The 2019-2020 school year was the first in which Arcadia High School fielded an all-girls wrestling team.
Clifford Jason Nafrada, a 45-year-old biology teacher who also coaches boys wrestling at the school, led the effort to organize the team. They began practicing in December, and by March the Lady Titans and Coach Nafrada had already seen some success: Two wrestlers qualified for the state championships. Arcadia News wrote an article about the team’s accomplishments. Five teen girls in red and blue uniforms, their arms around each other, smile broadly in a photo taken by Nafrada.
“The girls have become more of a family than a team in a very short amount of time,” Nafrada told the community newspaper, which covers the well-to-do Arcadia neighborhood in east Phoenix.
In recent weeks, though, Nafrada has been the subject of a different kind of story. On social media, multiple women who claim to be his former students have spoken out to allege misconduct by Nafrada dating back to the years between 2002 and 2006, when Nafrada taught at Bourgade Catholic High School, a small, private Catholic school in Phoenix.
Nafrada has since been placed on leave from his job at the Scottsdale Unified School District, where he has taught since leaving Bourgade in 2006. He is also connected to a police investigation, Phoenix New Times has learned.
Most of the online posts about Nafrada center around his alleged lack of boundaries; former students claim he had a habit of showing up and hanging out with students outside of school, including at parties where students were drinking.
But at least one former student of Nafrada’s alleges more than just the blurring of lines between teacher and pupil.
After learning Nafrada was coaching a girls wrestling team, Désirée, a former Bourgade wrestling team member who asked to only use her first name for this article, reached out to New Times. She said Nafrada forced her to sleep in his bed during a school snowboarding trip, and that she had recently filed reports with the police about it.
"This dude should not have access to his own all-girls wrestling team,” she said. “That's terrifying.”
Reached at his home by New Times, Nafrada said that it was untrue that he made Désirée sleep in his bed, and that he would not answer any further questions.
In the police reports reviewed by New Times, Désirée says Nafrada convinced her mother to let her come on a school snowboarding trip with members of other sports teams, saying he would keep an eye on her. Désirée was a freshman at the time, and a member of the wrestling team. Nafrada was the coach.
That night, she and three male members of the team stayed with Nafrada in Williams, a small town west of Flagstaff. Their motel room was an old train car, she said, with four bunks in one room and a queen-size bed in the other. (Désirée was uncertain of the name of the hotel, but a quick Google search reveals that a motel in Williams called Canyon Motel offers such rooms.)
Désirée told police she was getting ready to go to bed in one of the bunks when Nafrada insisted she sleep in his bed because he had told her mom he would keep an eye on her.
After she got in the bed, Nafrada jumped in bed with her and "put his hands all over her, cuddling her," Désirée later told the Coconino County Sheriff's Department. According to the report, she said Nafrada made comments suggesting he wanted to have sex with her, though not stating it explicitly. Désirée told New Times she remembers Nafrada telling her something along the lines of, "Come on, we'll never have a night like tonight," when she pulled away from him.
Eventually, Nafrada fell asleep with his arm wrapped around her, she told police. While he didn't touch her further, Désirée told New Times that she spent the night laying there in fear that he would until he rolled over at some point in the morning and she was able to get some sleep.
Désirée's cousin, Shawnessi, told New Times she remembers Désirée breaking down in tears after returning from the 2004 trip and recounting the same story she would later tell police. For a few months after, Désirée, usually loud and joking, was quiet and solemn, she said.
"She shut down," Shawnessi said.
Désirée, embarrassed and not wanting to become the center of rumors, didn't report the incident at the time. She stayed on the team for the rest of the year to avoid having to raise issues with her mother. Nafrada was cold to her and would barely acknowledge her existence, she said, a behavior that continued into the next year, when he was her biology teacher.
"I remember thinking I would do anything for him to be nice to me again," Désirée said.
That chance came that winter, she said, when Nafrada showed up at a party that the two cousins were at. He invited people to come with him on an impromptu road trip to Flagstaff. Désirée, Shawnessi, and two other students agreed to go with him.
As Désirée later related to police, Nafrada got them a hotel room and they went in the jacuzzi. Nafrada became touchy, and they eventually became so uncomfortable that they insisted he drive them back to Phoenix, according to Désirée.
Shawnessi said they didn't tell anyone at the time because she didn't want to get in trouble for lying to her parents about where she had been. Nafrada left the school that spring to teach at Saguaro High School, and Désirée said she didn't think about him until someone told her that Nafrada had been invited to her 10-year class reunion this year.
Feeling guilty about not saying anything all those years ago, Désirée confided in an old teacher who connected with a Phoenix Diocese victim advocate, who in turn encouraged her to file the police reports. In January, she told police in Williams about the incident. She filed another report with the Coconino County Sheriff in February.
Records show that a Williams detective closed the case after taking Désirée's statement, writing that no crime had been committed and citing her confusion about the exact location, plus a lack of witnesses. A Coconino County detective noted that a report had already been filed in Williams, before referring the rest of the information to Flagstaff police to follow up on.
That's where things lay until this month, when former students began talking about their experiences with Nafrada on Instagram. At the urging of Shawnessi's sister, Désirée messaged her story to a friend who was sharing accounts on their Instagram page, and at her former teacher's urging she also contacted Bourgade, she said.
Bourgade Director of Advancement Bryan Burgoz provided New Times with a statement saying that the school also became aware of allegations regarding Nafrada on social media in early July. It said the school reported the information to Phoenix police and has been cooperating with them since. Burgoz declined to answer follow-up questions about the circumstances under which Nafrada left the school.
"Please join us in praying for everyone involved," the statement ended.
Shortly after she reached out to Bourgade, Désirée said, she was contacted by a Phoenix detective about what happened to her on the snowboarding trip. A Phoenix police spokesperson confirmed to New Times that they had taken a report from Désirée and that the investigation is still open.
Amy Bolton, Scottsdale Unified School District chief public information and marketing officer, told New Times that officials became aware of the posts earlier this month and immediately placed Nafrada on paid leave pending an investigation. She said she couldn't offer any additional details about the investigation or when it may be complete, but encouraged current or former students to report inappropriate behavior to police or to the district’s human resources department.
Nafrada's Scottsdale personnel file, obtained by New Times through a public records request, doesn't show any issues in his time with the district. Bolton said Nafrada has a valid fingerprint clearance card and there are no allegations of misconduct by school district parents, students or colleagues on file.
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