The city of Sacramento, Calif., and the Sacramento City Unified School District have paid more than $52 million to settle lawsuits alleging that officials ignored repeated warning signs that an elementary school teacher was sexually abusing students.
The Sacramento Bee reports that a settlement agreement finalized last week calls for the city and district to pay out $40 million for five of the victims of Joshua Vasquez, who was a teacher at Mark Twain Elementary School in Sacramento. Authorities say Vasquez groomed and abused at least eight elementary school children as young as 7 from 2013 to 2016.
Vasquez pleaded guilty in September 2016 to sexual abuse and was sentenced to 150 years to life in prison.
The city is paying about 60% of the $40 million settlement and the district the rest. A previous settlement agreement for a sixth victim resulted in a $12.5 million payout.
The lawyers contend Vasquez was able to abuse children for as long as he did because officials ignored clear warning signs, as well as complaints from parents.
Vazquez began working for the city’s START program in 2007 and was one of six program leaders at Mark Twain, which has about 250 students. The program offered an after-school program for about 85 students until 6 p.m. Vasquez also began part-time work for the district in 2010 as a yard duty worker and cafeteria supervisor.
The first sign of trouble came in October 2014, when a parent complained that Vasquez had given her child candy and had “a secret place and a prize box” for students who were “helping out." Months later, some time between February and April 2015, another parent complained.
Over time, lawyers say, Vasquez was able to “groom” not only the children but adults at the school, becoming a popular figure on campus as he tested the boundaries to see how far he could go.
Vasquez was caught in November 2015 after an 8-year-old girl he had blindfolded and was abusing looked underneath her blindfold and saw Vasquez’s penis, then told her aunt about it.