Judge Dismisses Charges Against School Officials Who Punished Sex Abuse Victim
Aurora, CO – A Colorado district court judge has dismissed charges against two middle school administrators accused of failing to report that a student was being sexually assaulted by her teacher.
The administrators also allegedly intimidated the 14-year-old girl, convinced her to drop her allegations, and suspended her as punishment for the supposed false report, The Aurora Sentinel reported.
Prairie Middle School Principal David Gonzales and Assistant Principal Adrienne Macintosh each faced one count of knowingly and/or willfully failing to report information concerning the abuse of a child, according to The Denver Post.
The perpetrator, 35-year-old middle school teacher Brian Vasquez, was charged with 31 counts of sexual assault in August of 2017, after investigators learned that he victimized five students beginning in 2013.
He was sentenced to 40 years in prison in July of 2018, KUSA reported.
On Wednesday, Arapahoe District Court Senior Judge Stephen Schapanski overruled the trial court, and concluded that the 18-month statute of limitations had expired prior to Gonzales and Macintosh being indicted, according to The Denver Post.
"This ruling and the inadequacy of the mandatory reporter law means that a teacher, a therapist, a member of the clergy or many others who know about the abuse of our children... could escape responsibility for choosing to protect the abuser... if they just keep a secret for as little as 18 months," District Attorney George Brauchler announced after the ruling.
“In a society that claims to want to protect the most vulnerable among us, how does that make any sense?” Brauchler asked.
In the indictment, the 14-year-old girl was referred to as “child victim,” or CV.
Investigators said that in April, 2013 the child victim told one of her friends that she had a sexual relationship with Vazquez, and that friend alerted Macintosh.
In violation of both school policy and state law, Macintosh opted to investigate the allegations herself, and did not alert police.
Vasquez was made aware of the girl’s disclosure, however, and took the opportunity to “meet with CV and impress upon her the devastating effects her disclosure would have on his career and family,” the indictment read.
Macintosh then contacted the victim, who confirmed that she did, in fact, have a sexual relationship with Vasquez.
“Defendant MacIntosh asked CV to reconsider her disclosure, in light of the affect that it would have on the perpetrator, Vasquez,” the indictment read.
CV told investigators that she specifically told the assistant principal that Vasquez had sexually abused her, but that she hesitated to describe the details of her victimization.
In response, Macintosh told the girl that Vasquez was a “valued teacher,” and pressured her to recant her statement, according to the indictment.
Macintosh then took the victim to Gonzales’ office, where the two administrators questioned the child again.
The victim told investigators that she finally gave up and told Macintosh and Gonzales that she made everything up, at which time they told her she would be suspended from the school.
The school administrators held yet another meeting to discuss the victim’s punishment further, and invited her parents and Vasquez to attend.
At the conclusion, the child was forced to apologize to her teacher, and was even made to give her abuser a hug.
When the teen was allowed to return to school, she met with Macintosh and a school counselor, and was required to rehash the allegations yet again, according to the indictment.
Macintosh later testified that she “had no memory of any of CV’s disclosures,” even when presented with paperwork she had signed to authorize the teen’s suspension.
Likewise, Gonzales testified that he had “no memory” of the girl’s allegation or suspension.
Police said that Vasquez confessed to many of his crimes, including the sexual abuse of the victim, and that he admitted his sexual contact with teen girls escalated after the first victim’s allegations.
He went on to sexually assault four other teen girls, according to investigators.
After Vasquez’s conviction, the Cherry Creek School District agreed to pay a total of $11.5 million to his five victims, The Denver Post reported.
“We acknowledge that no amount of money can right the wrongs committed against these students by Mr. Vasquez,” the Cherry Creek School District said in a statement, according to KUSA. “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 district is committed to doing right by these young women and their families and hopes this settlement brings some degree of closure so that they can move on with their lives and continue the healing process,” the statement read.
Gonzales and Macintosh have been on administrative leave since they were indicted, and their future with the school district is unclear, The Denver Post reported.
“We are in the process of discussing the matter internally and will decide how to move forward,” district spokesperson Abbe Smith said.
Brauchler said he hopes that Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser appeals Shapanski’s decision, according to The Denver Post.
“I urge the attorney general to appeal this decision, and I urge the legislature to address this issue going forward,” Brauchler said. “I urge the legislature to choose our children over the teachers union, the church and any other special interest group that doesn’t put protecting our kids over their own membership.”
Weiser said that his office is “duty bound to represent the Colorado judicial system,” and that he could not comment about the case until he gathers more information.
The case has also contributed to Colorado State Senator Rhonda Fields’ decision to sponsor Senate Bill 19-049, which is aimed at increasing the statute of limitations for a number of criminal offenses, including failure to report the sexual abuse of a child.
Under the new bill, the statute of limitations would be increased to five years, as opposed to 18 months.
“The ruling was extremely disappointing because once again it doesn’t do anything to protect our children at the expense of letting adults go,” Fields told The Denver Post. “There was no justice serviced.”