Sacramento City Unified failed to protect girl from teacher accused of abuse, lawsuit says

The family of a girl allegedly sexually abused by her third-grade teacher at a south Sacramento elementary school has filed a lawsuit against Sacramento City Unified School District, alleging negligence and inadequate oversight by administration into a teacher employed by the district for nearly 30 years.

Attorneys for the family of a now 12-year-old Jane Doe victim, allegedly abused by former teacher Enrique Rodriguez Valladares during the 2018-19 academic year from when she was 8 years old until she was 9, filed the civil lawsuit this week in Sacramento Superior Court.

Valladares, who taught at Bowling Green Chacon Language and Science Academy, was arrested in December 2021 by Sacramento County sheriff’s detectives on suspicion of eight felony counts of committing lewd and lascivious acts with a child younger than 14 years old.

Valladares is believed to have sexually abused “multiple victims” between at least August 2017 and June 2019, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office said at the time of his arrest.

The attorneys – Vince Finaldi of law firm Manly, Stewart & Finaldi; and Paul Hoybjerg, of Hoybjerg Law – announced the lawsuit in a news conference Thursday outside Sacramento Superior Court’s downtown courthouse.

They said the plaintiff in their suit is one of the victims from prosecutors’ original complaint containing eight felony charges, but that it is now believed that there are at least 17 student victims of Valladares. They urged anyone with additional information about the alleged abuse to bring it forward to the Sheriff’s Office.

The lawsuit claims Jane Doe was “sexually harassed, abused and molested” about two to three times a week throughout the 2018-19 school year.

The victim’s family accused the Sacramento school district of failing in its duty as mandated reporters of child abuse, contending that Sacramento City Unified “knew or had reason to know (Valladares) posed a risk of childhood sexual assault to children.”

Finaldi said Valladares taught in the district for about 28 years and at Bowling Green Chacon from 2008 to 2020.

Valladares was released from jail custody after posting $1 million bail, Finaldi said.

“It’s our understanding that Valladares is still part of the district, although he’s not in the classroom.”

District spokesman Al Goldberg said Thursday afternoon that Sacramento City Unified has not yet been served with the lawsuit and has no further comment on it, but that the involved employee resigned this January while on unpaid leave.

“Allegations of inappropriate conduct with the employee referenced were first brought to the attention of the district on September 10, 2020 and the employee was immediately placed on administrative leave and law enforcement was notified,” Goldberg wrote in an emailed response to The Sacramento Bee. “The employee never returned to a classroom setting.

“On Dec. 15, 2021, based on the nature of the criminal charges that were brought against the employee and pursuant to Education Code, the employee was placed on mandatory unpaid leave. The District also filed a report related to the employee with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.”

Valladares resigned Jan. 25, according to Goldberg, who said the district is cooperating with law enforcement.

Valladares’ criminal case in Sacramento Superior Court is in the trial-setting process, with the next court date scheduled for May 22.

Lawsuit: Teacher lured girls with candy and ‘secluded’ them

Bowling Green Chacon Language and Science Academy is a dual-immersion school, where many of the students, including the victim in the lawsuit, are children of Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Finaldi said Valladares used his knowledge of Spanish in conjunction with other methods to groom female students, and that there were “numerous red flags” about his behavior.

“Mr. Valladares would seclude these kids in his classroom,” Finaldi said. “He would close the door. He would make sure there was no teacher’s aide there, no parents allowed in the classroom.

“And he would have the female students come up to his desk and sit on his lap during the class … It also happened during recess and it also happened during lunch hours. Our investigations revealed that Mr. Valladares would give the kids candy. That’s one of the ways he would lure kids to his classroom.”

The lawsuit accuses Valladares of “secluding” the victim during recess and lunch hours; sexually grooming her with the use of inappropriate nicknames such as “mija,” “sweetheart” and “dear;” enticing her with promises of candy; referring to himself as part of the victim’s family; and groping her while she sat in his lap.

“As a result of Valladares’ pervasive abuse of Plaintiff, Plaintiff deliberately avoided wearing her school-issued shorts and skirts in an effort to deter the unwelcomed sexual advances of Valladares,” the lawsuit continues.

The civil complaint accuses Sacramento City Unified of improperly supervising Valladares.

“It doesn’t happen without warning signs,” Finaldi said Thursday. “It doesn’t happen without major failures by the school district.”

Bowling Green Chacon is designed “to help the children of immigrant families, like the victim, strengthen their language skills and prepare for success as they continue their education,” said Hoybjerg, a Sacramento-based attorney.

“Special care should have been taken to protect and nurture these vulnerable children,” he said. “Instead, the administration allowed a sexual predator to strip our client of her innocence.”

The victim’s mother is also listed as a Jane Doe in the lawsuit, to protect the juvenile victim’s identity, the two attorneys said. The Sacramento Bee typically does not name victims or alleged victims of sexual abuse.

The mother and two other family members appeared alongside attorneys Finaldi and Hoybjerg on Thursday outside the Sacramento courthouse but declined to be interviewed or give their names. A relative of the mother held her hand as the attorneys spoke.

The lawsuit, which names Sacramento City Unified and Valladares as defendants, seeks unspecified damages on the grounds of negligence, including negligence in hiring; intentional infliction of emotional distress; sexual abuse and harassment in an educational setting; gender violence; sexual battery; sexual assault; breach of fiduciary duty; and constructive fraud.

Manly, Stewart & Finaldi is a prominent Irvine-based law firm that served as the lead firm representing members of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team claimants in their lawsuit against USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee on behalf of victims of former Olympic Team doctor Larry Nassar, who is serving life in prison for federal and state convictions including serial sexual conduct with minors.