$27 million settlement reached in lawsuit over bullying death of 13-year-old Moreno Valley student

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Thursday, September 14, 2023
$27M settlement reached in bullying death of Moreno Valley student
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A $27 million settlement was announced in a lawsuit stemming from the death of 13-year-old Diego Stolz, who was fatally beaten by two students at a middle school in Moreno Valley.

MORENO VALLEY, Calif. (KABC) -- A $27 million settlement was announced Wednesday in a lawsuit stemming from the 2019 death of 13-year-old Diego Stolz, who was fatally beaten by two fellow students at Landmark Middle School in Moreno Valley.

The wrongful-death settlement against the Moreno Valley Unified School District was obtained on behalf of Stolz's legal guardians, Juana Salcedo and Felipe Salcedo, the family's attorneys said in a news release.

"The family will forever be heartbroken by the death of Diego but they hope this case brings about change in school districts across the country," said lead counsel Dave Ring said in a statement. "Schools need to realize that bullying can never be tolerated and that any complaints of bullying and assault must be taken seriously. Diego's death was preventable if this school had simply prioritized an anti-bullying policy."

On Sept. 16, 2019, two 14-year-old boys were videotaped attacking Stolz outside classrooms at the school. One boy struck the teenager in the head from behind and he fell, hitting his head against a pillar. The boys then continued punching the boy, who died nine days later from a brain injury.

In 2020, the boys entered the equivalent of guilty pleas in juvenile court to involuntary manslaughter and assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury.

In the spring of 2021, a Riverside County Superior Court judge ruled that the two 14-year-olds would not go to jail but were ordered to undergo anger management therapy as a probation condition. The teens were released to the custody of their parents after spending 47 days in juvenile custody.

"His death was entirely preventable, if administrators at his middle school has done their jobs," said the family's attorney Neil Gehlawat.

But Gehlawat said they didn't do their jobs.

"On the Thursday prior to the fatal assault, which was on Monday, Diego was assaulted by one of the same bullies at the school," Gehlawat said.

He said the family then reported it to the assistant principal.

"And that assistant principal told Diego's cousin that the boys were who were responsible for assaulting him the prior day would be suspended and dealt with," Gehlawat said.

But that never happened. The following Monday, Gehlawat said the bullies were still on campus.

"She certainly made a promise to the family and did not follow through with that," Gehlawat said.

Gehlawat said not only was there a lack of follow through, but a complete breakdown in communication.

"One of the assistant principals had information about Diego being bullied and assaulted, and she did not share that information with her fellow administers, the other vice principal and the principal at the school, and on the day Diego was fatally assaulted she was not at school that day," Gehlawat said.

As part of the settlement, Gehlawat said the district agreed to additional training, as well as new protocols related to how they respond to reports of bullying.

"This is the largest bullying settlement in the United States," attorneys for Stolz's family said in Wednesday's statement.

The news release noted that the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 2445 in September 2020, "which was inspired by Diego's tragic death and clarified that legal guardians have standing to bring suit in civil claims involving a minor whose death may have stemmed from a wrongful or negligent act, but only if the child's natural parents are deceased." Stolz's biological mother and father died years ago.

The wrongful-death lawsuit against the Moreno Valley Unified School District alleged that it failed to act after school officials were told that the teenagers had been bullying Stolz.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.