Colorado school district to pay $11.5M to sex crime victims
AURORA, Colo. (AP) — A suburban Denver school district has agreed to an $11.5 million settlement after a middle school teacher acknowledged having inappropriate sexual contact with several students, district officials said Monday.
The settlement involving the Cherry Creek School District was approved by the school board Monday morning and will be evenly split five ways, with each victim receiving $2.3 million, district spokeswoman Abbe Smith said.
Brian Vasquez, who taught social studies at Prairie Middle School in Aurora for seven years, pleaded guilty in July to three counts of sexual assault and one count each of sexual exploitation and attempted sexual exploitation. He faces at least 40 years in prison when he is sentenced Friday, the Aurora Sentinel reported .
When police questioned Vasquez, they were initially only investigating accusations from one girl who said she had exchanged inappropriate text messages with the teacher. But Vasquez immediately offered the names of four other students and said the relationships included sexual contact.
Police interviewed the other girls over several days in August 2017 and largely confirmed the teacher’s story. He was arrested and has been in jail since.
Investigators said much of the sexual contact happened inside the school, as well as in Vasquez’s car at various spots around Aurora. One girl told police Vasquez groped her in class while he was teaching.
“We acknowledge that no amount of money can right the wrongs committed against these students by Mr. Vasquez,” the school district said in a statement released Monday. “No student should ever suffer the injury and loss of innocence that these young women suffered as a result of the reprehensible actions of Mr. Vasquez.”
The school district has been criticized for its initial response, and three administrators were charged earlier this year with failing to report the accusations against Vasquez.
The school’s principal, assistant principal and a counselor were accused of conducting their own investigation, which included questioning a student with Vasquez present and repeatedly telling her that her accusations could ruin Vasquez’s family and career.
Prosecutors said the girl then retracted her claims and was eventually suspended for what school administrators deemed were false allegations. They also said the school leaders made the girl apologize to Vasquez and give him a hug.
In a letter to parents Monday, schools Superintendent Scott Siegfried said the district has since strengthened its mandatory reporting procedures and trained all of its more than 9,000 employees how to identify signs of abuse.
Qusair Mohamedbhai, an attorney for the five victims, said Monday that his clients appreciate the policy changes, and “their lifelong trauma will hopefully never be experienced by another student in Colorado.”
Information from: The Aurora Sentinel, http://www.aurorasentinel.com/