Mom Claims Teacher Molested Her Daughter
BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) - A girl was so traumatized by her teacher's fondling her during class that she tried to hang herself, and the school district had retained the man despite previous student abuse complaints against him, the girl's mother claims in court.
Rebecca Reyes sued San Benito Consolidated Independent School District, its former teacher Joe Naftali Mendez Jr. and its superintendent Antonio Limon, on behalf of her daughter H.K.R., in Federal Court.
Reyes claims the district put Mendez on administrative leave in 2011 and 2012 to investigate allegations that he had assaulted children at Frank Roberts Elementary School, then reinstated him both times.
After his second reinstatement, the district transferred Mendez to Landrum Elementary School, where he taught art to H.K.R. every Wednesday, Reyes says in the lawsuit.
"While in the classroom, Landrum Elementary School teacher Joe Mendez would unnecessarily touch and fondle plaintiff in the classroom and the cafeteria," the complaint states. "Mr. Mendez would massage her shoulders, chest and back with his hands, while whispering in her ear that she was beautiful and that he loved her. He would commit other unwelcomed acts while plaintiff was trying to attend to her academic studies.
"Defendant, Joe Mendez, would turn the lights off to show the class educational videos and commit further acts of assault by having the students sit on the floor to watch said video while sitting behind plaintiff, in his chair with his legs spread open, wherein he would commence the fondling of the child."
Reyes says her daughter became depressed and took to cutting herself when Mendez started molesting her.
"On one occasion plaintiff tried to hang herself with a dog leash from the ceiling fan in her home, however she was unsuccessful when the dog leash broke," the compliant states.
Because Mendez "would stalk her at lunch and bathroom breaks" H.K.R. did not want to go to school, and a school psychiatrist diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder, Reyes says.
H.K.R. finally had enough in September 2013, and "made an outcry of unwanted contact by defendant, Joe Mendez," the complaint states.
Reyes claims that before Mendez's run-ins with her daughter three other San Benito ISD students had accused him of abuse, yet the district retained him.
"On September 27, 2013, the Cameron County Sheriff's Department arrested defendant, Joe Mendez, on warrants for his arrest on five different assault charges when he failed to appear," the complaint states.
Throughout her daughter's ordeal, Reyes says, the district refused to provide any counseling for the girl.
"Mendez was suspended with pay pending the outcome of an investigation by defendants," the complaint states.
Reyes and her daughter seek punitive damages for civil rights violations, negligent hiring, negligent retention and negligent supervision.
They are represented by Robert Steindel of McAllen.
The school district did not respond to a request for comment and a question about Mendez's employment status.