She was a Catholic high school girl who had yet to have her first kiss.
When her softball coach began texting her late at night, showering her with compliments and telling her she was special, it was easy for Bailey Boone to forget that he was 54 years old and she was just 16.
"I thought we had a great love and the age didn't matter, and no one could possibly understand," Boone, now 21, said of the man she knew as Coach Mike.
In reality, Michael Martis was "grooming" her to become his sexual partner, according to a lawsuit Boone has filed against St. Francis Catholic High School and the Sacramento Catholic Diocese. The school and diocese, the lawsuit alleges, should have known that Martis was a predator, and failed to take steps to protect Boone and other students when he was a softball coach from 2010 through 2014.
St. Francis president Theresa Rodgers said Martis passed a background check and that his behavior raised no "red flags" among administrators, teachers or coaches. Martis was a trusted member of the community and did business with Boone's mother. He had keys to St. Francis' sports facilities and was allowed to communicate with students privately, give one-on-one lessons and drive students in his car to games away from the school's East Sacramento campus.
After Boone's mother in 2015 discovered romantic texts between her daughter and Martis, he was charged and arrested. Martis pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with Boone and another teenage girl. In November 2017, he was sentenced to four years in jail and is required to register as a sex offender.
In the years following the sexual misconduct, Boone has tried to move on with her life. But in an interview with The Bee last week, she said she still is struggling with the emotional fallout. She wonders if she ever will be free of the anxiety, guilt and shame that for a time caused her life to spiral into alcohol abuse, depression and unhealthy sexual relationships, she said.
"This entire process has been hell," Boone said during a conversation at the office of her Sacramento lawyer, Joseph George, who specializes in sexual abuse cases and also is a psychologist. "I'm starting to understand how he manipulated me and used me. That it wasn't my fault. This was all about making himself feel good."
Boone was unfamiliar with the term "grooming" as it applies to sexual predators until she started seeing a therapist to help her deal with nightmares and post-traumatic stress, she said. Experts in child abuse said the term refers to a process in which adults methodically increase attention toward their young targets, giving them gifts or spending extra time with them to gain trust and ultimately enter into sexual relationships.
"They groom the person they want to victimize to overcome their resistance, get access to them, and prevent disclosure," said Charol Shakeshaft, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who instructs educators around the country about how to identify child abusers and prevent sexual misconduct. "They also groom the people around them, making sure the parents like them and the teachers and administrators think they have the best interests of the child at heart."
How many children are "groomed" within school settings is unclear, Shakeshaft said. A federal report from 2014 estimates that one in 10 students are subjected to some form of sexual abuse by school personnel during the course of their academic careers.
Groomers, said George, often are pillars of the community and "are exquisitely skilled" in assessing the needs of their victims, who may be lacking in self-esteem or clashing with their parents. "They look for that chink in the armor, and they exploit it. They act like they're boosting them up, but what they're doing is getting their own gratification."
More training needed, expert says
Martis was among at least a dozen teachers or coaches in the Sacramento area who have been arrested in recent years for inappropriate contact with students. Among them were two Elk Grove Unified School District teachers arrested for having sex with teenage pupils.
In both of the Elk Grove cases, the suspected predators had been fingerprinted and passed Department of Justice background checks, according to administrators. But Shakeshaft said schools need to do more than criminal checks to combat sexual misconduct. She said students, teachers and administrators must be trained to detect the signs of untoward behavior including "grooming," and be committed to reporting suspicions to authorities.
Schools and districts should develop strict policies for interactions with students, including when it is appropriate for staff members, coaches and volunteers to travel with students, spend time with them before and after school, and communicate with them on social media, she said.
"We could go a long way toward reducing this kind of exploitation by doing really good training at schools," Shakeshaft said. "Most schools aren't doing it."
California's education code requires schools to conduct background and fingerprint checks on potential employees. Applicants convicted of violent or serious felonies are to be turned away, according to the code. Most school districts have strict policies against sexual harassment, though the guidelines do not specifically address "grooming."
The Sacramento Unified School District's policy, for example, prohibits unwelcome flirtations or propositions, graphic verbal comments, "overly personal" conversation and "touching an individual's body or clothes in a sexual way," among other behaviors.
The state's penal code requires teachers, administrators and others whose jobs place them in contact with children to report "reasonable suspicions" of child abuse "immediately, or as soon as practically possible," to a child protection agency. Teachers and other school employees receive yearly training on that subject, said district spokesman Alex Barrios.
The policies "are meant to be all encompassing, to protect students from inappropriate behavior in any form of communication exchanges, which includes text messages or private email exchanges," Barrios said.
Schools within the Sacramento Catholic Diocese follow similar policies, officials said. At St. Francis, students attend assemblies to learn about internet safety and the dangers and pitfalls of texting and "sexting," Rodgers said. All teachers and coaches take an online "safe environment" course that covers, among other things, sexual harassment and mandatory reporting of child abuse.
"I feel like as a community we have done a lot to empower our young women to be safe, and to speak up for themselves," Rodgers said.
St. Francis teachers are instructed to communicate with students only within the school's email system. Until recently, however, coaches did not have access to that system, leaving them no choice but to text or phone players on their private devices.
It was that access that allowed the relationship between Boone and Martis to grow, according to the lawsuit.
'I thought it was the real deal'
Boone, the youngest of five children, grew up in Roseville. She and her siblings attended Catholic schools "for the structure, the rules and the morals," she said. Her parents, Richard and Kimberly, both worked outside the home, and the family enjoyed weekend outings, sporting events and summer trips to the beach.
At St. Francis, Boone was a good student who "never got into trouble" and had a group of close friends, she said. In her freshman year, she joined the junior varsity softball team coached by Martis. She said she grew to think of Martis as "kind of a second father" who taught her lessons about athletics and life.
"He took me under his wing," she said. "He offered so much encouragement," and used the game's joys and tribulations as metaphors for other things, including issues with parents and academics. "I really looked up to him."
After her sophomore season ended in 2013, Boone sent her coach a text thanking him for his mentoring. "It's something I have done in the past with other coaches," she said. Martis responded that she was "one of his favorite players," and that he thought of her "as a fourth daughter."
Within a couple of weeks, the two were texting regularly. The communication became more and more personal and continued until the wee hours of the morning.
"At first it was like, 'What is your favorite color? Your favorite ice cream?' " Boone recalled. At one point, Martis texted that he "wished he could go back in time" and be her classmate. Boone was more than flattered. She was developing her first "real" crush.
"I was going to an all-girls school, and I hadn't gotten to the point where I had communicated that way, developed real feelings, or had a first kiss," she said. "I thought it was the real deal."
Martis told her he "would be honored" to be the first man to kiss her, she said.
At his direction, she said, she deleted all of the texts between them shortly after their conversations ended.
Soon, the two hatched a plan that would allow them to be alone together. Martis would ask her parents for permission to give her private "hitting lessons" once a week during the summer. "We weren't actually going to hit," Boone said. "We were going to go back to his house, have breakfast and see what happened."
When they arrived at his home the first time, Martis, who is divorced, locked the doors and shut the blinds in case one of his daughters came by or a neighbor got curious, Boone said. He served eggs, bacon and cantaloupe. After they ate and sat on the sofa together, he asked her to kiss him. He then suggested they move to the bedroom where they "made out a little" before their time was up for the sham batting practice and they had to leave.
After the encounter, "I had butterflies," Boone said. "Growing up, I watched 'Princess Diaries,' and butterflies were a good thing."
Within a few weeks, she and Martis were having sexual intercourse, she said. Their physical relationship continued, off and on, during her junior and senior years. At times, Boone said, she failed to immediately delete suggestive texts. But she was confident that their interactions would never be discovered. "My parents trusted him, and he was very confident and cocky about it," she said. "We were rock solid."
'No word really fit for me'
After she graduated in 2015, during a summer vacation, Boone's mother picked up her daughter's phone and found intimate messages between her and Martis. She previously had no reason to distrust the coach, who had been a customer of the family's T-shirt printing business.
Martis told Bailey Boone to tell her mother that "nothing physical ever happened," and that their relationship was "just texting," she said. He told Boone he would send her a text message reminding her that "it was all a fantasy," and that she should plant her phone in a place where her mother would read the message.
"I ended up confessing," Boone said, because lying was too stressful. "I told my mom everything, and she totally supported me. She told me it wasn't my fault, that she was sorry it happened. She kept hugging me. I was crying, and so was she."
Her parents urged her to tell authorities about what happened. But at the time, Boone said, "I still had feelings for Mike," and she was uncertain whether she wanted to press charges against him. She was sure that no other victims existed, and wanted to "put it all behind me." Her parents, though shaken, agreed to give her time to sort through her feelings, she said.
In the fall, she went to college at the University of San Francisco. Contact stopped between the two of them. Boone said she was paralyzed by guilt and shame, which led her to engage in risky sexual behavior and drink heavily. She became depressed and had nightmares and panic attacks. She dropped out of school.
"I struggled with what had happened to me," Boone said. "What do I call it? Rape? Child abuse? No word really fit for me," she said, until a therapist talked about the grooming process.
After discussions with her parents, Boone began to worry that Martis, who had moved on from St. Francis to coach at Oak Ridge High, might abuse others. She decided to pursue a criminal prosecution against him. That fall she told her story to her attorney, police detectives and finally a deputy District Attorney.
Following various investigations, Martis in June 2016 was charged with six felonies, including sexual intercourse, oral copulation and penetration with a foreign object.
Then, a second victim emerged. Later that year, prosecutors added an allegation that Martis abused another girl, 15, between 2006 and 2007 while she was a member of a team that he coached outside of St. Francis.
The lawsuit alleges that St. Francis failed in its duty to protect Boone, in part by allowing Martis to communicate with students on his cellphone and personal email account. The Diocese and school "knew, or should have known, that Coach Mike was acting inappropriately with minor students," it concludes.
Rodgers, the St. Francis president, said the school would have reported Martis immediately had anyone seen signs of questionable acts. "I have looked at this 85 different ways and honestly I don't know what more I could have done" to prevent the abuse, she said.
Since Martis' arrest, St. Francis has made changes to policies and procedures for coaches, Rodgers said. Coaches must follow "clear and consistent boundaries" when interacting with students, the rules read. Among other things, coaches now have access to the school's email system and must communicate with students only in that manner, according to the written procedures. They cannot text students, nor communicate with them individually via social media applications such as SnapChat.
"It's hard to write a rule for every single thing that a person might do," Rodgers said. "At some point, common sense has to kick in. But we are constantly trying to keep up with changes in technology and communications" for the safety of students.
Boone said she has made it her mission to speak out against "grooming" and sexual misconduct because she wants to educate others. "I don't want this to happen to anyone else," she said.
She has connected with other victims, she said, and found the conversations empowering. She is living with roommates in the Sacramento area and working for the City of Roseville at an after-school daycare program. She plans to return to college soon and has pondered becoming a psychologist.
The last time she saw Martis was at his sentencing hearing when the court allowed her to speak about her abuse. "I talked about the fact that he is going to prison for awhile but I'll be dealing with this for the rest of my life," she said.
Standing within a few feet of him "was horrible," she said, but she found the courage to speak about the harm she suffered. "I just wanted him to know what he put me through."
Cynthia Hubert: 916-321-1082, @Cynthia_Hubert
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