A former Los Angeles Unified School District teacher who sexually assaulted four girls, including a relative, was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in prison after being confronted in court by victims and their families.
Robert Pimentel, who worked at George De La Torre Jr. Elementary School in Wilmington, pleaded no contest in May to charges that he sexually abused four girls between 2002 and 2012.
Pimentel was charged with 16 felony counts of sexual misconduct involving 12 girls, primarily between 2011 and 2012. He had previously pleaded not guilty to all charges before taking a plea deal in four of the cases.
In a Long Beach courtroom, Pimentel remained silent, but shook his head angrily at times as the families of victims recounted the trauma of their daughters, as the young girls sobbed nearby. Some called him "evil" and "scum." They said their children's lives are forever haunted by his actions.
One victim through a statement read by L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Lee Cernok expressed fear that Pimentel would find her after he is released.
"I'm scared that someday I will see him again and he would hurt me again," she wrote. "Please Mr. Judge, I don't want to see him again in my life."
Another asked Pimentel why he would he hurt her and her friends.
"I'm proud that I'm not suffering anymore, now the one that is suffering is you," the girl wrote. "I feel sorry for you."
The mother of a relative of Pimentel said he fooled the family into believing that he would never hurt her daughter.
"What kind of person takes advantage of a little girl's innocence?" she said. "She was just a child."
Her daughter wept after approaching the lectern and cried as Cernok read her statement.
"I have to live with this for the rest of my life. It will always be in the back of my head and I can never let it go," she wrote.
Pimentel's sister, Lily Pimentel-Stratton, said her brother was innocent and simply took the plea to avoid any further pain for his family.
As part of the plea agreement, Pimentel is required to register as a sex offender and is prohibited from contacting his victims for 10 years after leaving prison.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Pierce scolded Pimentel for abusing the trust his students held for him.
"There are certain people in life that all of us as children have respect for. First, it's our parents … probably next to parents are teachers, elementary school teachers," he told Pimentel. "It is a position of trust."
Several victims are also pursuing civil litigation against Los Angeles Unified in the case.
The district's general counsel David Holmquist said in a statement that he appreciated that the court worked to avoid a painful trial for the victims and that he hopes the plaintiffs attorneys make the same commitment.
"We have and will continue to aggressively fight to remove teachers committing misconduct. Not only will we continue efforts to ensure they are not around students in our school district, but we are committed to swiftly ending their employment and fighting to have their credentials revoked," Holmquist said.
The Newport Beach Police Department investigated Pimentel for sexual abuse against four victims between 2005 and 2007, but did not file charges because of a lack of evidence.
Some of the initial charges resulted from incidents at De La Torre Elementary that occurred after senior administrators at the district became aware of concerns raised by parents in 2009.
A document apparently prepared by the L.A. Unified School District, indicates that parents had voiced concerns about Pimentel inappropriately touching students.
"The parents reported that he caresses the girls, gives them candy and photographs them without parent permission," said the report, which was released last year by attorney Luis Carillo, who has dozens of clients suing the school district over misconduct at several schools.
Attorneys representing students and their families in litigation against Los Angeles Unified admonished officials for allowing Pimentel to remain in the classroom despite the documented allegations.
"This is only partial justice," said attorney John Manly, speaking outside Superior Court. "While Mr. Pimentel is going to prison, those who opened the door and gave him access to children are not."
Manly and his firm represent 15 students who attended De La Torre Elementary in civil cases against the district.
Last year, the district launched an internal investigation into whether the allegations were handled properly. Four administrators were placed on paid leave, including: 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.
All remain employed the district, except for Moses who retired.
The principal at De La Torre, Irene L. Hinojosa, was removed from the campus and resigned as the district was preparing to fire her.