The Riverside Unified School District reached a $6.2 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by the families of three girls allegedly molested by a teacher’s aide at Liberty Elementary School, their lawyers announced Monday.
Attorneys for the girls — identified in court documents only as Jane Does 1, 2 and 3 — said that after two mediation sessions, a settlement was negotiated that both sides accepted. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Sunshine Sykes is expected to certify the settlement and close the civil case in the next four months.
“There were complaints about this teacher’s aide that RUSD officials ignored,” plaintiff’s attorney Saul Wolf told City News Service.
“There was a concerted plan to cover up the fact they had turned a blind eye to what was going on,” he alleged. “I think it’s horrific.”
RUSD officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit on behalf of the three girls, as well as their parents and guardians, was filed in October 2017, eight months after multiple lewd acts charges were brought against 26-year-old Fernando Figueroa, who worked at Liberty Elementary as a technology aide in after-school programs.
In October, a grand jury handed down an indictment that superseded the district attorney’s original complaint, listing a total of 25 felony counts. Eight additional alleged victims, all Jane Does, were named in the indictment, which involves offenses that allegedly occurred between August 2014 and February 2017.
Figueroa pleaded not guilty to the new allegationslast Friday. He’s being held in lieu of $3 million bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning and is scheduled to make his next court appearance in Riverside on Dec. 28. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
The plaintiffs in the civil action alleged that the defendant sexually assaulted the original three girls, ages 8-11, while supervising them alone in the school’s technology lab.
The assaults began with fondling their privates and, in at least one instance, escalated to forced digital penetration on the campus, according to their attorneys, who further allege that RUSD hired Figueroa despite confirmation he had a juvenile record for sexual misconduct.
Wolf and his co-counsel, Thomas Moore, allege they uncovered evidence that after the lawsuit was filed, there was a systematic effort by RUSD employees to conceal or destroy evidence proving that students had complained about Figueroa groping them, without any known disciplinary action.
“In a sworn deposition, school psychologist Sheila Eiden-Assumma testified that she had destroyed all of her notes containing statements of children alleging abuse by Figueroa, despite an ongoing police investigation and civil litigation,” according to a joint statement by Wolf and Moore.
“In another deposition, RUSD employee Tuesday Rammuni disclosed a scheme by herself and Liberty Elementary Principal Esther Garcia to create records reflecting that Figueroa was supervised as required,” they allege. “In truth, despite being a non-credentialed staff member, Figueroa was illegally left alone with students for at least two hours a day.”
The attorneys said they’ve filed formal complaints against the RUSD with the California Department of Education, the California Department of Justice and the Riverside Police Department.
“This settlement is an important first step, and we sincerely hope the school district intends to expeditiously resolve the claims of additional victims without resorting to costly and unnecessary litigation,” Moore said.
Riverside police detectives were alerted to a possible assault in the technology lab at Liberty Elementary in early February 2017 and interviewed witnesses and the alleged victims.
On Feb. 16, 2017, a search warrant was obtained and served at the defendant’s residence in the 5000 block of La Sierra Avenue, after which he was arrested without incident.
Figueroa was a “dual employee” of the school district and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Redlands-Riverside.
The club’s chief executive officer, P.T. McEwen, told City News Service at the time that Figueroa worked in the organization as a “youth development professional,” and had been in that position for three years, “working directly with kids.”
McEwen emphasized that Figueroa underwent a background check prior to being hired.
He has no documented prior felony convictions in adult court.