Eric Ernest Echols, a former Prairie Elementary School teacher’s aide, is facing 11 years in state prison after pleading no contest Thursday to seven counts of molesting six schoolchildren.
Echols, 30, was arrested in September 2016 after a two-month investigation into allegations that he had inappropriate contact with girls ages 7 and 8 who attended the Sacramento school.
An employee at the school reported the misconduct to Elk Grove Unified officials that July and Echols was put on paid administrative leave, according to district officials.
On Thursday, before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Sweet, prosecutors said Echols had touched the genitalia of some of his victims under their clothing including one he made sit on his lap as children played a board game.
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Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Brian Morgan said each child who came forward was represented in the plea in an agreement that protected the children from facing their alleged attacker at trial.
The seven counts include six for felony lewd and lascivious acts against a child younger than 14 – violent felonies in California. With the plea, Echols faces a strike and must register as a sex offender. The seventh count, a misdemeanor, is for annoying or molesting a minor.
Echols’ sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 21 in Sacramento Superior Court. He remains in Sacramento County custody pending the December date.
School district officials said Echols was hired in August 2014 and was a substitute teacher’s aide at other schools in the district.
Elk Grove Unified, the area’s largest school district with 63,000 students, has had seven employees arrested for inappropriate or sexual acts involving minors since last year:
▪ On Sept. 25, Monte Antonio Reed, 40, a former Cosumnes Oaks High School geography teacher, was arrested in Long Beach for allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old student who attended the Elk Grove school and for allegedly molesting two other teens. Reed had been under investigation since April 19. His next court date is Nov. 6.
▪ On Sept. 12, John “Juan” Richard Young, 53, a former Sheldon High School teacher, pleaded no contest to committing a sexual act with a student at the campus in Sacramento County. He faces up to three years in prison. Young’s inappropriate relationship with the 17-year-old student was discovered when the victim’s family found text messages between the teacher and the teen, according to the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office. Young, who taught Spanish at Sheldon, was arrested at his home in May. Sentencing is set for Oct. 30.
▪ On Feb. 24, Christopher Aurelio Navarrete, 35, of Sacramento, a crossing guard at Marion Mix Elementary School in Elk Grove, was arrested on the job. He is accused of three counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child. The victim was a 14-year-old who was not a student at the school, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Navarrete is being held at the Sacramento County Main Jail without bail because there is cause to suspect that bail money may come from criminal activity, according to Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department records. His next appearance in court is Nov. 26.
▪ In December 2016, Christopher C. Kinney, 30, an Elk Grove resident and volunteer at Prairie Elementary School, was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to produce child pornography. The alleged crime did not involve students at the school. Kinney’s case is being heard in San Francisco federal court.
▪ In April 2016, Rudolph Robert Buehler, 36, a teacher at Florin High School in Sacramento, was arrested for sexual battery of a student. Buehler pleaded no contest on July 18, 2016, to annoying a child, a misdemeanor, and had two misdemeanor charges of sexual battery dismissed. He was sentenced to three years of informal probation.
▪ In March 2016, Sheldon High School physical education teacher John Misplay, 43, was arrested for engaging in inappropriate communications with two 17-year-old students. In February, he was sentenced to 120 days in jail and five years’ probation for statutory rape.
All of the school employees arrested or under investigation were fingerprinted and passed a Department of Justice background check before they were hired, Elk Grove Unified spokeswoman Xanthi Pinkerton said in May.