published: Wednesday, May 02, 2012
Child sexual abuse lawsuit filed against school board
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- A federal lawsuit was filed against The School Board of Highlands County and school employee Maria Gonzalez Wednesday morning in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
The lawsuit was filed by the Miami based firm of Herman, Mermelstein, Horowitz, P.A. on behalf of the family of a teenager who was sexually abused at an after-school daycare program
In 2011, then 10 years old, the victim, called Jane Doe in the lawsuit, attended the after-care program at Lake Country Elementary School in Lake Placid.
According to a press release issued by the attorneys, the lawsuit claims that the girl was sexually abused multiple times between 2008 and 2010 by Orestes Gonzalez, the husband of school nurse and after-care supervisor Maria Gonzalez. Orestes Gonzalez was not a school employee and was not authorized to be with school children.
The suit also claims that the school received a report in 1994 that Orestes Gonzalez sexually abused a girl enrolled in the after-care program, and alleges the school did nothing to prevent Orestes Gonzalez access to children, or "otherwise warn parents that the accused man was given extended periods of unsupervised access to the elementary students."
The victim reported the alleged abuse to police investigators in February 2011, when they were called in following another girl's disclosure that she had been abused by Gonzalez.
In December 2011, Gonzalez, 78 at the time, pled guilty to multiple counts of sexually abusing children in the after-care program, including the plaintiff.
In a telephone interview, Jeff Herman, the plaintiff's attorney, said, "This is the first of several lawsuits to be filed. Unfortunately, we have evidence that the school did not protect these children."
He explained the suit was filed in federal court because normally in state court there is a cap on damages. At the federal level, because this involves a school, it is a Title 9 claim. That means there is no cap on damages. Herman is seeking a civil trial before a jury.
Herman said within a month or so the 7th District would assign a court, set down the scheduling order and set deadlines. Depositions will be taken and documents subpoenaed during the discovery phase. It should take about a year to come to trial, Herman said.
Dr. Rodney Hollinger, deputy superintendent for the school district, told the News-Sun, "We haven't been served yet, so I can't make a comment."
Enjoy Prison (by: Born in 93 - 5/7/2012)
I hope the gaurds love it when you get to prison and the inmates hold your head down and carve Jane Doe's Revenge into your forehead!
To Tom Walsh (by: Rusty Shackleford - 5/5/2012)
Man you are getting bashed pretty hard for your comments. I find myself wondering if you secretly feel like a giant douche for posting what you did. I hope you have been prompted to re-evaluate your point of view. Those kids will have no cap upon the damage that will surely follow them the entirety of their lives. Therefore great thinking by moving the case to a venue with no cap. Remember Tom, this was going on apparently long enough for someone to see something wrong. By all accounts it was far from a one time occurance and he didn't exactly sneak onto the school grounds in a hoodie spray painting camera lenses. He was invited in. I hope the maximum is delivered. Any less will be insufficient. The person that let him in needs to face the same punishment. I hope everyone at that school that dropped the ball has to pay the piper. Ruined lives deserve justice. Anyway Tom, I hope you were just having a bad day or a mini stroke when you posted that because if you really meant that I hope you move away. Far away. To a place with alot of venomous animals,...and tidal waves.
Re: About Time! (by: LP mom - 5/4/2012)
Agree 100% with what you said about the parents being able to see him face to face for 15 minutes. Parents of ALL children he abused. Also, any of his victims that are now adults. Same with his wife. But, there are innocent people at the school that had no part in this. He was not openly in the school. He was only in the daycare. So teachers that didn't go in the daycare everyday, had no idea he was there. Anyone who knew he was there and knew of his past should be punished. But the teachers who didn't know shouldn't be. That school does have some pretty amazing teachers. It would hurt the kids to get rid of MOST of them. But they should just let the parents deal with him. No need to waste tax payers money on him.
Amazing (by: LP mom - 5/4/2012)
My kids went to this school. They did go to the daycare for a few years. I feel bad for the bad rep that the good people at this school are getting. The teachers are wonderful. Those involved in hiding his sexual abuse should have to suffer, just as those little girls did. But the good people at the school whom care about the kids and are there to help the kids shouldn't have to pay. These poor girls are scarred for life because of a sorry excuse of a man. Him and his wife should both be hung, but then that leaves their innocent son parentless. Too bad those parents didn't think about him when doing this. I am not sure how the money is going to help the girls heal. I don't believe in sueing for money if the money won't help the victim get over what happened, but I do believe the school board needs to get a better handle on things like this. And unfortunately, the only way something is going to happen is if the parents sue. Since my kids don't go to that daycare, I don't know what changes have been made. Hopefully many changes. They definately needed better organization in there. Hopefully the state doesn't waste too much money on this sorry person. He's already 79. They should just release him into the custody of a room full of parents of young girls. They will save a lot of money that way. All of the parents can just take care of him. To the victims and their families, I am praying for healing. It is so heartbreaking what has happened to your daughters, at the one place they should have been safe. And I pray the school system makes the changes they need to so that something like this NEVER happens again.
About Time! (by: Sebring_Resident - 5/3/2012)
It is about time that something happens in this case. I think the whole school staff at this school should be replaced like the other school that had an incident of child sexual abuse. It is sad that this man was allowed to visit the school campus while children were on the grounds. It shows the lack of concern from the Highlands County School Board, The prinicipal, and all staff at this school. I think that there needs to be a lesson taught and some actions need to be taken to ensure that this never happens again in Highlands County. This man should be hung, any person who violates a child should not have the right the live. I think first, the parents of this child should be given access to meet face to face with this man in a locked room for 15 minutes, after that 15 minutes, if he is able to stand up or is living, then he should set in a jail cell for the rest of his life and think about what he did to this child and all the other children that he may have done this too. And for his wife contacting the child's parents and trying to sway them to say something else, she should be held accountable as well, put her in jail for the rest of her life as well. She basically enabled her husband to be the sick man that he is.
Scam??? (by: Djkitty - 5/3/2012)
What exactly would YOU do if the school knew a sexual predator was married to an employee of the school and knew he frequently visited her in the classroom and did nothing to prevent him from coming near the children? And what if he sexually abused YOUR daughter? Would you be so blaise about it? I seriously doubt it. You would want to hang everyone involved and sue the world.
tom wtf (by: jarhead - 5/3/2012)
Tom, do u have children? If u do what's your child's life worth? Watch the show intervention, 95 percent of those people were molested as a child. It ruins lives. If the school board was negligent, then time to pay.
So sad (by: X - 5/3/2012)
It is horrible that this was allowed to happen repeatedly, in different locations and over so many years. (I can't imagine what awful control/abuse he exerted over his wife -- such that she allowed him to spend so much time at her workplace, and to failed to report his crimes for so long.) A large financial settlement won't un-do the criminal acts that occurred -- but a high-profile lawsuit might inspire teachers and administrators to watch and listen more closely to students to prevent it happening again...
Incompetence (by: Harleigh Kiffer - 5/3/2012)
"Lawsuit". Rather stupid statement. Forget the damages done to the children, just protect the school system and their failure to protect these children. Can't sweep this under the rug.
Child Sexual Abuse (by: Bhavana - 5/3/2012)
Any trauma suffered in childhood formative years can scar a child's future. Child sexual abuse is one of them. Documentary "Speak Up! It's Not Your Fault!" wishes to make the parents understand that it's not the kid's fault if he or she is abused, and encourage parents and survivors to come out of the closet and speak up!
lawsuit (by: stan lee - 5/2/2012)
'Lawyers and other forms of reptiles'; an excellent book. Nuff said.
Not your kid (by: Fortune400 - 5/2/2012)
Lawsuit (by: tom walsh - 5/2/2012)
They filed this in Federal Court because there is no Cap on damages. Gonzales has already pleaded guilty so, if this was filed in State court, there would be a cap and this would be over shortly. But, to me, it appears that the attorneys want a much bigger paycheck at the expense of the citizens of Lake Placid and Highlands County. I can only hope the judge sees through this scam and awards damages as if it were State court.
Small Banner Ads