A 27-year-old Riverside Unified School District teacher’s aide who sexually abused multiple children over several years is slated to be sentenced Friday to 15 years to life in state prison.
Fernando Figueroa pleaded guilty on Nov. 15 to three counts of lewd acts on a child under 14 years old, and in exchange for his admissions, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office agreed to drop 22 related counts.
Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Prevost is slated to impose the sentence stipulated by the prosecution and defense during a hearing at the Riverside Hall of Justice. Figueroa is being held without bail at the adjacent Robert Presley Jail.
The defendant was indicted in 2017 on 25 sexual assault-related counts connected to 11 victims. The offenses occurred between 2014 and 2017.
Three civil suits have been filed against RUSD stemming from the defendant’s actions — and what the plaintiffs’ attorneys argue were blatant failures on the part of school district administrators to prevent them.
The same Irvine-based law firm, Morgan Stewart, has been involved in the lawsuits, one of which was settled in December 2017 for $6.2 million, paid by the school district’s insurers. The remaining suits are being heard in San Bernardino County Superior Court because several plaintiffs reside in that county, according to their attorneys.
Figueroa worked at the Liberty Elementary School technology lab, and he had illicit contact with the victims during instructional sessions, sometimes carried out with only him and the child in a room — with the lights out — according to the civil complaints.
All of the children were girls, ages 8 to 11 years old, in grades 2 to 5.
According to the plaintiffs, the assaults began with fondling of the girls’ privates and, in at least one instance, escalated to forced digital penetration on the Liberty campus.
Court papers state that Figueroa routinely hugged the students, and when no supervisors were present, he openly groped them.
According to the civil complaint filed in August, there was no effort by RUSD to examine Figueroa’s “personal and background references,” which would have revealed the defendant’s alleged juvenile record of sexual abuse.
The complaint stated 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.”
RUSD officials have declined to comment directly on the suits, citing privacy and confidentiality concerns. However, in a statement released to City News Service in August, 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.”
Riverside police detectives were alerted to an assault at the Liberty campus 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, where he was arrested.
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.
In addition to the prison term, the plea agreement stipulates that Figueroa register for life as a convicted sex offender in California, preventing him from working around children if and when he’s paroled.