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Category: Teacher abuse

L.A. Now Live: Ex-LAUSD teacher accused of abusing 20 children

A former Los Angeles Unified School District teacher was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of committing lewd acts and sexually abusing 20 children and an adult, law enforcement authorities said.

Times staff writer Richard Winton will join L.A. Now Live at 9 a.m. to discuss the allegations against Robert Pimentel, 57, who taught at George de la Torre Jr. Elementary School in Wilmington.

Prosecutors filed 15 charges against Pimentel involving a dozen alleged victims. The charges allege sexual abuse and lewd acts on a child and cover the period from September 2011 to March 2012, according to court records. Authorities said the teacher is suspected of inappropriately touching children under and over their clothing.

Detectives suspect Pimentel victimized an additional eight children and the adult, LAPD Capt. Fabian Lizarraga told The Times.

Wednesday evening, L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy said both Pimentel and the school's principal were immediately removed when the district found out about the allegations in March. Deasy said he removed the principal because he was "dissatisfied" with how the situation was handled at the school.

United Teachers Los Angeles issued a statement saying that union officials were "not familiar with details of the case" and that the accused ex-teacher was no longer a member of the union. The union will not be involved in his defense, the statement said.

"The allegations described are horrific. As teachers we have a duty to uphold the trust our students and their parents place in us," the union said. "We urge our members and the community to cooperate with ongoing law enforcement investigations in this case."

Alleged sexual abuse by ex-teacher 'horrific,' teachers union says

The teachers union in the L.A. Unified School District spoke out on the arrest of a former elementary school instructor accused of sexually abusing 20 children and an adult, calling the alleged acts "horrific."

United Teachers Los Angeles issued a statement saying union officials were "not familiar with details of the case" and that the accused ex-teacher -- identified by authorities as Robert Pimentel, 57, who taught at George De La Torre Jr. Elementary School in Wilmington -- was no longer a member of the union. The union will not be involved in his defense, the statement said.

"The allegations described are horrific. As teachers we have a duty to uphold the trust our students and their parents place in us," the union said. "We urge our members and the community to cooperate with ongoing law enforcement investigations in this case."

Pimentel was arrested Wednesday by Los Angeles Police Department detectives who had launched an investigation in March after several fourth-grade girls said they had been inappropriately touched, authorities said.

Prosecutors filed 15 charges against Pimentel involving a dozen of his alleged victims. The charges involve sexual abuse and lewd acts on a child and cover a period from September 2011 to March 2012, according to court records.

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Teacher accused of lewd acts against 19 students at school

George De La Torre Junior Elementary School in Wilmington

A Los Angeles Unified School District elementary school teacher was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of lewd acts and sexual abuse involving as many as 19 children.

Robert Pimental, 57, a teacher at George de la Torre Jr. Elementary in Wilmington, was taken into custody by the Los Angeles Police Department's juvenile division sex crimes unit.

Prosecutors filed 15 charges against Pimental on Wednesday involving a dozen victims. Detectives also said he victimized another seven children as well as one adult, though no charges have yet be filed in those cases.

Pimental is accused of "committing lewd acts and continual sexual abuse [fondling] of numerous students," said LAPD Capt. Fabian Lizarraga.The accusations date back March 2012.

The teacher was being held on $12-million bail Wednesday.

Last March, the LAUSD replaced the principal of George de la Torre Jr. Elementary shortly after opening an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by what officials at the time would describe only as a "male teacher."

This marks one of the most serious cases of alleged sexual abuse at an LAUSD campus since the high-profile Miramonte Elementary School case last year.

Former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt, 61, faces 23 counts of lewd conduct and is being held in lieu of $23-million bail. He has pleaded not guilty. He has been accused of spoon-feeding his semen to blindfolded children as part of what he allegedly called a tasting game. He’s also accused of putting cockroaches on children's faces and feeding them semen-tainted cookies at the school, which is in Florence-Firestone.

So far, 126 students and 63 parents have filed claims for damages against L.A. Unified. There are also six lawsuits on behalf of 37 students and one involving 11 parents, according to attorneys and district officials.

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Photo: The Wilmington school. Credit: L.A. Times

Ex-Joshua Tree teacher sentenced in child molestation case

A former Joshua Tree first-grade teacher was sentenced Tuesday to 60 years to life in prison for lewd acts with children.

Caleb Douglas Hesse, 52, accepted a plea bargain last month and pleaded guilty to four counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child and one count or oral copulation with a minor under the age of 14, the Sun reported. He was originally charged with 17 sex crimes.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jane Templeton told the newspaper Hesse's charges involved five identified victims. In August, investigators said Hesse admitted he had been molesting boys since the early 1980s and may had done so as recently as a week before his arrest.

"He could have gotten hundreds of years because of the amount of victims and the number of times," Templeton told the Sun.

Hesse was recently a first-grade teacher at Friendly Hills Elementary School in Joshua Tree and also served as a youth volunteer with the Evangelical Free Church in Yucca Valley, officials said. As a church volunteer, he was involved in a number of overnight outings with kids throughout California, according to the sheriff’s department.

Hesse's attorney, Jason Oei, said after Tuesday's sentencing that his client was "very remorseful, very apologetic," the Sun reported.

The judge denied a request by Oei to read a written apology from Hesse during the hearing.

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Ex-Anaheim Hills teacher convicted in lewd conduct case

Joshua EvansA former Anaheim Hills teacher was convicted Thursday of lewd acts with a 14-year-old student.

Joshua Alexander Evans, 33, was charged with kissing the student and embracing her on two occasions, the Orange County district attorney's office said.

"He groomed the victim by sending her texts, emails, and playing a game with her over the cellphone," the district attorney's office said in a statement.

The incidents took place between December 2011 and December 2012, when Evans was an English teacher at El Rancho Charter School. The girl"s mother found out about the contact and alerted authorities.

Evans was sentenced to one year in Orange County jail, three years of formal probation and mandatory lifetime registration as a sex offender, prosecutors said.

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Photo: Joshua Alexander Evans. Credit: Orange County district attorney's office

LAUSD to pay $6.9 million in abuse case; Miramonte could be costly

Photos: Miramonte sex-abuse investigation

As the Los Angeles Unified School District tries to settle claims filed in connection with a teacher who allegedly molested children at Miramonte Elementary School, a jury awarded $6.9 million to another district student in a separate sexual abuse case.

The size of verdict -- among the largest ever awarded in a district molestation case – suggests L.A. Unified could end up paying a large amount of money to wrap up the close to 200 pending legal claims related to the Miramonte teacher.

Lawyers for L.A. Unified recently announced the district intends to settle the Miramonte claims by the end of January. The claims accuse the district of not doing enough to protect students from veteran instructor Mark Berndt, even after fielding complaints about inappropriate conduct at the school.

FULL COVERAGE: Teacher sex-abuse investigations

Berndt, who has been charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct, is accused of spoon-feeding semen to blindfolded children as part of what he allegedly called a tasting game. He's also accused of putting cockroaches on children's faces and feeding them semen-tainted cookies.

Tuesday's judgment centered on whether the district bore responsibility for acts committed by Forrest Stobbe, who molested a fifth-grade student at Queen Anne Place Elementary School over several months. In September 2011, Stobbe pleaded no contest to two counts of a lewd act on a child and to continuous sexual abuse of a child younger than 14. He is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence.

Attorneys for the school system insisted that district staff could not have known what Stobbe was doing. But the plaintiffs argued there were abundant warning signs, including when a girl in Stobbe's class said the teacher had stroked her hair and touched her buttocks.

"Some of the same issues in the Miramonte case are highlighted here," said attorney Don Beck, who represented the student Stobbe molested, "the same lack of monitoring teachers, the same lack of supervision that allowed these events to happen."

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Photo: Attorneys John Manly and Martha Escutia announce new lawsuits related to alleged abuse at Miramonte Elementary School. At right is a poster of teacher Mark Berndt, who has been charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

LAUSD must pay $6.9 million in teacher molestation case

A jury awarded $6.9 million Tuesday to a fifth-grader molested by a teacher in a case that could presage the outcome of more than 100 pending molestation and lewd conduct claims against the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The damages may be the largest ever awarded to a single victim in a molestation or lewd conduct case involving the nation’s second-largest school system.

The litigation arose from the criminal acts of Forrest Stobbe, a veteran teacher at Queen Anne Elementary School in the Mid-Wilshire district. In September 2011, Stobbe pleaded no contest to two counts of a lewd act on a child and to continuous sexual abuse of a child younger than 14.

Stobbe molested the 10-year-old while the boy was his student, beginning in October 2008 and running through the following July, when he was arrested.

In the civil litigation the defendant was L.A. Unified and the case turned on how much responsibility the school system bore for what happened. Stobbe had a clean record, but there were previous complaints and incidents that allegedly foreshadowed the later molestation.

The principal and other employees had warnings that something was amiss and could have taken action that would have prevented or limited the abuse, said attorneys for the family.

Attorneys for the school system painted a different picture. They did not question that the young victim suffered a horrible ordeal. But they insisted that the district was not to blame because there was no credible evidence, known to the district, that Stobbe posed a threat to children. Moreover, the district argued, its staff had acted in a professional and appropriate manner.

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Miramonte lewd conduct lawsuits can proceed

An L.A. County Superior Court judge on Thursday lifted a stay on lawsuits arising from alleged lewd conduct at Miramonte Elementary School.

The order, by Judge Malcolm Mackey, allows attorneys representing students and parents to proceed formally with their lawsuits. Up until Thursday, some cases had been on hold during attempts to reach an early, negotiated resolution.

But talks have been fruitless, attorney Luis Carrillo argued in papers submitted to the court. He said the Los Angeles Unified School District has been slow to make offers and that they're unrealistically low.

In lifting the stay, Mackey also directed all parties to continue mediation.

Former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt, 61, faces 23 counts of lewd conduct and is being held in lieu of $23-million bail. He has pleaded not guilty. He has been accused of spoon-feeding his semen to blindfolded children as part of what he allegedly called a tasting game. He’s also accused of putting cockroaches on children's faces and feeding them semen-tainted cookies at the school, which is located in Florence-Firestone.

So far, 126 students and 63 parents have filed claims for damages against L.A. Unified. There are also six lawsuits on behalf of 37 students and one involving 11 parents, according to attorneys and district officials.

“We’re still pursuing an early resolution,” said Sean Rossall, a spokesman for L.A. Unified. “We feel it’s in the best interests of the children and the families. We want to avoid going through a lengthy litigation process.”

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Budget cuts forcing court closures in San Bernardino County

San Bernardino County Superior Court, Big Bear courthouseFacing $22 million in state funding cuts, the San Bernardino County Superior Court plans to shut down courthouses in Needles, Big Bear and Barstow – meaning people living in the high desert could be a three-hour drive from the nearest courthouse.

Presiding Judge Marsha G. Slough said she had little choice given the budget cuts. Even with those courts shuttered, the court still expects to face a $13 million budget shortfall next year.

“Our Court has been operating on a shoestring budget for many years. Now the state is taking away the shoe strings,’’ Judge Larry Allen, the court’s assistant presiding judge, said in a statement released Tuesday.

San Bernardino is the largest county in the contiguous United States, covering more than 20,000 square miles. Victorville will be the closest courthouse to most people now living in the high desert, a a 175-mile drive from Needles and an even longer haul for folks living off the beaten path.

Court officials said San Bernardino also faces the largest shortfall in judges of any county in California, triggering massive caseloads for judges and a growing backlog of cases. Based on a state judicial needs study, the county of more than 2 million should have 156 judges and court
commissioners, they said. Currently, the county has 91.

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Photo: San Bernardino County Superior Court, Big Bear courthouse. Source: San Bernardino County Superior Court.

L.A. Unified aims to settle Miramonte lawsuits by end of January

PHOTOS: Parent uproar over sex-abuse claims

Lawyers for the Los Angeles Unified School District announced Thursday that by the end of January the district intends to settle 189 legal claims filed in connection with lewd-conduct charges against a former teacher at Miramonte Elementary School.

District officials said former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso is overseeing the mediation process between the district and 16 law firms that represent 126 students, parents, relatives and guardians. The claims accuse the district of not doing enough to protect students from veteran instructor Mark Berndt, even after fielding complaints about inappropriate conduct at the school.

Settlements would be paid for out of the district’s liability fund and possibly in part by an insurance policy.

PHOTOS: Parent uproar over sex-abuse claims

The mediation process, which district officials say was developed in collaboration with attorneys representing those who filed claims and lawsuits, is intended to avoid forcing the children into a likely lengthy court proceeding, said L.A. Unified general counsel Dave Holmquist.

All sides worked to “develop a process that respects the privacy of students, treats them with respect and protects them from having to go out in court and testify,” he said.

All have agreed to take part in the mediation process except attorneys who filed suits earlier this week.

FULL COVERAGE: Teacher sex-abuse investigations

That litigation ­­ — four lawsuits filed Monday by the firm Manly & Stewart — accuses the district of failing to protect students from the veteran teacher, among other allegations. The two lawyers representing the students, John Manly and former state Sen. Martha Escutia, have refused to participate in the negotiations.

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About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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