Lawsuit alleges Pecos school district ignored child sexual abuses

Lawsuit alleges Pecos school district ignored child sexual abuses

From the Las Vegas Optic

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court last week accuses the Pecos Independent School District of having a “history of indifference” toward child rape and sexual abuse, and of failing to prevent sexual assaults within the district.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a minor identified as “Jane Doe,” a resident of Pecos. It alleges that former boys basketball assistant coach Joshua G. Rico sent Snapchat invitations to Jane Doe using aliases, and that behind those pseudonyms, Rico coaxed the girl into sending him sexually explicit photos and videos that he later used to blackmail her.

Rico first sent Jane Doe a Snapchat invite in the summer of 2018, using his real name, and later used fake accounts to send additional invites, the suit alleges.
Rico was hired as the assistant boys basketball coach in December 2018 as a contracted worker, meaning he was not teaching at the school. The suit alleges that by the fall of 2018, Rico had been spotted watching the girl several times as she went from the middle school to the high school gyms, once as she exited the locker room and at least once while she played in a basketball game.

In the spring of 2019, Jane Doe received another Snapchat invite, this time from a username she did not recognize. She accepted the invite, not knowing Rico was behind the account, the suit alleges. The two exchanged several messages in which he called her “beautiful” and “pretty.” When she asked how old he was, Rico asked her to tell him first. She said she was 14; Rico replied saying he was 15.

Following several weeks of chatting, Rico — still using an alias — asked Jane Doe to send him a nude photo. When she did, he responded by sending her a picture of his penis, according to the lawsuit and an arrest affidavit filed in San Miguel Magistrate Court.

The girl received another request from a different username she didn’t recognize — a second alias used by Rico, according to the suit. Behind the second alias, Rico said “if you don’t do what I tell you to do, I will send your naked pictures to everyone.” He also sent her a nude photo of herself as proof he had them, along with nude photos of other girls she knew. He soon began demanding daily nude photos and sexual videos from her, and would send her explicit photos of himself.

Using that second alias, in January 2020, Rico told Jane Doe she had to send a friend request to him at his real accounts on other social media platforms, and said she would have to perform oral sex on him. If she didn’t, he said the nude photos and videos of her would be shared with others, according to the lawsuit.

Other girls at the middle school later came forward, too, sharing stories of similar encounters with Rico and his social media aliases. Many reported being blackmailed by Rico into sending nude photos and being forced to film themselves performing sexual acts, according to the suit and the affidavit.

The suit alleges PISD did not respond to these allegations properly, did not properly attempt to prevent sexual assaults within the district, didn’t offer training to staff members and that the district did not have a Title IX coordinator in place to field complaints or to ensure appropriate investigations into allegations of sexual discrimination against students.

Rico was charged with 10 felony counts in February 2020, including three counts of criminal sexual penetration and a count of criminal sexual communication with a child. In October, the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s office dismissed the charges without prejudice, meaning they can be refiled.

Fourth Judicial District Attorney Tom Clayton told the Optic that his office plans to refile those charges, explaining they were dismissed only because of issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and because some forensic evidence still needed to be processed.

“I also knew the U.S. Attorney’s Office was conducting a separate investigation,” Clayton said. “And because of the forensics, because of the COVID, we made the tactical decision to dismiss without prejudice, with the intent to refile.”

 

Documented history

In addition to the accusations made against Rico, the lawsuit lays out several instances where attorneys for Jane Doe allege PISD responded improperly to sexual assaults and failed to prevent those assaults.

Jane Doe’s attorneys allege that, dating back to at least the 2013-2014 school year, PISD had “a pattern and practice of failing to properly investigate complaints of sexual abuse of students, failing to take appropriate disciplinary action against sexual predators, targeting or retaliating against individuals who reported sexual abuse allegations and failing to train PISD employees to recognize, prevent and intervene in matters of student sexual abuse.”

The suit catalogs examples such as a 2014 incident where a PISD staff member reported seeing a female Pecos High School teacher kissing a high school boy. The suit alleges that the incident was reported to former Pecos Schools Superintendent Fred Trujillo — who is currently the superintendent of Española Public Schools — but Trujillo allegedly warned the witness not to engage in gossip.

A parent of a high school student also reported her son had received Snapchat messages from the same teacher, messages that included nude photos of the teacher.

According to the lawsuit, Trujillo was not responsive to these reports, as well as reports from others that the teacher had been seen around Pecos with other high school students. It further alleges that the teacher was not suspended, but instead, the principal who’d reported some of the allegations was placed on administrative leave, and their contract was not renewed the next school year.

The suit also alleges that the principal who was placed on leave had brought concerns about a school janitor to the attention of Trujillo, but it alleges Trujillo ignored those concerns as well, telling the principal that the janitor was “special,” and “harmless.”

Louie Vigil, the janitor, was arrested in the fall of 2017 and charged with 35 felony charges of raping and molesting children.

In July 2018, Vigil accepted a plea agreement, pleading guilty to five felony counts: three counts of first-degree criminal sexual penetration, and two counts of second-degree criminal sexual contact, all committed on children under the age of 13. Vigil is currently serving a 24-year prison sentence.

The suit also points to the case of former Pecos High School basketball coach Dominick Baca. In late 2019, Baca pleaded guilty to raping two female students, a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old. Baca was sentenced to six years in prison, with three years of the sentence suspended.

The complaint alleges that Trujillo and others within PISD were told about some concerning behavior Baca had exhibited prior to his arrest. After his arrest, the complaint alleges, instead of firing Baca, Trujillo visited him at the San Miguel County Detention Center where he asked Baca to write a resignation letter.

The lawsuit is seeking compensatory damages — a monetary award for Jane Doe — as well as punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and other costs allowed under law.

Current Pecos Independent School District Superintendent Debra Sena-Holton did not respond to a request for comment.

Lawyers for Jane Doe have requested a jury trial, but a trial date has not been set.