases may settle relatively quickly, while others might take several months or even years to reach a resolution.
Darla Medina: It's clear that the road to justice can be challenging but worthwhile. Lastly, what would you say to victims who are considering pursuing a civil case?
Michael Haggard, Esq.: To reach out to a reputable attorney who has experience in handling school sexual abuse cases. The legal process can be daunting, but a knowledgeable attorney can guide victims through every step, ensuring their rights are protected and that justice is pursued vigorously.