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Accused teacher was 'touching the girls,' parents complained

January 24, 2013 |  2:46 pm

The teacher accused of abusing 20 children was known to playfully spank students and inappropriately touch students, according to a school volunteer who said she witnessed and reported some of the inappropriate behavior.

Magdalena Gonzalez said she and other parent volunteers at George de la Torre Jr. Elementary School in Wilmington first complained to the school's then-principal about teacher Robert Pimentel. But Gonzalez said their warnings were not heeded.

Gonzalez, who still volunteers at the school even though her children no longer attend, said the volunteers lodged the complaints with the principal after a friend’s daughter told them Pimentel lightly spanked students.

Some volunteers, including Gonzalez, also saw Pimentel pull on a student’s bra strap during a fifth-grade graduation ceremony, Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said then-principal Irene Hinojosa was dismissive of the complaints and allowed the teacher to stay in the classroom with students during recess and lunch despite their concerns.

“We told her he was touching the girls,” Gonzalez said in Spanish.

After they complained about Pimentel, Hinojosa “would make it hard for us to volunteer,” Gonzalez said.

“She didn’t like the parent volunteers,” Gonzalez said. “She didn’t like the extra eyes.”

Pimentel, 57, was arrested Wednesday by Los Angeles police detectives, who had launched an investigation in March after several fourth-grade girls said they had been inappropriately touched.

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. He was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday afternoon.

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

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy acknowledged Thursday that allegations against Pimentel also arose in 2002 and 2008, but the district has no record that the allegations went beyond the schools where Pimental worked at the time.

School employees are legally required to report allegations of sexual misconduct to police. They also are supposed to report such issues to their supervisors, according to Los Angeles Unified School District policies.

The teacher’s file “contained notations of suspected misconduct along the lines of what he was later charged with, which was inappropriate touching of a student,” Deasy said. “I don’t know the specific nature of the touching.”

In both previous instances, the principal in charge was Irene Hinojosa. The 2002 allegation occurred at Dominguez Elementary. The 2008 alleged incident was at George de la Torre Elementary.

After the school district learned last March of the allegations, Hinojosa and Pimentel were immediately removed from their positions.

Parents of children at the Wilmington school were informed within 72 hours after Pimentel was removed from the campus, and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing was promptly notified, the district said.

District officials prepared a "notice of termination" for Pimentel and the principal, which they had planned to present to the Board of Education in April 2012, Deasy said. But both employees retired before the board meeting.

He said Pimentel and the principal will receive their full pensions because they retired before the district took action against them.

"Can you go back and fire someone who's already retired? No, you can't," Deasy said.

Luis A. Carrillo, an attorney who represented some families involved in lawsuits arising from Miramonte, said Thursday that the district did not have sufficient protections in place for students.

"Because of negligence and lack of protocol we continue to have recurring incidents," he said.

Carrillo also called for Deasy’s resignation, saying the superintendent is "continuing to fail to protect children."


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— Adolfo Flores in Wilmington and Howard Blume and Richard Winton in Los Angeles