DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. (CN) — Three families have sued the city of Deerfield Beach, Florida, and a charter school, claiming lax employee screening and poor supervision at a municipal pool enabled a swim teacher to molest their children.
In three lawsuits last week in Broward County court, the parents claim their children were molested by Francisco De Aragon on May 19, 2015, while on a school trip to the Deerfield Beach Aquatic Center for swimming lessons.
The parents say the Aquatic Center was short-staffed and “crowded with multiple kindergarten classes” when the molestation occurred. They say city employees and the school, Somerset Pines Academy, did not provide adequate supervision.
Represented by Neil Anthony at Steinger, Iscoe and Greene in West Palm Beach, the parents seek damages for the defendants’ “failing to discharge or remove De Aragon from the Aquatic Center when it became apparent that he was engaged in grooming behavior ... for sexual exploitation,” according to the complaint.
The families seek damages for negligence, trauma and vicarious liability, from Deerfield Beach, Somerset Pines and De Aragon himself.
“The defendants ... engaged in a pattern of additional harm by denying the children's truthful complaints of sexual abuse,” the complaints state. “Such conduct has had the effect of further shaming and humiliating the victims and their families."
The three children were 6 and 7 years old at the time.
De Aragon was convicted in May of sexual assault and molestation. He was given multiple life sentences.
In a series of emails about these lawsuits, the city of Deerfield Beach insisted De Aragon had been adequately vetted before his hiring, and that his professional record appeared clean before the day of the abuse.
“We absolutely conducted a level 2 background check, which is the most intensive because it checks for everything out of state as well,” a city spokesperson said.
“The city never received any complaints prior [to the May 19, 2015. incidents], and terminated him immediately after we were informed of the charges,” the city added.
The Florida Charter School Alliance, speaking on behalf of Somerset Pines, said De Aragon was not an agent of the school.
“The school put its faith in the city program. This was not an employee of the school,” the alliance said in a statement.
A teacher from Somerset Pines testified during the criminal trial that two of the victims were in her class, which had roughly 20 children. She testified that on the day of the abuse, she was watching the class from a seat at the edge of the pool at the Deerfield Beach Aquatic Center, and did not see any improper touching.
De Aragon, 28, is challenging his conviction in the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
He insisted he was innocent throughout the trial, professing from the witness stand that he had never before been accused of inappropriate behavior with kids since becoming a lifeguard as a teenager.
He testified that he was "shocked and horrified” when police confronted him with the allegations. He said he did not remember the victims, nor interacting with them, as he sometimes taught more than 100 children a day.
At his sentencing hearing, he said: “From Day 1 until the day I die, I have always maintained and will maintain that I did not do this.”
He also invoked Jesus on the cross: "I forgive [the accusers] because they don't know what they are doing, just like He forgave those who crucified Him."
At the center of the criminal case were recordings of the victims’ interviews with Detective Keith Gittens, in which the girls say that a swimming teacher, whom police identified as De Aragon, touched them under their bathing suits.
One mother testified that her daughter reported the abuse the day it happened. After returning home from school, the girl said she didn't want to go back in the pool because she had been touched in her private parts by a man at the Aquatic Center, the mother testified.
The mother testified that her daughter's account of the groping was the first time she had heard of any incidents of molestation at the pool. When she went to make a statement about what happened, another family was present to complain about inappropriate touching at the pool. At that point she realized multiple children were involved, she testified.