Teacher from Newport Is 'Railroaded' on Molestation Charges, Defense Claims

After listening to two girls testify, a judge ordered Robert Pimentel, of Newport Beach, to stand trial on 14 charges of sexually abusing students and a female relative.

A former Wilmington elementary school teacher was ordered today to stand trial on 14 charges of sexually abusing students and a female relative.

Long Beach Superior Court Judge Tomson T. Ong denied the defense's motion to dismiss charges against Robert Pimentel, a former fourth-grade teacher at George De La Torre Jr. Elementary School.

Pimentel -- who has remained jailed since being arrested Jan. 23 by the Los Angeles Police Department's Juvenile Division -- is scheduled to be arraigned May 28 on six counts of continuous sexual abuse and eight counts of lewd acts upon a child.

The charges involve nine students and one female relative.

The judge dismissed two other charges of continuous sexual abuse against Pimentel, 57, involving two other female students who were not called by the prosecution to testify during the 2 1/2-day preliminary hearing.

Outside court last week, Pimentel's attorney, Joseph A. Yanny, said those two girls have said nothing improper happened with Pimentel. He questioned why the prosecution did not call them to the stand.

Those who were called to testify during the hearing included a former school principal who invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self- incrimination in refusing to answer questions.

A Los Angeles police detective testified that the school's former principal had previously warned Pimentel in a written document in 2002 to "keep your hands off students," and that the principal said  Pimentel told her he was taking medication which caused his sex hormones to increase.

The detective said the former principal also told police that she had a September 2009 conference with Pimentel in which she advised him not to touch students, especially girls.

Pimentel's attorney said outside court last week that his client's comment about the medication was a "joke."

The criminal complaint alleges that the bulk of the crimes occurred between September 2011 and March 2012.

Other witnesses called to the stand included several of Pimentel's former students.

An 11-year-old girl testified that the fourth-grade teacher touched her repeatedly on her thigh area.

"I was uncomfortable ... because it's not the right thing," she said, testifying that Pimentel also "slapped me on my bottom" on one occasion.

Under questioning by Pimentel's attorney, the girl denied ever receiving $100 for making the allegations against Pimentel or telling a classmate that she had gotten $100.

Another girl who was in Pimentel's fourth-grade class for the 2011-12 school year testified that Pimentel had also repeatedly touched her inner thigh area.

"Did you like it?" Deputy District Attorney Lee Cernok asked the girl.

"No," the 10-year-old responded in a soft voice.

She also denied having discussions with anyone about getting money.

"There was nothing improper about the touching that was described, nothing at all," Pimentel's attorney said in urging the judge to dismiss the counts involving the nine students. "I'm not going to stand back and let somebody get railroaded like this, get crucified like this ... I'm going to take my best stab at putting an end to this."

Yanny said the students were all friends who "had time to cook this up before they went to anybody" about their allegations, saying later that "there is money at the bottom of this."

Cernok countered that "this touching was of an intimate nature" and was "not accidental," noting that there was a "commonality" among the girls that "it was weird" and that it made them feel uncomfortable.     Pimentel began working for the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1974 and was removed from the classroom when the investigation began in March 2012, according to police and the school district.

LAPD Detective Gus Villanueva said the investigation "began when several girls told their parents that they had been inappropriately touched by a fourth-grade teacher."

According to the LAUSD, parents at the school were notified within 72 hours of Pimentel's removal from the classroom last year. The district began efforts to fire him, but Pimentel opted to retire.

Last week, an attorney representing some of the alleged victims held a news conference to claim that district officials knew as early as 2009 about misconduct allegations against Pimentel but took no action.

Attorney Luis Carrillo pointed to a 2009 document, purported to be an internal LAUSD report, on a parent protest sparked by allegations that Pimentel "has been known to touch female students inappropriately." The report describes allegations made by a parent at the protest and accusations that Pimentel was being protected by the school's principal because they were friends.

Carrillo said the district never contacted police, and "Pimentel continued his molestation."

David Holmquist, an attorney for the LAUSD, said the district takes "all allegations of misconduct seriously."

"Although we must protect the confidentiality promised to parents as part of the 2009 mediation, we can say with certainty that any allegations of misconduct were promptly reported to the appropriate authorities," Holmquist said last week.

Holmquist said that when Superintendent John Deasy received additional information in the case in February, he turned it over to the Los Angeles Police Department.

"The school district also launched its own administrative investigation by an outside agency into the handling of this matter," Holmquist said. "As is standard practice, the school district has placed four administrators on leave pending the conclusion of the investigation. Dr. Deasy will review the findings of that investigation and take all appropriate action."

In April, the district suspended Linda Del Cueto, instructional leader for the North Educational Service Center; Michael Romero, who oversees the district's Adult Education Division; Gulf Elementary Principal David Kooper; and Los Angeles Elementary Principal Valerie Moses.

- City News Service


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