Two former McNary High School students have filed a $10 million lawsuit against Salem-Keizer Public Schools and their former choir teacher.
The suit alleges that Joshua Rist groomed and sexually abused the victims while the district negligently failed to protect them from foreseeable harm..
The plaintiffs, identified as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 in the complaint, were students at McNary from 2015-2019 and 2016-2020. In their time as students, they say that Rist engaged in escalating inappropriate communications and behavior.
According to the complaint, Rist “made special efforts to befriend them,” gained the trust and confidence of the plaintiffs, and “made calculated efforts to ingratiate himself with plaintiffs and their family.” As a result, the plaintiffs were conditioned to trust, respect, confide in and ultimately succumb to Rist. As a result, the plaintiffs suffered guilt, confusion, shame, anxiety, depression, fear and mistrust of authority.
The complaint further accuses district employees of observing the inappropriate attention and taking no action to stop it.
Inappropriate and unsolicited communication from Rist came both through text messages and the school messaging platform Rewind. The complaint alleges that Rist discussed their and his own sexual experiences, his adultery, pornography and polyamory, and encouraged them to masturbate and have multiple partners.
Rist’s messaging became more frequent and often about sexual topics. According to the suit Rist insisted that they delete all messages from him, and wanted screenshots as proof.
Both plaintiffs were recruited by Rist as teaching assistants, and both served as his assistant during his preparatory period, where, no other students or adults were present.
During this alone time, the plaintiffs’ complaint says that Rist would give lingering hugs, place his hand on their legs and give massages, as well as frequently tell the plaintiffs they were beautiful and attractive.
The suit alleges an incident where Rist brushed his hand along one of the plaintiff’s breasts prior to a show at the Elsinore Theater. She pushed his hand away, then Rist grabbed her hand and held it as they entered the theater.
As the relationships grew, Rist told Jane Doe 2 that he loved her, commented on her maturity and how he perceived her as a “woman.”
The COVID lockdown lessened the face to face interaction between Rist and Jane Doe 2. He would text and call her for hours, telling her he missed her and wished they could be together, according to the complaint. He invited her to his house on her 18th birthday, an invitation she accepted.
Rist also began making book and movie recommendations to the plaintiffs. He gave Jane Doe 2 a copy of The Course of Love, a book about a married man who fantasizes about an 18-year-old, and watched a documentary about the Rajneesh cult with Jane Doe 1, expressing his desire to have joined the cult with her.
Following graduation the relationships escalated, as Rist allegedly told them it would, which included soliciting music to listen to while having sex with his wife and starting the “bath time book club.”
Rist’s actions caused the plaintiffs to romanticize and idolize him. After being away from his influence, the plaintiffs have come to realize the painful and damaging consequences of the grooming.
And the suit alleges they were not the first of Rist’s victims, citing a previous McNary student as well as alleging that when Rist taught at Hermiston High School he groomed several students.
The Teacher Standards and Practices Commission of Oregon has no record of any complaint or investigation into Rist’s actions at Hermiston, according to Executive Director Anthony Rosilez.
The commission investigated the claims from the two plaintiffs after receiving a report in June 2021. Through their investigation the commission concluded Rist engaged in “gross neglect of duty.”
As part of the commission’s stipulation of facts and final order of suspension and probation, Rist signed admission to developing a personal relationship with two students which included telling one he loved her, discussing personal topics including sexual orientation, commenting on personal appearance and more.
Rist’s punishment was a 60 day suspension and three years probation, something the complaint categorizes as “virtually no consequences.”
Rist was moved out of McNary and placed at Kalapuya Elementary. This lack of punishment and placement at an elementary school caused additional trauma to the plaintiffs, experiencing “anxiety, depression, fear, invalidation, and hopelessness, and they fear constantly for his elementary students.”
Rist has since been placed on administrative leave and is no longer at Kalapuya.