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Eddy Bustamante Infante, now sitting in state prison after pleading guilty to sexually abusing young kids as a Santa Ana school teacher, is just a singular point in a systemic child sex abuse problem at the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD), a new lawsuit alleges.
It’s the latest case on behalf of abused children connected to Infante — one alleging SAUSD administrators and supervisors were informed about Infante’s behavior, should have seen the red flags, yet did nothing — said lawsuit attorney Morgan Stewart.
Infante was an after-school teacher at Greenville Fundamental School between 2015 and 2018, until his arrest. He pleaded guilty to four counts of lewd acts with minors in December, 2019.
The lawsuit alleges “multiple ‘red flags’ regarding Infante’s behavior that alerted or should have alerted” school officials, including “Infante locking the classroom door while (having) minor children with him in the classroom,” as well as students telling supervisors “they did not want to be alone in a classroom with Infante.”
Supervisory personnel “were aware of the allegations […] and failed to report said allegations to law enforcement or child protective services, as they are mandated to do by California law,” the lawsuit reads.
It adds: “As a direct result of defendants’ failures to report these allegations of sexual abuse of minors against Infante, Infante was allowed to remain as a aide/teacher/student supervisor at Greenville where he went on to sexually abuse numerous minor children.”
Fermin Leal, a spokesperson for SAUSD, declined to comment on Tuesday just as the district prepared for a school board meeting that night: “Generally, we don’t discuss outstanding litigation.”
The lawsuit also points to what it argues is a pattern of specific, alleged abusers at the district — namely, multiple different people (listed in the lawsuit below) — going back to 2006. Attorneys in the lawsuit claim they have reason to believe the problem goes back decades.
The complaint argues that the school district lacks strong enough safeguards and oversight measures for adult employees in charge of young kids — an issue which, Stewart says, creates an ideal environment for sex abuse.
“Bustamante is not the singular failure of the district. There has been this ongoing history that we think makes the district more attractive to perpetrators through the absence of supervision and policies that would prevent sexual abusers from coming into the district,” Stewart said.
He added: “That history there is really to show this abuse goes back decades, and it’s SAUSD … that has allowed the proliferation of sexual abuse within the district.”
Asked about this in a later follow-up call Tuesday, Leal told Voice of OC:
“Anyone who works for the district — whether they’re full time, part time, walk-on coaches — has to go through a screening and fingerprinting process, and we verify all that regular information for any regular hire.”
There’s also an array of prevention training new hires go through, Leal said.
“They also have to go through all the different trainings we have, they include bullying prevention and awareness, how to identify children who are being abused, and also sexual harassment training — all of our employees have to go through all of that,” he said.
Asked whether these policies align with or perhaps go above and beyond state law, Leal said “I believe they all align with state law — I’m not sure about walk-on coaches, whether state law requires to screen them at the level that we do, but we do.”
He said he would follow up with Voice of OC later for specifics about the district’s training and screening policies.
Stewart represents the case with fellow attorney Ron Labriola.
Labriola is of The Senators (Ret.) Firm and Stewart is of Manly, Stewart & Finaldi; both are firms that represent child victims of sexual abuse.
Stewart’s firm is tied to high profile cases on behalf of people who alleged sexual abuse by former USC campus gynecologist George Tyndall, as well as people alleging sexual assault and harassment by Houstan Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Stewart claims there is evidence to back up the allegations in this latest lawsuit against SAUSD, through sworn depositions connected to the first lawsuit, which was initiated against the district on behalf of one of Infante’s other victims.
The case is set for trial in October this year, Stewart said.
He added the allegations made in the lawsuit also go off of police reports, as well as intel gathered “in our own investigation.”
Stewart declined to provide copies of the depositions, saying they’re confidential. He also declined to give the police report or any documents gathered through his team’s investigation, arguing they’re privileged and contain information that would identify the minors.
“What I can tell you is what is in the Complaint,” Stewart said in an email following a phone interview with Voice of OC on Tuesday. “There were reports to the principal and the on-site coordinator about Infante, and those complaints were not investigated or followed up on.”
The lawsuit alleges that students had reported Infante’s behavior to school supervisors and administrators, yet nothing was done:
At least two minors had reported “inappropriate sexual touching” by Infante, yet supervisors “failed to undertake an appropriate investigation and/or undertake a mandated report on Infante at the time of reporting, in or about 2016/2017…”
The lawsuit also alleges the district engaged in an effort to “pass the trash” by relocating Infante upon the reporting of his behavior, “relocating him to another school location.”
The minor represented by the latest lawsuit was born in 2007 and was supervised by Infante for the Engage 360 After School Program, according to the lawsuit.
“During the after school and school hours, Infante engaged in […] rubbing and touching (the minor’s) genitals over her clothes, including her breast.”
“As a result of the sexual harassment, molestation and abuse by Infante, (the minor) has suffered extensive physical, psychological and emotional damages.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.