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Third Lawsuit Against Riverside School District Alleges Principal, Staff Failed To Protect Children

RIVERSIDE (CBSLA) — A lawsuit was filed on behalf of three girls against the Riverside Unified School District alleging the district failed to properly supervise a teacher's aide resulting in sexual abuse of the girls. The lawsuit — the third against the district — follows a suit filed in April, involving another three girls.

According to the suits, 26-year-old Fernando Figueroa, molested the girls while employed by Liberty Elementary School in the school's technology lab between 2014 and 2017. In 2017, Figueroa was indicted on 25 counts of lewd acts on a child — a total of 11 alleged victims were listed in the grand jury indictment.

The attorneys behind the two most recent lawsuits negotiated the terms of a $6.2 million settlement in December of 2018 for three other girls, all of whom were between the ages of 8 and 11 years old when they were victimized. According to the plaintiffs' attorney Ronald Labriola, the suit involves "facts and circumstances that are virtually identical to the (prior) cases, all of which reflect an epic failure" by the district.

The civil complaint alleges there was no effort by the school district to examine Figueroa's "personal and background references," and that there is evidence he was "allowed to be alone with students ... behind closed doors (and often) in classrooms with lights off."

The complaint also alleges that a "number of victims, eyewitnesses and parents reported Figueroa's alleged sexual misconduct to Liberty teachers and to Principal Esther Garcia before or during the time Figueroa was abusing them. Yet ... Garcia and her staff took no action and specifically failed to alert local authorities as required by California's mandatory child abuse reporting law."

While the district declined to comment directly on the lawsuit, it released a statement to City News Service that said they "remain shocked and disappointed that the high standards of and expectations to which we hold our classroom aides were not met by Mr. Figueroa."

The statement further said Fugueroa had passed a Department of Justice background check before being hired by the district.

"As an educational institution, we embrace our duty to keep kids safe each day," the statement said. "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 attorneys, as in the other two suits, content that the district's background screening is inadequate and should have revealed the defendant's juvenile record of sexual misconduct. Figueroa has no documented prior felony convictions in adult court.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs filed the latest suit in San Bernardino County Superior Court stating that at least one of the plaintiffs resides in the San Bernardino metropolitan area.

Figueroa is being held in lieu of $3 million bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning and is scheduled to appear in the Riverside Hall of Justice for a status conference on Aug. 26.

No hearings are scheduled related to the lawsuit filed in April, also in San Bernardino County Superior Court, or the current one.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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