Paly teacher sentenced to prison for sex crimes

Ronnie Farrell to serve two years and eight months in state prison, with no probation

Former Palo Alto High School teacher Ronnie Farrell was sentenced on Thursday morning in Palo Alto to two years and eight months in state prison for committing sex crimes against a minor on campus last summer.

His attorneys and the prosecution reached a modified plea agreement in January, when Farrell pleaded no contest and agreed to what is called a "five-year state prison top," meaning that he could receive a sentence of up to five years in the state prison.

Farrell, 47, pleaded no contest to four counts of committing a lewd or lascivious act on a child age 14 or 15 and a separate sexual-battery charge, according to court documents. He was arrested last June after a female student, who had been in Farrell's biology class that school year, reported to the police that he had inappropriately touched her in his classroom. The student was 15 years old at the time and had just completed her freshman year at Paly, according to police.

On Thursday, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Vincent Chiarello said the defense and prosecution agreed on a fixed sentence of two years and eight months instead of the five-year maximum. (Two years were attached to the first count Farrell was charged with and eight months to the sexual-battery charge.)

Chiarello also gave Farrell three one-year sentences for each of the remaining charges, to be served concurrently within the fixed sentence.

Chiarello denied Farrell probation, and said he will be placed on parole or supervision after his release from prison.

This went against the position of the probation department, which recommended three year's probation and a maximum sentence in county jail rather than prison for Farrell, according to court documents obtained by the Weekly.

In a report, the probation officer cites his "lack of prior similar conduct, an early plea, expressed remorse and full acceptance of culpability" as reasons for the lesser sentence. The officer also recommended Farrell register as a sexual offender and undergo treatment. An assessment found Farrell to be at low risk for committing another sexual offense.

The only aggravating factor, the probation officer said, was a "grave violation of his position of trust."

While compared with other similar cases Farrell's "could be considered less serious based on the defendant's actual conduct ... as he held a supposed trusted position in the young victim's life, and took advantage of and exploited that position of trust, this officer finds reason for serious consequences," the probation report states.

In the probation report, Farrell cites drug use and family and work stressors as reasons for his behavior, which he fully admitted to.

"None of this is her fault. This is me," he told the probation officer in an interview in February. "I was a trusted adult and what I did, I'm eternally ashamed and embarrassed of."

Farrell has been in custody since his last court appearance on March 9.

The female student and her family have not requested restitution at this time, Chiarello said, but if she does in the future — for therapy expenses, for example — a hearing will be held to determine the amount.

A representative from the district attorney's office read a statement on behalf of the student at the March 9 hearing. She described how she has experienced nightmares, flashbacks, paranoia and depression since last summer, and her difficulty returning to school this year.

On Thursday, Chiarello put in place a 10-year protective order prohibiting contact between Farrell and the student. He also said visitation in prison is prohibited.

Farrell officially resigned from his teaching position the same day he pleaded no contest, according to Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Max McGee. Farrell had been on unpaid leave since his arrest.

Farrell had taught biology and chemistry at Paly since 2012 — his first teaching job, according to the district. He was made a permanent staff member in the 2014-15 school year.

After his arrest, McGee said the district had not received any previous complaints about Farrell nor any indication that he engaged in this kind of behavior.


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4 people like this
Posted by Unofficial
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 27, 2017 at 3:26 pm

Good luck putting your lift back together Ronnie

5 people like this
Posted by whippe-rsnapper
a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2017 at 3:10 pm

This is so upsetting for everyone involved. I hope that after the next two and a half years Ronnie can somehow put his life back together and move on. He's not a bad guy, he just made a REALLY stupid move.

27 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2017 at 4:56 pm

pearl is a registered user.

"...his...expressed remorse and full acceptance of culpability".... They all "get religion" when they get their arse in a sling. Pedophilia is a "sickness" that can never be cured. He needs to register as a "Sex Offender" and stay away from kids.

9 people like this
Posted by We are all humans
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 28, 2017 at 5:10 pm

He made a horrible mistake. Does anyone think that 2 years in PRISON is not a bit harsh? Jesus. Put down the pitchforks and torches and see what students and people who actually KNOW him have to say. Web Link

I hope to God that Chiarello has never done anything near the same, as he sits on judgement and puts out harsher sentences than what even the PROBATION department suggests.

8 people like this
Posted by Judges are not politicians remember
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 28, 2017 at 5:18 pm

So Chiarello was the one who replaced Persky after Persky gave what was considered to be too light of a sentence to Brock Turner. Hmm. Sounds like overcompensation for political causes, no? And many different stories says he is "Federal Bench Bound". Yeah, I see now why this guy gets 2 years of hard time in PRISON. Great job, Chiarello.

45 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 28, 2017 at 5:26 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

"horrible mistake" is now a legit euphemism for "four counts of committing a lewd or lascivious act on a child age 14 or 15 and a separate sexual-battery charge"?? 2 years in prison is shockingly lenient, especially for a teacher using their authority to sexually abuse students.

57 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2017 at 6:55 pm

"A representative from the district attorney's office read a statement on behalf of the student at the March 9 hearing. She described how she has experienced nightmares, flashbacks, paranoia and depression since last summer, and her difficulty returning to school this year."

This child was 14/15 years old. She will NEVER be the same. I hope she can put HER life back together over the next 2+ years while her mind and body are still developing, while she manages all the pressures and insecurities of teenhood.

This was NOT a "Mistake!" This was a WEAK and SELFISH act of an adult man. He deliberately put himself and his desires before all others and clearly returned to the school with the intent to act on his manipulations. He used our school and his position to meet his needs and was caught.

This could of easily been my daughter, my son anyone of these kids in our community who entrust us each and everyday.

His remorse will never change the damage he has done for this child, the parents in the community and the dedication and work all the great teachers of paly do.

[Portion removed.] He hid behind his family, job title and position and took full advantage of the vulnerability of one young girl who walked the same halls of my daughter, my son / the punishment will never recover the innocence lost!

20 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2017 at 7:02 pm

pearl is a registered user.

Palo Alto Mom -

Well said, thanks for posting your comment. You portray the situation exactly as it is!!!


43 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 28, 2017 at 7:11 pm

To those men who make light of this, you haven't gotten the message: this IS serious. This was an adult - an adult TEACHER - sexually assaulting a minor. It IS sexual assault. It is NOT ok to touch her sexually and direct her to touch "you" sexually -- AT ALL. It is a power play of authority, and the girl deserves respect and support.
This crime should not be minimized.

Like this comment
Posted by Hall Monitor
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 28, 2017 at 10:07 pm

[Post removed.]

16 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 29, 2017 at 8:17 am

After the Rape Culture article, the Winston cover-up and a few other sexual misconduct cases, I worry that Paly had become an easy target. Attracting the very behavior we don't want. A mental health crisis with lots of vulnerable students attracts people who prey on children.

This sentence could be stronger.

We need to start sending a message that this behavior will NOT be tolerated in this town any more. Sadly the prior board failed to send such a message. I'm glad the judge did!!!

20 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Stanford
on May 1, 2017 at 6:57 pm

[Post removed.]

26 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 2, 2017 at 9:26 am

This girl and this family are heroes and I am thankful they had the courage and strength to do the right thing!!
We are all so lucky to have him gone away from our daughters and I for one am indebted to this wonderful family.

Many such criminals are "nice" or charismatic and that is how they can prey on children so please stop saying this guy was nice, that is so insulting to this family.

9 people like this
Posted by Insider Info
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 2, 2017 at 3:32 pm

[Portion removed.]

Young people are like wet cement, and the traumatic things that happen to them leave deep imprints and scars that may never go away. They do not have the ability to shake things off and deal with trauma as more hardened adults do.

Such a light sentence is a slap in the face to young victims of molestation everywhere. [Portion removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Monroe Park
on May 2, 2017 at 6:34 pm

Wooooow. The person who wrote that two yrs is to harsh.????? You are whats wrong with this world. This is a serious crime. SHAME ON YOU...

4 people like this
Posted by Current PALY student
a resident of Professorville
on May 5, 2017 at 2:34 am

Mr. Farrell was a great person at school and it was really shocking to see this on the news this past summer. I hope that the families of both Mr. Farrell and my former peer's family will be able to heal over time. I wish to see Mr. Farrell regain his dignity and his fun-loving personality while taking time off.

Looking forward to future where I will be able to re-respect you, Mr. Farrell!

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