Attorneys representing a San Diego High School student who was sexually assaulted by a former teacher over the course of 18 months announced the filing of a lawsuit Monday alleging school officials were warned of the educator’s conduct and did nothing.
A representative of the San Diego Unified School District could not immediately be reached for comment regarding the litigation filed in San Diego County Superior Court.
Former special needs curriculum instructor Juan Carlos Herrera, 49, pleaded guilty earlier this year to 11 felonies, including lewd acts on a child and assault, and was sentenced to 10 years in state prison and ordered to register as a sex offender for life.
Prosecutors said Herrera sexually assaulted the unnamed victim “on almost a daily basis” from January 2018 through May of this year, when the girl was 15 and 16 years old, and threatened to dismember her if she told anyone what was happening.
Plaintiff’s attorney Jessica Pride alleges what happened to her client could have been prevented had San Diego High’s leadership heeded warnings from other teachers and school staff regarding Herrera’s behavior.
Though the girl was not one of Herrera’s students, she attended an after school homework program he ran, according to Pride.
A criminal investigation into Herrera began earlier this year, when the girl’s mother reported finding suspicious and concerning text messages from Herrera on her daughter’s cellphone, SDPD Lt. Carole Beason previously said.
The civil complaint alleges San Diego High School’s principal and vice principal were warned of Herrera’s behavior — which included sexual misconduct toward one of his fellow teachers — about one year prior to his arrest.
In May 2018, a fellow SDHS teacher lodged a sexual harassment complaint against Herrera, in which she said he “had made inappropriate sexual comments to her and had inappropriately touched her,” according to the complaint.
The teacher also reported that Herrera was being inappropriate with students, and said he often had female students alone in his classroom with him and gave them rides after school, according to the suit.
Herrera also regularly signed the victim out of her classes in order to spend time with her off-campus, Pride alleged.
The complaint alleges both the teacher and a campus security guard reported Herrera’s behavior, but no action was taken against him by the school.
Pride said the teen now suffers from “horrible emotional trauma,” including night terrors, anxiety and depression.
At a news conference held outside the downtown San Diego civil courthouse, Pride called on San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan to file criminal charges against the school’s mandatory reporters for allegedly neglecting their duties.
“My client could have been saved (from) over a year of abuse had people done their job,” Pride said.