San Jose school district to pay $7.5M to 5 men sexually abused by their teacher in '70s, '80s

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A South Bay school district has agreed to pay $7.5 million to five men who were sexually abused by their elementary school teacher in the late 1970s and early '80s.

The men alleged that Dennis Thomas, who taught fourth and fifth graders at Cinnabar Elementary School in San Jose, assaulted them during school hours and after school, as well as on weekends and holidays.

Thomas was convicted of four counts of lewd and lascivious behavior with a child under 14 in 1982.

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Attorney Lauren Cerri with the San Jose-based law firm Corsiglia McMahon & Allard negotiated the civil settlement with the Union School District.

"Cinnabar Elementary's principal acknowledged in a 1975 evaluation that Thomas was spending time with young boys on weekends," Cerri said. "He'd sometimes take them to his apartment but he often took them to the Dream Inn in Santa Cruz. One time he even took a student on a Mexican cruise."

He was also reportedly assaulting the young boys in class.

Former San Jose police sexual abuse investigator Mike Leininger investigated the civil case. "What happened left these men with a lifetime of pain," he said.

Leininger also interviewed Thomas who he said showed no remorse. "He admitted to having relationships with more than 40 boys but he believes he didn't do anything wrong," Leininger said. "I also interviewed several Cinnabar principals who didn't see anything wrong with Thomas taking 10-year-old male students on unchaperoned overnight trips."

The fact that school officials condoned Thomas's behavior for years shows extreme negligence, Cerri said.

One survivor said he became "infuriated" when he learned "there were people who could have stopped this but chose not to," while another said, "I can finally turn around and tell my 10-year-old self that he's heard and I can take his hand without shame and walk forward with him."

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