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$1.6 million awarded to 3 girls molested by ex-school aide

The students were 5 to 7 years old and attended Miramonte Early Learning Center in South Los Angeles.

October 22, 2008|Jason Song | Song is a Times staff writer.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court civil jury Tuesday awarded nearly $1.6 million to three students molested by a former school aide.

Ricardo Guevara abused the girls between 2002 and 2003 when they attended Miramonte Early Learning Center in South Los Angeles.

The victims were 5 to 7 years old at the time, and testified that Guevara rubbed or grabbed their genitals through their clothes during school hours.

The Times does not identify victims of sexual abuse.

In 2005, Guevara was found guilty of lewd acts with children and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

The case is the latest in a string of arrests and court dates for Los Angeles Unified School District employees charged with molesting students or failing to report abuse.

Earlier this month, a former dean pleaded no contest to failing to turn over evidence to authorities regarding an alleged sexual relationship between Steven Thomas Rooney, a former teacher at Foshay Learning Center, and a student.

In the Guevara civil case, the district admitted liability.

"The mothers are very pleased with the verdict because, for five years, they've been put through a very difficult process," said the victims' attorney, David M. Ring. "This sends the school district a message that even one or two inappropriate touchings do serious damage to little girls."

L.A. Unified officials issued a statement Tuesday acknowledging responsibility, but expressing disappointment over the damages.

"In our view, they are in excess of what we believe would provide for fair compensation to the plaintiffs for the injuries they suffered," the statement read.

The victims, now ages 11 to 13, all testified during the trial. One said she was so depressed after the incident that she considered suicide. Another burst into tears when Guevara's name was brought up, and all three said they no longer trust male teachers.

"I just believe this whole thing changed her life," testified a mother of one of the victims. "I don't see her confident."

A doctor testifying on the victims' behalf said that they would need extensive therapy, possibly for the rest of their lives.

"I'm asking you to give these girls a fighting chance," Ring told the jury.

Before molesting the girls, Guevara had been accused of molesting another Miramonte student in 2002 as well as another student in 1995.

Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives investigated the 2002 incident and Guevara was removed from the classroom, but prosecutors declined to take the case and Guevara returned to school shortly afterward. None of this was made public during the trial.

The district's attorney, Arthur C. Preciado, called the most recent incidents unfortunate. "It should not have happened," he said.

Although he did not dispute the molestation, Preciado noted that the crimes were not violent. "You will not hear about any use of force," he said in an opening statement. "This is not a case of rape or copulation or sodomy."

The district's own medical expert also disputed the notion that the girls needed intensive treatment, and Preciado said more therapy could be harmful by reminding the victims of their molestation and could undo progress that they had made.

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jason.song@latimes.com

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