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Families File $60 Million Claim Against Pasco Schools

April 10, 2001

PASCO, Wash. (AP) -- Six families who say their special-needs children were sexually abused by a teacher's aide have filed a $60 million claim against the Pasco School District.

The families say school officials initially ignored their concerns that their children were being molested. Then, they say, officials didn't notify them their children had been in the care of an alleged child molester.

The claim, required before filing a lawsuit against a public agency, asks for $10 million for each child.

The teacher's aide, Jesus Torres, 26, confessed in March 2000 to molesting two of the children, authorities say. He was booked into Franklin County jail and was charged with second-degree rape of a child and second-degree child molestation. He posted his $10,000 bail, however, and police haven't seen him since.

Torres worked full time for the school district for five years before he was arrested. Three times during those years, distraught family members of special-education students asked McLoughlin Middle School officials whether someone was harming their child, the Tri-City Herald reported Sunday.

But school officials dismissed the inquiries, the Herald reported. School files refer to one girl's "sexual fantasies."

District officials have denied any wrongdoing.

"The district regrets these sensational documents and will fully defend each claim," officials said in a statement last week.

The statement characterized the allegations as "very speculative." But police, medical and school documents show the children -- most with a mental age of 5 or 6 -- giving graphic descriptions of sexual acts.

The first complaint was filed in November 1995, when a special education student came home crying and her family brought her to a doctor. The girl said her teacher hit her and touched her private area, and her family said they found blood in her underwear. Her family assumed the girl meant her teacher -- not her teacher's aide.

The Pasco Police Department was notified but did not find enough evidence to pursue the investigation, Sgt. Randy Roach said.

Two years later, a second child said she had been abused. The 12-year-old, who could barely read but had perfect pitch and played the piano by ear, was excited when Torres said he would help her and her classmates form a band.

While out of town, the girl's mother received a phone call from a relative, saying the girl had been raped by a teacher. When she went to school officials, however, she was told, "It's nothing. It's been blown out of proportion," she said.

The child told Jim Johnston, a Franklin County Sheriff's detective, that Torres had called her into a locked, fenced area behind the school and molested her, according to the police report. Johnston said that because the first complaint had been investigated by Pasco police, not the sheriff's office, he didn't realize might be dealing with a repeat event.

Torres and another school employee said he had never been alone with the girl. The investigation ended with detectives determining that one of the girl's friends, a girl with "a very good imagination," had put the ideas in her head.

Finally, early in 2000, another family brought up allegations of sexual abuse, and the girl with the "good imagination" said she too had been molested by Torres. Torres initially insisted he was innocent but failed a lie detector test and confessed, Johnston said.

Torres' family says the confessions were coerced, according to Pasco attorney David Petersen.

After being arrested, Torres was fired. But the families say the school district never informed them their children had been in the care of an alleged molester.

"I've talked to all my clients," said the families' lawyer, Jay Flynn. "None were ever contacted. They never received anything in the mail."

Instead, some families learned when some saw a brief news item in the Herald saying Torres had been accused of molestation, Flynn said. Others didn't learn Torres had confessed until Flynn's investigator contacted them.

Since being molested, the children have not been the same, the families say. One child began picking at herself to the point that sores developed. Another began pulling out her hair.

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