A school police car at George de la Torre Jr. Elementary in Wilmington. (KTLA-TV )
A former Los Angeles Unified School District teacher was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of committing lewd acts and sexually abusing 20 children and an adult, law enforcement authorities said.
Robert Pimentel, 57, who taught at George de la Torre Jr. Elementary School in Wilmington, was taken into custody by Los Angeles Police Department detectives, who had launched an investigation in March after several fourth-grade girls said they had been inappropriately touched.
Prosecutors filed 15 charges against Pimentel involving a dozen of his alleged victims. The charges involve sexual abuse and lewd acts on a child and cover the period from September 2011 to March 2012, according to court records. Authorities said the teacher is suspected of inappropriately touching children under and over their clothing.
Detectives suspect Pimentel victimized an additional eight children and the adult, LAPD Capt. Fabian Lizarraga told The Times.
The arrest comes as the nation's second-largest school district has been rocked in recent months by allegations of sexual misconduct involving teachers and students.
In January, a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood was arrested on suspicion of spoon-feeding semen to students in a classroom and taking dozens of photos. Some of the photos show students blindfolded and being fed allegedly tainted cookies.
An audit released in November concluded that the district failed to promptly report 150 cases of suspected teacher misconduct — including allegations of sexual contact with students — to state authorities as required by law. District officials said they have addressed the breakdowns highlighted in the audit.
Wednesday evening, L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy said both Pimentel and the school's principal were immediately removed when the district found out about the allegations in March.
Deasy said he removed the principal because he was "dissatisfied" with how the situation was handled at the school. The principal has not been identified.
Parents at the school were informed within 72 hours after Pimentel was removed from the campus, and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing was promptly notified, the district said.
District officials prepared a "notice of termination" for Pimentel and the principal, which they had planned to present to the Board of Education in April 2012, Deasy said. But both employees retired before the board meeting.
He said Pimentel and the principal will receive their full pensions because they retired before the district took action against them.
"Can you go back and fire someone who's already retired? No, you can't," Deasy said.
Detectives launched their investigation of Pimentel after some of the children told their parents they had been abused, Lizarraga said. The parents then alerted officers at the LAPD's Harbor Division.
Of the 20 children allegedly abused, 19 were students at the school, according to Lizarraga. He said detectives came across the other child as they gathered evidence.
Deasy told The Times that his recollection was that the adult was a co-worker of Pimentel.
Pimentel, who lives in Newport Beach, had been a teacher with the district since 1974, police said. He was taken into custody shortly after noon Wednesday and was being held on $12-million bail. He is expected to appear in court Thursday.
In the Miramonte Elementary case, former teacher Mark Berndt, 61, is charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct and is awaiting trial. He has pleaded not guilty.
The district is facing nearly 200 molestation and lewd conduct claims stemming from Berndt's alleged wrongdoing.
In a separate case, a jury recently awarded $6.9 million to a 14-year-old boy who was molested while he was in fifth grade at Queen Anne Place Elementary School in the Mid-Wilshire area.
The teacher in that incident pleaded no contest to two counts of a lewd act on a child and to continuous sexual abuse of a child younger than 14. He is serving a 16-year prison sentence.
Times staff writer Robert J. Lopez contributed to this report