An after-school aide molested kids. Sacramento school district, city now face civil trial

Sacramento Police Department

A civil lawsuit alleging Sacramento City Unified School District and the city of Sacramento failed to protect a girl from molestation during a city after-school program at Mark Twain Elementary is headed to trial in March.

The girl, who was 7 at the time, was repeatedly blindfolded in 2015 in a classroom and molested by START program leader Joshua Rolando Vasquez through “games” such as a “cleaning a toy in the box game” and a “whipped cream game,” according to the lawsuit filed in December 2016 by the family of the victim.

The lawsuit argued that the district, the city and its employees had a “responsibility and mandatory duty to protect Plaintiff … from harm caused by unfit and dangerous individuals.”

Vasquez was sentenced in October 2016 to 150 years to life in prison for molesting six children, ages 7 to 13.

A separate lawsuit also filed in November 2016 by the family of a 10-year-old abuse victim was dismissed without prejudice to allow the December 2016 lawsuit to “lead” and have the same lawyers represent all plaintiffs, said the filing attorney Stewart Katz.

Whatever happens on this case dictates what happens with the others,” he said.

In the lawsuit now headed to trial, Sacramento Superior Court Judge David I. Brown denied a motion for summary judgment by the district and the school’s principal, Rosario Guillen-Jovel, in a ruling earlier this month

The motion argued that the plaintiff could not show that the district had “actual knowledge of Mr. Vasquez’s propensity to engage in sexual molestation prior to the discovery of his abuse.”

But the judge’s ruling stated that evidence from all parties of the lawsuit show at least once prior complaint about Vasquez giving a child candy and taking the child to a secret place. Guillen-Jovel also testified that she did not inform Vasquez’s START supervisor, Jeanie Warren, human resources or her own supervisor of the complaint.

“The above summary (of the case) demonstrates the existence of triable issues of material fact as to whether Defendants should have known of the risk of sexual abuse posed by Mr. Vasquez and whether they were negligent in failing to take any action with respect to Mr. Vasquez other than simply telling him not to use the candy program anymore,” Brown’s ruling stated.

The school district does not comment on pending litigation, said spokesman Alex Barrios. The city also declined to comment because the case is a matter of pending litigation, said spokesman Tim Swanson.

Hired by program in 2010

Vasquez began working part time as a leader in the city’s Students Today Achieving Results for Tomorrow, or START, program in 2010 at Mark Twain Elementary. The program provides free after-school services, predominantly serving low-income families.

In September 2014, Vasquez was assigned his own classroom at the school with a key to the lock for the after-school program, according to the lawsuit, and worked during recess and in the cafeteria during the day at the school.

As a START program employee, he had to undergo fingerprinting and background checks each year, Brown’s ruling noted. He also participated in mandated reporter/child abuse training, which covers what to do once abuse has occurred or is suspected, and how to report the abuse to authorities. Guillen-Jovel was also up to date on such annual training, the ruling stated.

However, the district did not train employees regarding “identifying pedophile grooming behaviors including how to spot those behaviors, combat those behaviors or respond to them,” Brown wrote in his ruling.

“They do absolutely nothing to change training or protocol” said attorney Roger Dreyer, who is lead trial counsel and will assist the plantiff’s lawyer, Joseph George, who filed the original lawsuit.

Barrios said he could not comment on whether the district has made changes to employee training since the 2015 incidents.

Using a candy reward system to “befriend and groom” children whom he asked to help clean the classroom at the end of each day, Vasquez would later videotape more than 20 childhood sexual abuse crimes involving students, the lawsuit stated.

“Vasquez used his position of authority, his lack of supervision and his considerable time alone with students at Mark Twain Elementary School, to create opportunities to molest students,” the lawsuit said.

In October 2014, a parent of one of the students filed a complaint against Vasquez with Guillen-Jovel, after her daughter told her that Vasquez had given her candy and had “a secret place and a prize box,” the lawsuit stated. Guillen-Jovel later called Vasquez to her office and told him to stop giving candy out to children, according to the lawsuit, and Vasquez also denied the existance of a “secret place.”

Classroom windows covered, lawsuit says

About this time, Vasquez covered the windows of his classroom with black butcher paper for a Halloween haunted house, and left them covered, the ruling stated. He also purchased a Sony Hand Cam, according to the lawsuit.

Around the following spring of 2015, another parent met with Guillen-Jovel after learning Vasquez gave her daughter candy and told her they had a “secret” – that if the student continued to pick up trash, she would get more candy, and if she didn’t tell anyone, she could go to his “secret office” and get a price out of his “secret box,” according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Guillen-Jovel told the mother, “I already told him not to do that.” She then said that Vasquez had done nothing inappropriate and that she would ensure he would stop giving students candy. When the mother learned of Vasquez’s arrest in November 2015, she called the principal to discuss her prior complaint, Guillen-Jovel denied ever having had the conversation, according to the lawsuit.

In her deposition testimony for the case, Guillen-Jovel later acknowledged meeting with the mother but denied that the word “secret” came up. She said that “secret” is a red flag that would warrant further investigation. She also said during her testimony that she remembered once seeing the classroom windows were covered, and though she thought it was odd, she never discussed the issue with Vasquez.

Guillen-Jovel said in her testimony that she did not report the mother’s serious concerns to START supervisor Warren, human resources or her own supervisors.

“The principal admits she’s counseled him in the past about giving kids candy, she knows he has his own classroom and the windows are covered and she does nothing,” Dreyer said.

Brown wrote in his ruling: “While school districts and their employees have never been considered insurers of the physical safety of students, California law has long imposed on school authorities a duty to ‘supervise at all times the conduct of the children on the school grounds and to enforce those rules and regulations necessary to their protection.’”

The trial is scheduled to begin March 11.

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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