A lawsuit accuses the Mead School District of failing to protect a high school student who was groomed and sexually abused by her Spanish teacher for more than a year.
Seattle attorneys representing the former student and her mother filed the lawsuit last week in Spokane County Superior Court, seeking damages for the abuse committed by 38-year-old Wesley G. Perez.
The former teacher pleaded guilty last year to one count of first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor.
Assistant superintendent Ralph Thayer said the district couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
Perez was placed on paid administrative leave in April 2018 after the principal of Mead High School, Jeff Naslund, received an anonymous letter disclosing Perez’s inappropriate relationship with the student that started when she was 16. Naslund contacted the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, and Perez was arrested the following month.
The lawsuit alleges Naslund and other district employees should have done something sooner.
According to the lawsuit, Perez’s first inappropriate interactions with the student took place in March 2017 at a leadership camp near Chewelah, where he was a chaperone.
“During the camp, Perez targeted (the student) with an inordinate amount of personal and physical attention, including inappropriately hugging her numerous times and, during one such hug, lifting (the student) clear off the ground and exclaiming, ‘I don’t want to let go.’ Perez’s inappropriate behavior towards (the student) occurred in plain sight of other Mead High School teachers and school personnel chaperoning the camp,” the lawsuit states.
Back at school, Perez began inviting the student to his classroom before, during and after classes, and began talking to her through texts and social media. According to the lawsuit, he sexually abused her for the first time in his classroom in March 2017 and continued doing so throughout the school year, writing notes to excuse her tardiness at her other classes.
The lawsuit states that “shortly after” Perez began abusing the student, another Spanish teacher, Adam Green, noticed she and Perez were “suddenly hanging out” in his classroom “almost every day.”
“Mr. Green eventually approached Perez to ‘caution’ him against meeting with (the student) alone in his classroom so frequently,” the lawsuit states.
Several days later, Green conveyed his concerns to Naslund, according to the lawsuit.
“Despite Mr. Green’s well-founded concerns and the indications that a dangerous, sexually abusive relationship may have been developing between Perez and (the student), Principal Naslund failed to properly respond to the disturbing reports and neglected to report the suspected sexual abuse to the proper authorities or take any action,” the lawsuit states.
After Green approached him, Perez began instructing the student to meet him after school and driving her to secluded spots where he would sexually abuse her in his parked car, according to the lawsuit.
“This occurred approximately twice a week for the remainder of the 2016-17 school year,” the lawsuit states.
Later, Perez sexually abused the student at his house, too, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges the district’s failure to “properly investigate” Perez’s actions allowed the inappropriate relationship to continue for 13 months.
It also alleges the district failed “to adequately train, supervise and instruct school personnel on maintaining appropriate boundaries with students and how to properly identify, respond to and report suspected sexual abuse of a student.”
While he was under investigation, Perez told the student to lie about the situation, threatening to kill himself and claiming he had been nothing more than a “confidant and father figure,” according to records from the criminal case.
Perez remained on paid administrative leave and denied the allegations for more than a year before pleading guilty last May to one count of first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dropped a second charge of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.
In June, Perez was ordered to pay nearly $7,000 in restitution and sentenced to a year in jail with credit given for 73 days served, plus a year of probation. His divorce from his wife was finalized in September.
In a letter submitted to the court before Perez’s sentencing, the victim’s father argued the district had mishandled the situation.
“Rape is rape,” the victim’s father wrote. “The repeated crimes against my daughter were heinous by their nature, a violation that my daughter will live with for the rest of her life.”
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.