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L.A. Unified knew of alleged teacher abuse 3 years before arrest

Some of the charges against Robert Pimentel, arrested in January, involve alleged sexual misconduct that occurred after officials learned of concerns in 2009.

May 07, 2013|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Former De La Torre Elementary teacher Robert Pimentel, left, with attorney Richard Knickerbocker, center, is arraigned in Long Beach in January.
Former De La Torre Elementary teacher Robert Pimentel, left, with attorney… (Jeff Gritchen / Associated…)

Los Angeles school district officials knew of sexual misconduct allegations in 2009 against a teacher at a Wilmington campus who was arrested more than three years later, the district's top administrator confirmed Tuesday.

The teacher, Robert Pimentel, 57, was arrested in January. Some of the charges result from alleged conduct at De La Torre Elementary that occurred well after senior administrators apparently became aware of concerns raised by parents in 2009.

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said an internal investigation is ongoing into whether allegations were handled properly. Four administrators were placed on paid leave April 19 pending the outcome.

But a newly disclosed document, apparently prepared within the L.A. Unified School District, indicates that parents had concerns about the teacher inappropriately touching students. "The parents reported that he caresses the girls, gives them candy and photographs them without parent permission," the report said.

Attorney Luis Carrillo, who has dozens of clients suing the district over sexual misconduct at several schools, released the document.

Pimentel has pleaded not guilty to sexual misconduct charges involving 12 children under the age of 14 and remains in jail in lieu of $12-million bail. Fourteen felony counts involve alleged abuse between September 2011 and March 2012. Two additional counts date to earlier years.

Carrillo said the document came from sources outside the school system. L.A. Unified, he alleged, has refused to provide materials relevant to the case.

Deasy had no comment on the document itself, which has the word "confidential" typed across the top. Its letterhead is the "Office of Human Relations, Diversity and Equity" within "School Operations."

The superintendent said he learned in detail about prior allegations against Pimentel in the weeks after the teacher's arrest. Deasy previously had singled out former De La Torre Principal Irene L. Hinojosa for apparently not reporting allegations against Pimentel in 2002 and 2008.

On Tuesday, Deasy offered more details about what happened in 2009, when a district mediator tried to ease tensions between the principal and parents. At that time, complaints about Pimentel went beyond the principal and were recorded at higher levels, Deasy said.

In February, "I personally went to the Los Angeles Police Department with these documents," he said. "Anybody I know of that had awareness of the issue or possible awareness of the issue is being investigated."

The administrators on leave are: Linda Del Cueto, who was most recently the senior instructional leader in the San Fernando Valley; Mike Romero, head of the adult education division; David Kooper, principal at Gulf Elementary in Wilmington; and Valerie Moses, principal at Los Angeles Elementary in Harvard Heights.

The document states that "there was a parent who was too afraid to give the name of her niece who was inappropriately touched by this teacher. One parent stated that during culmination last year, [Pimentel] rubbed a student's back several times, stroking her bra strap. The parents reported this behavior to the principal without any response. The parents stated that [Hinojosa] is friends with this teacher from their last school and this is why she is protecting him."

Carrillo said he believes the district "never called the police in October 2009 and they didn't file the suspected child abuse report.... They did nothing and Pimentel continued his molestation."

Eventually, he added, "parents bypassed the school officials and went straight to the Los Angeles Police Department" in 2012.

Deasy said that in 2009, at least, a district employee notified police, as required by law. That person was identified as Holly Priebe-Diaz.

Priebe-Diaz took part in the 2009 mediation. Her interviews with parents are cited as a basis for the confidential 2009 report.

The L.A. Police Department had no immediate response about the 2009 allegations.

Both Pimentel and Hinojosa resigned last year as the district prepared to fire them.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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