L.A. Unified officials let abuse allegations slide, lawyers say
Incidents of alleged child abuse by a teacher at a Wilmington elementary school were known beyond a principal who was removed for failing to report them, a parent and attorneys who represent alleged victims said Thursday.
The attorneys, who have filed claims in connection with the alleged abuse, said at a news conference that two high-ranking Los Angeles Unified School District officials were made aware of concerns about Robert Pimentel at George de la Torre Jr. Elementary School in 2009.
Pimentel, 57, is charged with sexual misconduct involving 12 children under the age of 14. Fourteen felony counts involve alleged abuse that occurred between September 2011 and mid-March 2012. Two additional counts date back to years earlier. He has pleaded not guilty and remains in jail in lieu of $12 million bail.
Shortly after Pimentel’s January arrest, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said De La Torre principal Irene L. Hinojosa had been aware of allegations against Pimentel in 2002 and 2008. She apparently never reported these allegations, and that was a major factor in her removal, Deasy said.
Both Pimentel and Hinojosa resigned as the district was preparing to fire them last year.
The employees under new scrutiny are Holly Priebe-Diaz, an intervention coordinator, and Linda Del Cueto, who currently oversees instructional programs in the San Fernando Valley. In 2009, Del Cueto was one of eight top regional administrators in L.A. Unified.
Attorneys said both were involved in mediation in 2009 to ease tensions at the school over numerous issues.
District officials confirmed Thursday that a mediation session took place in 2009, but they had nothing to say about who was present or whether abuse allegations were made, citing ongoing internal and police investigations. Priebe-Diaz and Del Cueto did not return telephone calls or emails seeking comment.
During the mediation, one parent alleged that Pimentel had touched her daughter inappropriately and that the principal had refused to follow up, said attorney Luis Carrillo.
That parent and another claim that either Priebe-Diaz or Del Cueto was taking notes at the time, Carrillo said.
“It’s logical to assume those notes are turned into reports,” said Carrillo, speaking outside district headquarters. Such reports should have gone “to the highest levels of the LAUSD.” He added: “All the big shots in this building failed to protect the children and covered up child abuse when it occurred.”
In a recent interview, Magdalena Gonzalez, the second parent cited by Carrillo, said the mediators heard specific allegations against Pimentel. They were told that Pimentel had pulled on a girl’s bra strap and that he would playfully spank girls in class, Gonzalez said.
School employees are required by law to report allegations of sexual misconduct to police. They also are supposed to report such issues to their supervisors, according to school district policy. Allegations of failure to report sexual misconduct are part of the ongoing police investigation, according to the L.A. Police Department.
Carrillo represents three clients who have filed damage claims related to Pimentel. Another attorney with clients from De La Torre, John Manly, said he too is aware of witnesses who have corroborated Carrillo’s claims about Priebe-Diaz and Del Cueto.
Both attorneys also have clients who are part of litigation over alleged abuse of students at Miramonte Elementary School in South L.A.'s Florence-Firestone neighborhood. They declined to participate in a recent $30-million settlement of 58 claims of lewd conduct involving former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt.
Berndt has pleaded not guilty to 23 charges of lewd conduct and remains in jail in lieu of $23 million bail.
Times staff writers Richard Winton and Adolfo Flores contributed to this report.
The perils of parenting through a pandemic
What’s going on with school? What do kids need? Get 8 to 3, a newsletter dedicated to the questions that keep California families up at night.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.