The Riverside Unified School District is facing a fifth lawsuit stemming from the sexual abuse of children at an elementary school, for which a 27-year-old instructional aide was sentenced to 20 years to life in state prison, it was announced Wednesday.
“We’re seeking damages in excess of what we have asked previously,” attorney Saul Wolf, who is representing the two plaintiffs, told City News Service. “The abuse was as bad or worse than what happened to the other victims. And because we believe there was a cover-up by the school district, we can ask for a higher damage award.”
The victims, identified in court documents only as “Jane Doe LHE” and “Jane Doe LGD,” were among the 11 children referenced in a grand jury indictment handed down against Fernando Figueroa in 2017.
Wolf and the Irvine-based law firm Manly, Stewart, Finaldi have been involved in four prior civil actions against the RUSD, only one of which has been settled — for $6.2 million in December 2017. Two other suits were consolidated into one, and with the latest civil complaint, there are now three suits remaining, all in San Bernardino County Superior Court.
Wolf said the decision to file there was based on the residency of one of the defendants, who include Liberty Elementary School teachers and the principal, Esther Garcia, as well as assorted unnamed co-defendants.
RUSD officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Officials have declined to address the specific allegations listed in any of the suits. However, last August, the district released a statement to City News Service saying RUSD administrators “remain shocked and disappointed that the high standards of and expectations to which we hold our classroom aides were not met.”
Figueroa pleaded guilty last year to three counts of lewd acts on a child, under a plea agreement with the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, which dropped 22 related felony charges in exchange for his admissions.
During the sentencing hearing, one victim, identified only as “C.S.,” described how the defendant would find a reason to have her sit close to him as he monitored a technology lab at Liberty.
“He rubbed all the way up between my legs,” the girl said. “Another time, he made me sit on his lap, and he rubbed my stomach.”
According to Wolf, the current suit involving the two girls involved similar abuse, but more intense, including digital penetration of the children’s privates on several occasions.
LHE and LGD were 9 and 8 years old at the time, respectively, according to the civil complaint. Like the other victims, they were participating in an after-school program called “HEARTS.”
Wolf said the victims’ families came forward after learning about the other suits, and they soon retained the law firm.
All of the victims were girls, ages 8 to 11 years old, in grades 2 to 5. Court papers state that Figueroa routinely hugged the students, and when no supervisors were present, he openly groped them, under and over their clothing.
According to Wolf, victims’ families complained to Liberty Elementary School staff, without any resolution, and Figueroa remained employed.
“It is abundantly clear that the corrupt culture at the highest levels of RUSD and Liberty Elementary School allowed a serial predator to run amok at an elementary school and molest vulnerable children at will,” the attorney said. “We have been successful in achieving a measure of justice for some of Figueroa’s young victims. These latest victims should also be entitled to justice and healing.”