SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The City of Sacramento and it's largest school district will together pay $12.5 million to a young victim who was abused by a former employee.
In the fall of 2016, Joshua Vasquez was convicted of sexually abusing a group of young female students and sentenced to 150 years to life in prison.
The girl involved in Wednesday's settlement was abused by Vasquez during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, according to Roger Dreyer, one of her family's attorneys.
The girls at that time ranged in age from 7 to 10, and Vasquez was working for START, an after-school program run by the city. He was also serving as a schoolyard supervisor for Mark Twain Elementary in the Sacramento City Unified School District, Dreyer said.
“While on school grounds, Vasquez took the children into his classroom, locked the door, and blindfolded them while he played different ‘games’… which were all designed to have the children touch Vasquez’s genitals,” the district attorney’s office said in a Sept. 2016 press release.
Law enforcement officers found nearly two dozen videos Vasquez shot of himself sexually abusing the girls at elementary school, Dreyer said.
The victim in Wednesday’s settlement was 7 years old when the abuse started in April 2015. It paused over the summer months and began again during the next school year, until the third-grader reported it in November 2015.
Soon after Vasquez's late 2016 conviction and sentencing, one girl's family sued the school district and city for "failure to supervise and train its employee and others who had an obligation to supervise Mr. Vasquez."
That lawsuit was settled Wednesday with the SCUSD agreeing to pay $5 million and the city agreeing to pay $7.5 million. The district’s portion will come from its liability insurance policy with Schools Insurance Authority, a spokesperson said. Approximately $5.5 of the city’s portion will come from insurance and the remaining $2 million will come from the city's risk fund.
“We’re very empowered by this result... The family is very empowered by this result," Dreyer said. “It’s a huge day.”
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A second requirement to the settlement is that both the city and the school district agree to change their respective sexual abuse prevention training and education programs, to be fully implemented by Sept. 1, 2020. Training for parents will be offered online.
“This isn’t just about education, it’s about protecting children," Dreyer said.
Families of the five other victims plan to file civil lawsuits against the city and school district, Dreyer said.
Both the Sacramento City Council and SCUSD School Board will have to approve the terms of the settlement, Dreyer said, but the two entities' attorneys entered into the settlement announced Wednesday.
"No amount of money can take back the pain and suffering that Joshua Vasquez inflicted on innocent young children and their families," a school district spokesperson told ABC10. "Our District is committed to doing everything in its power to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again in our schools."
Sacramento City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood said that the city was "horrified" back in 2015 to learn of Vasquez's crimes.
"This man used a position of trust to prey on innocent children and commit sickening crimes against them," Alcala Wood said. "Settling this case before trial was the right thing to do. The victim and her family will not have to relive the trauma suffered, and the city can keep its focus on preventing anything like this from happening again."
Alcala Wood added, "The fact that a predator could avoid detection and pass a strict screening process and solid safeguards meant to protect children has led us to re-examine our policies and training.
"We already have implemented many changes and will continue to take whatever steps are necessary. We have an obligation to our community – and particularly to parents who entrust their children to our educational and recreational programs – to constantly look for ways to improve how we protect children in our care.”
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