An expert hired by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) argued in court that a 9-year-old girl seeking damages after she was sexually assaulted would be protected from emotional stress by her low IQ.
Court documents obtained by KPCC investigative producer Karen Foshay detailed forensic psychologist Dr. Stan Katz’s 2013 testimony in a trial to determine how much in damages the 9-year-old girl would receive after she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a boy at one of the district’s schools.
The girl reportedly had an IQ between 64 and 70, but the boy was not developmentally disabled.
According to the transcripts, attorney David Ring, who represented the girl, asked Katz to explain what he meant when he said that the girl’s disability “acts as a protective factor.”
“There’s a relationship between intelligence and depression,” Katz replied. “What happens is the more you think about things, you can ruminate, you can focus on things, you can look at the complexities of the matter and become less depressed.”
“So because she may be less intelligent than a general education student, she’s going to suffer less depression because of it?” Ring pressed.
“Very possible, yes,” Katz insisted.
He did agree that the girl would need therapy to cope with the trauma. But he said that he had interviewed the girl in 2012 — two years after the 2010 sexual assaults — and had determined that the crime was not connected to her emotional distress. Instead, he blamed her problems on a lack of a father in her life, and on her mental disability.
KPCC talked to two experts who said that there was no science to support Katz’s testimony.
“I have never seen developmental disability in a child that age used as a protective factor with respect to how they handle trauma,” University of California San Francisco psychiatrist Dr. Lynn Ponton explained. “In fact, developmental disability quite often puts them at risk for this type of trauma.”
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine associate professor Dr. Steven Berkowitz agreed that disabled persons may have difficulty “decision making or problem solving around the use of coping strategies to assist them in dealing with the stress or trauma.”
In the end, the jury awarded the girl $1.4 million in damages, even though her lawyer had only asked for up to $12,500 to pay for therapy.
“The jury was offended, they were disgusted and they thought it was unbelievable that an expert witness could come in and say something like that,” Ring recalled to KPCC.
Katz, who was better known for his numerous appearances on reality television, was also consulting with LAUSD about another child abuse case that was scheduled to go to trial in February.