The Riverside Unified School District is facing a third lawsuit stemming from the alleged sexual abuse of students under the supervision of a teacher’s aide.
The lawsuit was filed last week on behalf of three girls who attended Liberty Elementary School and were 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 school’s technology lab between 2014 and 2017.
The latest lawsuit follows one filed in April, involving another three girls. The same attorneys also negotiated the terms of a $6.2 million settlement in December 2017 for three other 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 Ronald Labriola.
Labriola said the suit “involves facts and circumstances that are virtually identical to the (prior) cases, all of which reflect an epic failure by the Riverside Unified School District and its administrators to protect children under their care.”
RUSD officials declined to comment directly on the lawsuit, citing privacy and confidentiality concerns. However, in a statement released to City News Service, administrators said they “remain shocked and disappointed that the high standards of and expectations to which we hold our classroom aides were not met by Mr. Figueroa.”
“Although Mr. Figueroa passed a Department of Justice background check, he has cast a dark shadow on the Liberty Elementary School community and the Riverside Unified School District as a whole,” the statement said.
“As an educational institution, we embrace our duty to keep kids safe each day. 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 latest suit was filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court, because at least one of the victims resides in the San Bernardino metropolitan area, according to the plaintiffs.
The suit alleges the 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.
According to the civil complaint, there was no effort by RUSD to examine Figueroa’s “personal and background references,” and there is evidence that he was “allowed to be alone with students … behind closed doors (and often) in classrooms with the lights off.”
As in the other two suits, the attorneys contend RUSD’s background screening is inadequate and should have revealed the defendant’s alleged juvenile record of sexual misconduct.
The complaint alleges that a “number of victims, eyewitnesses and parents reported Figueroa’s alleged sexual misconduct to Liberty teachers and to Principal Esther Garcia before or during the time Figueroa was abusing them. Yet … Garcia and her staff took no action and specifically failed to alert local authorities as required by California’s mandatory child abuse reporting law.”
According to the plaintiffs, 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 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.
Figueroa 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 status conference on Aug. 26.
No hearings are scheduled related to the lawsuit filed in April, also in San Bernardino County Superior Court, or the current one.