Lawyers for a 12-year-old girl talk about her $12.5 million settlement
The city of Sacramento and Sacramento City Unified School District will pay $12.5 million to a girl who was repeatedly molested by an after-school aide at Mark Twain Elementary in 2015, according to Roger A. Dreyer, the victim’s attorney.
City officials agreed Wednesday to pay $7.5 million, while school officials agreed to pay $5 million, Dreyer said. The officials also agreed to a list of changes to the city’s START program to help prevent sexual assault and harassment in the future.
START program leader Joshua Rolando Vasquez repeatedly blindfolded the girl, who was 7 at the time and is now 12, and made her play “games” such as a “whipped cream” game and a “cleaning a toy in a box” game, according to the lawsuit filed in December 2016 in Sacramento Superior Court by the victim’s family.
When the abuse began in 2015, the girl was not enrolled in the START program, Dreyer said. Vasquez was also a school district employee who worked in the cafeteria and as a yard supervisor, Dreyer said.
Vasquez was sentenced in October 2016 to 150 years to life in prison for molesting six girls, ages 7 to 13. Police seized more than 20 videos Vasquez took on a camcorder of his victims, Dreyer said.
The settlement agreement will also require:
▪ Employees in the city’s after-school programs must go through a three-hour-minimum training, in person, multiple times annually.
▪ Managers and supervisors must be trained on how to recognize, address and report conduct that raises a concern.
▪ Updates to the parent handbook to address child abuse issues.
▪ Volunteers will not be allowed to be left alone with a child.
▪ Staff will not be allowed to meet alone with students with the door closed and locked.
The changes will go into effect as soon as feasible and no later than Sept. 1, 2020, the agreement says.
“No amount of money can take back the pain and suffering that Joshua Vasquez inflicted on innocent young children and their families,” school district spokesman Alex Barrios said in a statement. “Our District is committed to doing everything in its power to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again in our schools.”
“Like everyone in our community, we were horrified to learn of the crimes committed by Joshua Vasquez,” city attorney Susana Alcala Wood said in a statement. “This man used a position of trust to prey on innocent children and commit sickening crimes against them. Settling this case before trial was the right thing to do. The victim and her family will not have to relive the trauma suffered, and the City can keep its focus on preventing anything like this from happening again.”
Dreyer commended the city and school district for settling the case out of court. A trial had been scheduled to begin March 11.
“When the time comes when she becomes aware of what actually happened today and not having to go through the trial ... she’s going to realize that people recognized that she was abused and she’s going to realize that she really was a big hero in this and there are going to be some kids ... that are never going to be involved in this environment because this kind of education and training of school staff is going to make a difference,” Dreyer said. “So it’s a huge day.”
Joseph C. George, Jr., who also represented the victim in the case, agreed.
“Today through the courage of a child and the commitment of her family, we took a step toward protecting others,” George said.
The city’s START program provides free after-school services mainly to low-income families.
Vasquez started working part-time for the START program in 2010 at Mark Twain Elementary and was assigned his own classroom at the school in September 2014, the lawsuit said. Vasquez’s classroom was in a detached trailer that locked, which the district no longer uses, Dreyer said. Vasquez was allowed to take students out of class to work on START program activities, and for about five months had no supervisor, Dreyer said.
As a START employee, Vasquez had to undergo fingerprinting and background checks each year, Sacramento Superior Court Judge David I. Brown wrote in a ruling last month. However, the district did not train employees about identifying and responding to “pedophile grooming behaviors,” Brown wrote in his ruling.
The city will pay the victim $2 million while the city’s insurer will pay the remaining $5.5 million, Wood said. The school district’s insurer will pay the entire $5 million district share, a spokesman said.
The settlements still need school board and City Council approval.
Staff reporter Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks contributed to this report.