A new lawsuit has been filed against the Riverside Unified School District on behalf of two more girls who allege they were sexually abused by a Liberty Elementary School technology aide over more than two years.
Fernando Figueroa, is suspected of inappropriately touching students at Liberty Elementary School in Riverside. (Courtesy of Riverside Police Department)
In addition to aide Fernando Figueroa and the district, the suit filed last week also names as defendants Liberty Elementary Principal Esther Garcia; Gary McGuire, the district’s director of pupil services; and teachers Tuesday Ramunni and Ashlea Infante.
The complaint seeks unspecified damages.
Aide ‘cast a dark shadow’
Justin Grayson, a spokesman for the Riverside school district, did not specifically address the lawsuit’s allegations in a statement Monday.
“We remain shocked and disappointed that the high standards and expectations to which we hold our classroom aides were not met by Mr. Figueroa,” he said. “Although Mr. Figueroa had passed a Department of Justice background check, he has cast a dark shadow on the Liberty Elementary School community and the Riverside Unified School District as a whole.
“As an educational institution, we embrace our duty to keep kids safe each day. We are committed to supporting all of our students, parents and staff members, including the victims and their families, as the process moves forward.”
The victims in the latest lawsuit, who attended Liberty Elementary from 2015 to 2017, were 8 years old when they first were allegedly molested by Figueroa, 26. Another lawsuit was filed in April against the school district and the same defendants on behalf of three other alleged victims. That suit is still pending.
$6.2 million payout already
The Riverside school district agreed to pay $6.2 million in November to settle another lawsuit on behalf of three other victims and their parents who also accused Figueroa of abuse.
In November, a grand jury indicted Figueroa on 25 felony counts, including lewd acts with a child under 14 and oral copulation or sexual penetration with a child under 10. He being held in the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning and faces up to life in prison if convicted on all charges.
The latest suit alleges that Riverside school district officials negligently hired and then failed to monitor and supervise Figueroa, giving him unfettered access to the victims.
It also contends that several victims, eyewitnesses and parents reported Figueroa’s misconduct to Garcia before or during the time he allegedly was engaging in abuse. The suit also alleges Garcia and her staff failed to take action or alert authorities as required by California’s mandatory reporting law.
Lawsuit: “Epic failure’ to protect kids
The lawsuit represents an “epic failure” by the Riverside school district to protect the victims, said Ronald Labriola, an attorney with The Senators Firm, which is representing the victims.
The district also is accused of falsifying records showing Figueroa was being supervised by a credentialed teacher, when, in fact, he wasn’t.
“This lawsuit represents a continuing pattern of abuse and disregard of the civil rights of students and families who are overwhelmingly poor and Latino.” said Morgan Stewart, a partner in the law firm of Manly, Stewart & Finaldi that also is representing victims.
The Riverside Unified School District and several of its employees have been reported to the state attorney general, the California Department of Education, the Riverside Police Department, and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing for falsifying records and child endangerment, said Saul E. Wolf, a senior attorney with Manly, Stewart & Finaldi.