Santa Margarita fires coaches in pot case

Santa Margarita notified parents Thursday through a letter that it had fired two assistant football coaches who pleaded guilty to a marijuana possession charge during the season. In its letter, the school explained that it didn't have all the facts when it allowed fulltime employee and receivers/defensive backs coach Sean Coen and walk-on receiver coach Robert Hendricks to continue in their role on the team through the season.

In a letter last week to parents, the school had defended its role, citing that the Diocese of Orange had made the determination about whether the men could coach and what punishment they would serve.

Santa Margarita won the Southern Section Pac-5 title as well as the Division I State Bowl game, the latter on Dec. 16.

After the convictions became publicized on Dec. 22, the school launched an internal investigation.

The letter Thursday from Principal Ray Dunne and President Paul Carey revealed a clearer timeline of how much the school knew and when. Basically, Coen and Hendricks were not forthcoming with their situation; they didn't notify head coach Harry Welch, the athletic department or the school of their legal issue. They didn't find out about Coen's involvement until the first week of October, and Hendricks until November.

According to the school's account, on Dec. 14, 2010, police responded to a noise complaint at a residence Coen and Hendricks shared with Charles Spann, a line coach at St. Margaret's. It was then that police discovered a marijuana growing operation in their garage, including a "pay-owe" ledger and a list of marijuana dispensaries. Additionally, there were hundreds of plants, along with five one-gallon bag of dried marijuana that weighed more than a pound. Although they were not arrested at that time, they received letters later saying they were being charged with two felonies, one for cultivating marijuana and the other for having it to sell.

On Sept. 15, 2011, the day that Santa Margarita played its third game, the three men took a plea deal, agreeing to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possessing more than 28.5 grams of marijuana, as well pleading guilty to an infraction for possessing less than 28.5 grams. After 18 months probation, after paying $500 to the Victim Wellness Emergency Fund and serving 90 days in jail -- they instead took an option of participating in a work furlough program instead of going to jail -- they could apply to have the misdemeanor stricken from their record, leaving only the infraction.

Below is the content of the letter:

Dear Parents of SMCHS:

On Friday, 23 December we sent you an email regarding the issue of two SM football coaches who plead guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. The purpose of our contacting you today is found in the final two lines of that email: "This situation remains under review. You can be assured that further appropriate action will be taken by the school as necessary." We have engaged in further inquiry into the circumstances surrounding this situation which included additional interviews with the two coaches and others along with a review of court documents. We would now like to share our findings.

On December 14, 2010 the two coaches, Sean Coen and Robert Hendricks, were living in San Juan Capistrano with a football coach from another high school. On that December day a little over a year ago, sheriff's department officers arrived at the apartment because of a noise complaint. According to information from the Orange County District Attorney's office a marijuana cultivation system was found in the garage along with plants, dried marijuana and a notebook that served as a "pay-owe" ledger listing medical marijuana dispensaries. None of the three were taken into custody that evening but were told that they may be contacted by the Orange County District Attorney's office. They later received a letter informing them that they were being charged with three felonies.

In their first court appearance they pled 'not guilty' and a number of postponements followed. The three men were in court on September 15, 2011 and were offered a plea agreement by the D.A.'s office. The charges would be dropped to misdemeanors and ninety days jail time. At a later appearance the court supported their request to be placed in the work furlough program in lieu of jail time.

On November 14, 2011 they reported to the OC Jail and went through the booking process. After being interviewed they were accepted into a work furlough program and both Mr.Coen and Mr. Hendricks are currently working in two Orange County locations.

There are some very important points that go along with the above information. After sentencing on September 15th, an automatic reporting system first notified the Diocese that there had been court action. On Monday, October 3, 2011 the school was asked to have Mr. Coen report to the Diocese for questioning. The school was instructed to place him on administrative leave while they conducted an investigation. On October 10, 2011 the school received official notification that Coach Coen was permitted to return to his duties. Subsequent notification about Coach Hendricks came on November 4, 2011. Let us assure you that the school did not know anything about this situation until the October date.

A December 12th phone call to Mr. Carey from the District Attorney's office along with subsequent news reports led to an internal investigation and our preliminary email to parents and staff December 23rd. In our internal investigation we found that sound judgment was not exercised by either man in allowing marijuana to be grown in their garage. When one is charged with the responsibility of working with teenagers who are constantly in a society where the temptation of marijuana is prevalent, these coaches had a responsibility to utilize sound judgment. Mr. Coen and Mr. Hendricks had every opportunity prior to and after September 15th to inform their head coach, the athletic administration or the school's administration of the facts surrounding their case and neither did so. Based on the facts we gathered in our investigation the school is immediately terminating both Mr.Coen, who is a full-time employee, and Mr. Hendricks who is a walk-on coach.

The integrity of Santa Margarita Catholic High School and the welfare of our students are of paramount importance to us and we pledge that we will do everything possible to prevent this type of incident from occurring again and we will be vigilant in honoring the trust you have placed in us. We hold our students to high ethical and moral standards and expect the same of our staff. When one is involved in the education of youth there has to be a higher standard to which you are called.

This incident has overshadowed what should be a time of celebration for our school. It is very important that we concentrate on the young men of the 2011 Eagle Varsity football team and remember that they recently completed a truly fantastic season capped by a CIF and State championship. For their hard work and dedication they rightfully should be celebrated. Not only are they outstanding young men but they are excellent examples of the type of students that typify Santa Margarita Catholic High School.

Thank you for choosing Santa Margarita Catholic and entrusting the school with the privilege of providing your sons and daughters a Catholic education. Santa Margarita will continue to remain an institution where character building and moral development are a vital part of the educational experience.


Raymond R. Dunne Principal

Paul Carey President