Photograph by Matthew Suárez
Girl v. world, mother, teacher
On October 15, 2018, Lincoln High School psychologist Freddy Moreno summoned Sara to his office. A teacher wanted him to find out what was traumatizing her “shy, sweet, and respectful” student. After a lengthy conversation Moreno made a breakthrough when Sara said, “I know I’m worth more than to sell myself.” But she wasn’t ready to say more.
Illustration by Melissa Wessells
She had become withdrawn at school. Her schoolmate Monet says Sara “dressed really nice” when school started, but a few weeks later “she started dressing in sweats like she didn’t want anyone to see her.”
In class Sara pulled the hood of her sweatshirt down over her face — burying herself at her desk as she cried. Sara was too afraid and embarrassed to tell anyone what was eating away at her. That evening her boyfriend insisted she speak up after watching her cry for days. What he heard made him scream.
Nick Cannon, host of the VH1 show Wild ‘N Out (second from left), with Jason Crawford (second from right). According to students, Crawford would often talk about his connection to Cannon.
Sara returned to Moreno’s office the next morning and reported that her multimedia teacher, Jason Anthony Crawford, tried to recruit her into prostitution. She says nearly every day since school started he tried convincing her to go with his rich friends to make “easy money.”
A San Diego Police Department detective was sent to investigate. He focused on less severe allegations that came up and recommended a misdemeanor sexual annoyance of a minor charge, leaving out the pandering and other felony-level crimes Sara described.
Students say Crawford would open this side gate so his guests could drive their cars on campus and park outside his classroom, without checking in at the office. Students would take photos with their “really nice cars” and some of the men would flirt with the female students and school staff.
Photograph by Matthew Suárez
In January 2019, the City Attorney’s office decided not to file any criminal charges against Crawford.
Like Kesha in her song “Praying,” Sara felt abandoned. She took a risk coming forward. People loyal to Crawford weren’t happy, and she couldn’t go back to Lincoln. But over the next few months a number of students and staff came to her side, and she hasn’t given up.
She retained attorney Marlea Dell’Anno, who filed a sexual harassment claim against San Diego Unified School District in April, which the district rejected. Dell’Anno says she’s filing a lawsuit against Crawford and the district in August. All the alleged victims in this story have been given pseudonyms.
As I listen to this soft-spoken 17-year-old share her story, it occurs to me that she resembles Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, though her home isn’t Kansas. It’s southeast San Diego. Lincoln Park.
“Sexual abuse has defined me as long as I can remember,” Sara reflects.
Her earliest painful memory — when she was eight years old her mother brought her to two different men to be abused: a man she called uncle, and her mother’s boyfriend. The boyfriend was arrested but Sara’s mom bailed him out. The uncle fled to Mexico City and was never found.
Tears run down the side of her face. Neither of the men who raped her were prosecuted. Even after the arrest her mother continued bringing Sara to her boyfriend so he could abuse her.
School had been the one place she felt safe in life. “I was always excited to go to school because I knew whatever I had going at home, school was going to be my way out, a place where I had power.”
But then she transferred to Lincoln High in the fall of 2017, her junior year. Despite requesting piano or art for her elective, she was placed in photography with Crawford. He was also new to Lincoln that year. He had transitioned from teaching at North County’s Palomar College to the Southeast San Diego high school.
Sara says the 47-year-old paid special attention to her. “He would tell me I looked good. That’s how it started.” Through a long-term grooming process, she says, Crawford had her believing he valued her as a person. This included his production of the promotional video One Lincoln One Voice at the request of Principal Jose Soto-Ramos. Crawford did photoshoots with dozens of students and included audio of a woman singing, “You are precious and priceless, worth more than pure gold. Wherever you go from here don’t give up your soul.” But as time went on it became clear to Sara it wasn’t her soul Crawford cared about.
“Toward the end of the year he started showing me his photography, girls in lingerie, some nude.” Sara says he told her she looked better than the girls in the photos and she should let him photograph her. Julia, who was a senior when Sara was a junior, says he tried the same with her and a clique of Latina students she was friends with. “He would tell us we were pretty and should do modeling. He would show me pictures and tell me if I ever wanted a [photo]shoot to let him know.”
She adds that Crawford once showed her a picture of his own genitalia from his phone. She pauses before she explains. “He would tell me I couldn’t take his d-ck. When he showed me a picture of it he said, 'Whoa!'”
Neither girl reported the teacher at the time. Sara says, “He always made sure it was known he was connected and knew a lot of famous people. He showed photos of himself with celebrities like Amber Rose and Kehlani. And he showed videos of himself in limos with rappers like French Montana.”
(Montana’s music video Unforgettable has nearly a billion views on YouTube. It shows young children in Kampala, Uganda dancing to a sex-themed, profanity-laced song. Crawford posted his own rap video, “Rocking Double Bs,” to YouTube in 2008. His rapper name: JShark).
Nick Cannon as bait
Another Crawford connection is Nick Cannon, former host of America’s Got Talent and host of Wild ‘N Out, an improv comedy show on VH1. (Cannon is a graduate of Spring Valley’s Monte Vista High School.)
Monet observes, “Mr. Crawford would always talk about working with Nick Cannon to get the girls all over him.” Julia says she was targeted. “He told me he was the one who picked girls for Wild ‘N Out and I should audition.” She says when Cannon visited Lincoln he also told her she should audition.
San Diego Unified’s College Career and Technical Education Office, which Crawford’s job was linked to, has had a partnership with the Nick Cannon Foundation to host events that help students learn business and project design skills.
On May 23, 2018 Cannon walked onto Lincoln’s campus with Crawford. Reporters followed the celebrity around. Video from KUSI shows Cannon smile, pat Crawford on the shoulder and say, “It’s all about growth, Mr. Crawford.” (Crawford went with Cannon to visit other San Diego Unified schools as well.)
The day after he visited Lincoln, Cannon went on Facebook and promoted a new music album with a parental advisory for explicit content. In “Calling All Models: The Prequel” Cannon degrades women as “b----es” and “h-es.”
Earlier that month Crawford posted videos of “Wild ‘N Out bible studies” to Instagram, his mocking title for the private pool party he attended with Cannon and his entourage.
Their history goes back years. According to Crawford’s Linkedin profile he worked for Cannon’s NCredible Entertainment as a producer for Teen Nick Top 10 from 2013-14.
And in the summer of 2017, just before he started working at Lincoln, Crawford directed the music video for Cannon’s “Call Your Cousin” song and appeared in it. They appear together in other productions and videos.
Students say Crawford created an unusual atmosphere, including frequent campus visitors who never checked in the office or wore visitor badges.
“There were two or three visitors who gave presentations to the class, but all the rest were models, really pretty girls, and men with really nice cars,” Sara says. “They would just have students take photos with them, the men next to their cars outside the class and the girls inside the class. Mr. Crawford said the girls tried to get on Wild ‘N Out but got turned down.”
She says Crawford would open a side gate on William James Jones Avenue so the men could drive their cars on campus and park outside his classroom. “They would literally come straight from the street,” Sara says.
Monet adds that most of his guests were men, some of whom flirted with female students and staff members and asked for their numbers. A cheerleader once rejected the advances of a Crawford guest and Crawford reportedly told the girl, “You just missed out.”
Monet says she refused to go back to Crawford’s class after he made a disturbing sexual comment to her.
Shark shows his teeth
Sara says Crawford became more aggressive her senior year, the fall of 2018, when she took his multimedia class. His compliments became more vulgar. “You’re fine as f---,” she remembers hearing.
“He played the piano a lot. And he would say, ‘The way I play makes girls c--.’ One day while [he was] flipping through his footage of rappers and Wild ‘N Out girls, a video started playing of Crawford having sex with a girl. It played for a few seconds then he flipped to others like nothing happened. I was like, ‘Nobody’s gonna say anything?’ Everyone was just quiet and looking at each other.”
Sara says she sat at the student seat next to Crawford’s desk. He later showed her the same porn video from his phone. “He said, ‘That’s nothing. I’ve made full movies.’ He told me I could do it better than the girl in the video.”
Sara remembers a day in early September he asked her, “‘When are you going to let me put the tip in? I’ll only put the tip in.’”
“Another time Crawford told my friend she walked around like she had the best cookie in the school. Cookie was his word for private part.” She says he also asked the same girl if she wanted his cookie and asked another if she wanted to zip up his zipper for him.
And there was the time Sara was wearing a red dress with jeans underneath. Her friend told her to take the jeans off and just wear the dress. Sara says Crawford overheard the discussion and interjected, “Don’t do that. If you do I’m smashing on that.”
Sara says Crawford boasted many of the women in his life got shark tattoos because of him.
Teacher, pimp, friend of police
At the start of her senior year she says Crawford would tell her almost every day she could make money if she “did things” for the men. “When I sat next to him he would tell me stories about the men and how other girls who did things for them made a lot of money and got their own apartments. He would make it sound so easy to try to get me to agree to do it. He was really persuasive.
“Most of the times he suggested this to me he was just trying to see what my answer would be before he told me which man I would go with or what his number was.
“One time he was telling me his friend could take me shopping and buy me a lot of things — ‘if you f---,’ he said. I never agreed to do what he wanted until I was going through a dilemma with my brother when he left his probation home and was nowhere to be found. I thought he was dead. I remembered Crawford said he knew people in the police department. So I went to him to ask if he could help find my brother. He said to me, ‘You love your brother right? You wanna help your brother?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘You can do this job and go with these men and make money to help find your brother.’ I said, ‘Ok what do I have to do?’
“He told me to send him photos he could pass to his friends and he would let me know when I would meet them. He told me to send them to his personal email.”
Sara took photos. On October 1, she emailed them to her teacher while sitting next to him in class. “He opened them up next to me and told me I could do better. I was nearly nude.”
She says she felt humiliated, then had a moment of “self-realization.” She asked herself, “What am I doing?” And she broke down.
“He always told me I looked good, but I didn’t want to look good anymore. I started wearing hoodies and sweats and hiding my face. I deleted his phone number and started going to the nurse or the library instead of his class.
“I feel he used my situation against me. He knew I was struggling and unstable. Nothing like this ever happened before with any other teacher, not in the slightest.”
Boy with the Bentley
October 4, 2018 was a fateful day for Crawford. He brought Anthony Bell Jr., his “boy with the Bentley,” to Lincoln so students could take pictures next to his car. (Bell is another graduate of Spring Valley’s Monte Vista High School, though at a different time from Cannon.)
Monet remembers seeing him multiple times at school but only saw the Bentley once. (Crawford later admitted to police Bell brought the Bentley and was the person Sara emailed her photos for.)
Over the phone Bell says the purpose of his visit was to give students an opportunity to see a Bentley and motivate them to practice the photography skills they were learning in Crawford’s class. He says Crawford works for MTV and they were trying to help the kids. (Wild ‘N Out recently moved from MTV to VH1.) Bell denies asking any student for her phone number or having any knowledge of any recruitment of Lincoln girls into prostitution or pornography.
Julia, who had graduated but was still only 17, says Crawford called her up on October 4, 2018. “He said, ‘Do you want to come to a shoot?’ I told him I can’t. He said, ‘I have the dude I was telling you about and he wants to meet you. Where you at.’ I told him where. That’s when they came.”
She remembers a phone call from Crawford a few days prior. “He was like ‘I have a homey I’m trying to show you. He will treat you right. Stop messing with these little boys.” Julia took that to mean boys her age.
She says Crawford and Bell arrived in the black Bentley at a home in which she was staying. “He said his name is ‘Ant.’ He wanted to meet up the next day at the mall so he could buy me some stuff.”
She says Crawford was pressuring her into talking to Bell and to agree to meet up with him. She thinks something would have been expected from her in return if she went shopping but says she never went. She says she gave Bell her number and he texted her that afternoon, but that was the end of it.
Bell denies going with Crawford to meet a girl and denies texting a girl. But Julia’s phone records reveal a text from Bell that day: “This Ant. Lock me in.” The records also show texts from Crawford before they came by. “Be there by 1:30. Give you time.”
Mama bear versus Shark
Julia’s mother Esther found out about the visit and didn’t understand how a teacher could be trying to pick up her daughter to take pictures without her knowledge or consent.
She spoke to a San Diego Unified police officer. He told her to look at her daughter’s phone. She wasn’t happy with what she found there. She apologizes for her English, but she communicates just fine. “My daughter has a text with someone called ‘Shark.’ If you’re a good teacher, why would your students call you a Shark?”
Esther says it upset her when she heard about Crawford’s vulgar interaction with a clique of “Mexican girls” at Lincoln he called “BBL.” The meaning of BBL was a secret withheld from outsiders. The only thing everyone agrees on is the L stood for Latinas. Julia texted a friend that Crawford formed them because he thought “we would be something in life with modeling.”
The BBL girls often spent time in Crawford’s class. A public records request for Crawford’s work emails reveal in June 2018 he made a video of BBL girls set to DJ Mustard’s song “Want her.”
Esther took Julia to the office at Lincoln and made sure Shark couldn’t prey on girls there anymore.
She filed a complaint with a school administrator and found out on Facebook that Crawford was suspended October 10, 2018. “Crawford tricked girls into thinking he can make them a star. So he can get them doing things they aren’t supposed to,” Esther says.
“Principal Soto didn’t care”
Sara was going to school every day in distress and had no idea a former student’s mother got Crawford suspended. Six days later Sara reported what Crawford had been doing to her. After Sara talked to Moreno, she says he relayed the report to (then) Principal Jose Soto-Ramos and sent Sara to his office. Moreno expected him to contact the police.
“When he heard why I was there, Soto said, ‘Another one?’ I was only with Soto for like ten minutes.” She says he asked her a couple questions about what happened. “Then he changed the subject. He started talking about irrelevant things like how we are Latinos and we need to move on. Then he sent me back to class. I didn’t want to go back to class, so I was wandering around, and Mr. Moreno found me and brought me back to his office. When he found out Soto didn’t call the police he called them and Child Welfare Services.
“I feel like Principal Soto didn’t care. But Mr. Moreno absolutely took care of me.”
A woman from Child Welfare Services came with a child advocate from San Diego Youth Services. Then a detective from the San Diego Police Department came.
“Pimping and stuff”
Crawford no longer works for San Diego Unified, says their spokesperson. But the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing did not discipline him and his career technical education teaching credential is still active. Sara says she saw a picture of him on social media in a classroom with kids as part of a Read Across America program. In February 2019, Crawford attended a meeting of the Palomar College Graphic Communications Advisory Board, as a member.
According to the police report, the detective asked Crawford if he ever tried to set any of the girls in his class up with his friends for work.
Crawford reportedly asked if he was talking about “pimping and stuff.” The detective had not yet said anything about pimping, according to the report. He denied he was pimping and said he was trying to be a good role model for his students.
When asked if students hung out in his class during his prep period he said, “Hardly ever in the history of life.” When asked about making sexual comments he said, “No, I don’t remember any of that bullshit.”
Several weeks after being suspended Crawford posted a video on Instagram showing a production of Cannon’s new gangster rap song “Solid.” Crawford appears in the video with Cannon and other “NCredible Gang” members.
Pimping comes up a lot with Cannon. A few weeks after Crawford was suspended he addressed the topic in his “spokensundays” lyrical post on Facebook. “I’ve been pimpin’,” it begins.
In 2003, Cannon played the role of the pimp in Gigolo, with R. Kelly, a pop star notorious for sexual escapades with underage girls. In the very first episode of Wild ‘N Out, in 2005, cast member Nyima Funk said to the audience, “Anyone else auditioning to be a Wild ‘N Out girl, please see Nick Cannon later… he needs some more h-es.” Cannon gave a big laugh. In 2016, he partnered with Ty Money on “Jessica.” The song promoted prostitution, drugs, and murder-for-hire.
Ironically, Crawford’s former workplace Palomar College recently produced a documentary about sex trafficking called Shattered Dreams. It points out how sex traffickers use modeling recruitment as a front.
The San Diego Police Department report from their first Crawford investigation contains the testimonies of three underage young women from Lincoln who all say Crawford made numerous sexually obscene comments to them expressing sexual interest in them.
But a City Attorney’s spokesperson said the information in the report did not amount to proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Crawford sexually annoyed a minor. Hence, no prosecution.
One teacher at Lincoln was outraged. “Right after [Sara’s] case the DA [Summer Stephan] and [Superintendent] Cindy Marten came out in the news to announce this camaraderie on human trafficking. It’s right under your nose and you don’t even care. Some staff at Lincoln were like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ They thought it was a big PR stunt.... What the media and law enforcement are saying now is that the #MeToo movement is only ok in Hollywood, but not for young girls in our schools.”
To clarify, it was the Office of City Attorney Mara Elliott, not District Attorney Summer Stephan, who declined to prosecute Crawford. After receiving reports from Sara’s advocates San Diego’s Human Trafficking Task Force and the District Attorney’s Office are now reviewing the case.
On June 12, 2019, San Diego Unified officials arrived at Lincoln and escorted Principal Soto-Ramos and all the vice principals off campus, terminating their positions there. A month later they chose Stephanie Brown, former principal of Linda Vista’s Montgomery Middle School and former teacher at Lincoln, to be the new principal.
On January 10, Cannon went to Instagram after the “media outrage pertaining to R. Kelly” to apologize for his role in the Gigolo video and for how men have treated our “life bearers,” especially those in entertainment. “This entire industry was built and established by evil predatory spirits.” He admitted, “I have personally witnessed it and will no longer be silent about it... I too am a guilty sinner.”
No reply was received from Crawford or Cannon to repeated requests for comment.