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DA had chance to nab fugitive teacher accused of sex crimes

February 25, 2012 |  7:56 am

George Hernandez booking photoNew questions have emerged over the Los Angeles County district attorney's office's handling of a substitute teacher wanted for alleged sex crimes.

The teacher, George Hernandez, was arrested by Huntington Park police in September 2010 for allegedly exposing himself to a girl outside a middle school. Detectives who searched his Inglewood apartment discovered a videotape they say shows Hernandez molesting a second-grader in a classroom. He was released on bail and fled the country.

Court records reviewed by The Times show prosecutors chose not to seek the extradition of Hernandez even when they learned of his whereabouts in Mexico.

The records contradict statements made this week by a deputy district attorney, who said the teacher would be extradited as soon as authorities could locate him.

An investigator working for a bail bonds company found Hernandez early last year, and Jalisco, Mexico, state police briefly detained him on Jan. 19, 2011. In a letter faxed nine days later, the company informed the district attorney that it was continuing to track Hernandez and could help apprehend him.

But on March 15, Deputy Dist. Atty. Ann Huntsman responded saying prosecutors did not want to bring him back to Los Angeles.

"We have evaluated the case and have determined that we will not seek the defendant's international extradition from Mexico on this case at this time," Huntsman wrote. "The case will remain open and the defendant is still subject to prosecution in this case."

The revelation comes in a case that has focused attention on how schools can fail to weed out dangerous teachers. Before his arrest, Hernandez had been investigated three times at three L.A. Unified School District elementary schools for alleged sexual misconduct. He was never charged and apparently never reported to the state commission on teacher credentialing.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said the decision came after consultation with U.S. Justice Department officials, who said success was far from guaranteed.

Prosecutors also considered the fact that Hernandez, now 45, had no criminal record and that the charges they had filed against him — possession of child pornography and indecent exposure — fell short of child molestation, Gibbons said.

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-- Alan Zarembo and Richard Winton

Photo: George Hernandez. Credit: Huntington Park Police Department

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