Christian Youth Theater
Christian Youth Theater sign. Photo via @10News Twitter

A former employee of the El-Cajon based Christian Youth Theater accused of sexually abusing an underage student in the program was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child.

David Hott, 36, is accused of engaging in sex acts with a 13-year-old girl in early 2007, when he was either 19 or 20 years of age.

The alleged victim, who is now 30 years old, testified that at the time, she was a student at Christian Youth Theater while Hott worked as a “director” within the organization.

Hott, who remains out of custody, appeared in court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing to determine whether he would go to trial on the charges.

The theater, founded in 1980, is an after-school theater arts program with affiliates across the nation. The program has come under fire in recent years as former students and employees have alleged various staff members sexually abused underage students, resulting in a lawsuit against the organization and criminal prosecutions against Hott and another former employee.

The alleged victim referred to in court as Jane Doe 1 said she first met Hott at Christian Youth Theater when she was 10 years old and he was either 16 or 17. She said Hott began making sexual comments about her once she reached puberty.

On one occasion when she was 13 years old, he allegedly offered to give her and another girl a ride home from a post-rehearsal dinner. After dropping the other girl off, Hott then drove in the opposite direction from her house, Jane Doe 1 said.

“He said he wanted to spend some alone time with me,” according to Jane Doe 1, who testified that Hott pulled the car onto a random street, fondled her, and told her, “Let’s pretend you’re 17.”

After that, she said he made repeated sexual advances on her over the next two years, culminating with an explicit voicemail message he allegedly sent her when she was 15.

The voicemail was overheard by two of Jane Doe 1’s friends, who advised she notify the police and an adult.

Jane Doe 1’s mother, who worked at CYT at the time, testified that when she heard the voicemail, she “immediately” recognized Hott’s voice. She filed a police report, but ultimately, “There was nothing that came of it, because it was a voicemail.”

At the time, Jane Doe 1 did not disclose the alleged physical acts between herself and Hott to anyone else.

“I kept it all to myself. I didn’t feel like I would be believed,” she testified.

After Jane Doe 1’s mother learned no criminal case would be pursued, she said she brought the voicemail to Paul Russell, then the head of Christian Youth Theater.

She said Russell formulated a plan that would involve prohibiting Hott from teaching or being in any CYT productions for one year, requiring him to write a letter of apology to Jane Doe 1’s parents, and having him attend weekly counseling, though the nature of that counseling was not disclosed in court.

Jane Doe 1’s mother said Hott’s letter expressed that he was “deeply sorry for what he had done” and “apologized for the inappropriateness of his behavior.”

She said, “He could only offer as an explanation that he didn’t see himself as an adult.”

In less than a year, she saw that Hott was involved in another CYT production, she testified.

While both counts Hott faces are associated with Jane Doe 1, the preliminary hearing also featured testimony from another former CYT student who said Hott began exchanging sexual text messages with her beginning when she was 14 years old and Hott was either 20 or 21.

The woman, identified in court as Jane Doe 2, said this occurred on a nightly basis and Hott would regularly suggest driving to her house in the middle of the night and taking her elsewhere so they could have sex. When she was 15 years, he kissed and groped her, she testified.

Along with Hott, another former CYT employee, Brad Christian Davis, was charged with sexually abusing a different girl, who was 16 at the time. He ultimately pleaded guilty to a felony count of sexual penetration by a foreign object, was sentenced to two years of probation and was ordered to register as a sex offender for life.

While prosecutors said the conduct between Davis and the victim stretched from 2009 until 2011, beginning when the victim was 14 and Davis was 26, the statute of limitations prevented additional charges in the case.

Detective Angela Johnson of the San Diego Police Department testified that several other victims came forward with claims against various CYT employees, but the statute of limitations prevented many of those cases from being pursued.

Hott and Davis were charged in 2021, about one year after a flood of allegations appeared on social media alleging sexual abuse by CYT employees.

Protests soon followed, and Christian Youth Theater leadership later announced that several of the theater’s San Diego chapters would be shut down on an indefinite basis.

A civil lawsuit against the organization remains pending, which alleges at least 10 children were sexually abused by six different adults employed by Christian Youth Theater between 1991 and 2011 and accuses CYT leaders of concealing the abuse.

“CYT represented itself as a wholesome, positive Christian organization that parents could trust to provide a safe environment for their children,” the complaint states. “In reality, however, for almost two decades, CYT was not a safe haven for children, but rather a safe harbor for predators.”

City News Service contributed to this article.