The Riverside Unified School District is facing a second lawsuit stemming from the alleged sexual abuse of students under the supervision of a teacher’s aide.
The pending litigation follows a $6.2 million settlement in December between RUSD and three victims allegedly molested by 26-year-old Fernando Figueroa, who was indicted in 2017 on 25 counts of lewd acts on a child. A total of 11 alleged victims were listed in the grand jury indictment.
Figueroa worked in the technology lab of Liberty Elementary School between 2014 and 2017.
The current civil action involves three girls, represented by the same law firm that negotiated the terms of the prior settlement for another three girls, all of whom were between 8 and 11 years old when they were victimized and are identified in court documents as Jane Does, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Morgan Stewart.
“During this new litigation, we will be focusing on the upper echelon of RUSD administrators, including the school board itself, to determine the causes of what appears to have been a broken and corrupt system of checks and balances, which continues to threaten the safety of children throughout the district,” Stewart said.
RUSD officials declined to comment directly on the lawsuit, citing privacy and confidentiality concerns. However, in a statement released late in the afternoon, the district responded that a “part-time employee, who passed a background check, has cast a shadow on the Liberty Elementary School community and the school district as a whole.”
“As an educational institution, we embrace our duty to keep kids safe each day, and we are committed to supporting all of our students, parents and staff members, including the victims and their families, as the process moves forward,” the statement says.
The latest suit was filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court, because one of the victims resides in the San Bernardino metropolitan area, plaintiffs’ co-counsel Stu Mollrich told City News Service.
According to Stewart, after the prior case was settled, he sought to resolve the pending three claims. The RUSD showed no interest in a resolution, he alleged.
The suit alleges the school district failed to properly supervise Figueroa during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years, giving him a free hand to interact with the children however he chose.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys allege that when the victims, witnesses and parents came forward with concerns about Figueroa’s conduct, Principal Esther Garcia and her staff “took no action” and failed “to alert local authorities as required by California’s mandatory child abuse reporting law.”
As in the previous lawsuit, the attorneys contend RUSD’s background screening is inadequate and should have revealed the defendant’s alleged juvenile record of sexual misconduct.
“We are ready and willing to take the new case to trial to allow citizens, many of whom are parents or grandparents, to judge for themselves RUSD’s conduct in failing to prevent these horrendous acts,” Stewart said.
According to the civil complaint, the alleged assaults began with fondling the girls’ privates and, in at least one instance, escalated to forced digital penetration on the Liberty campus.
Riverside police detectives were alerted to a possible assault at the school in early February 2017.
On Feb. 16, a search warrant was served at the defendant’s residence in the 5000 block of La Sierra Avenue, and 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 CNS 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.
The defendant has no documented prior felony convictions in adult court.
He’s being held in lieu of $3 million bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning and is scheduled to appear in the Riverside Hall of Justice for a pretrial conference on May 24.
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