Had anyone checked, it would have been obvious that John Hardy Jackson should not be a foster parent.
His first wife found him fondling their 1-year-old son and filed for divorce. He overdosed on drugs and was arrested for drunken driving. He beat his own son with a belt and kicked his pregnant wife in the stomach, causing her to lose that baby.
Yet Jackson's Mountain View home was licensed as a foster home. The sex acts he forced the children in his care to perform sent him to prison for 220 years. And on Wednesday, his behavior persuaded a civil court jury in San Jose to award $30 million to one of his male victims, who is now 25.
The victim, who lives in the South Bay, "is haunted every day by this stuff," said Stephen Estey, the San Diego attorney who represented him. "Jackson always wore a ton of Brut cologne and when my client gets around someone who's wearing it, he gets panic attacks and flashbacks and thinks he's going to die."
Starting when he was 11 years old, he was forced into more than 600 acts of sexual abuse from December 1995 to March 1999, according to the suit. The victim finally left the home when his father was able to take him back, Estey said.
Where to place blame
At the end of the two-week trial, the seven women and five men on the jury found the Giarretto Institute, the private foster family agency responsible for licensing and monitoring Jackson's foster home and
others, was negligent and liable for 75 percent of the abuse that was inflicted on the victim, and Jackson was liable for the rest. Giarretto, founded in San Jose decades before as a sex abuse treatment program for incest victims and their families, was then a small sex-abuse treatment and foster family agency.
The institute was acquired by EMQ FamiliesFirst in March 1999, and EMQ is not liable for any of the $30 million judgment, said Roberto Favela, vice president of administration and foster care for the agency.
"The sex abuse occurred over a long period of time before our acquisition of the Giarretto Institute," he said.
Linda Kollar, who represented Giarretto in the suit, did not return phone calls from the Mercury News.
At the time, the Giarretto Institute had a contract with Santa Clara County to recruit, certify and monitor some foster homes, according to Estey. The state had outsourced much of its foster care oversight to private agencies, which were paid by the county. Because of problems with that system, the state reclaimed foster care responsibilities in 1999.
The verdict is one of the largest for a sex abuse case in California history, and it ties with another for $30 million in 1998 as the largest judgment ever for a case involving a single person.
Estey had offered to settle four cases against Giarretto for the $4 million limit in their insurance policy, including the one in court this week. Now the insurance company will have to pay 75 percent of the $30 million, he said. Jackson is not expected to pay anything.
"The victim has been through a lot," Estey said. With the verdict, "he saw that 12 people from the community believed what happened and said that was wrong. They came up and hugged him afterward. There were lots of tears."
Haunted by memories
When children in Jackson's care said he was sexually abusing them, the Giarretto Institute was responsible for investigating the allegations. All of them were dismissed as untrue, Estey said.
The investigator told the children they "were lying," he said.
When a 4-year-old said Jackson was "a bad man," that he liked to do "the sex thing," the same investigator was sent to Jackson's foster home and found that allegation to be unfounded as well.
Jackson had access to the children by himself from 8 a.m. until about 5 p.m. every day.
During that time, he had sex with the children. He made the children have sex with each other and filmed it. He made the children fix him drinks, and sometimes he beat them, the children said.
"These kids are so haunted," Estey said.
In 2006, Jackson was convicted in Santa Clara County of nine counts of lewd or lascivious acts on a child by force, violence, duress, menace and fear and seven counts of lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. The conviction included abuse that occurred when Jackson moved from Santa Clara County to Colorado.
One of the girls was 5 at the time of the abuse, according to a criminal court document.
Three other foster children who also were in the Jackson home and suffered similar abuse have lawsuits pending and are being represented by Estey.
The lawsuit was filed in 2006, the same year as Jackson's criminal conviction.
"When my client testified" about what Jackson did to him, "you could hear a pin drop," Estey said. "He was a monster."
By Linda Goldston and Mark Gomez
If you or a loved one has been affected by sexual abuse, contact GRESHAM pc today for a free case evaluation.