AURORA | When a 14-year-old Prairie Middle School student told school officials that a social studies teacher was sexually abusing her, some of the school’s administrators and a counselor had their doubts.
And instead of telling local police about the accusations against Brian Vasquez, as required by state law, Arapahoe County prosecutors say the trio of administrators launched their own investigation.
That school-led investigation included questioning the student with Vasquez present and repeatedly telling her that her accusations could ruin Vasquez’s family and career. They also told the girl Vasquez was a “valued teacher.”
After all that, prosecutors say the girl retracted her claims — despite the fact that investigators now say Vasquez had sexually abused that girl and several others over a four-year stretch.
School administrators eventually suspended the girl for what they deemed were false allegations. First, however, they made her apologize to Vasquez. And give him a hug.
That’s all according to an indictment handed down Wednesday against Prairie Principal David Gonzales, Assistant Principal Adrienne “A.J.” MacIntosh and counselor Cheryl Somers-Wegienka. The three are facing a misdemeanor charge of failure to report and are due in court Jan. 23.
Gonzalez and Macintosh have been placed on administrative leave until the case is resolved according to the Cherry Creek School District. Somers-Wegienka is no longer employed by the district.
Vasquez, 34, is accused of a years-long string of sexual assaults on students as young as 14. According to testimony at a hearing late last year, he confessed multiple sex crimes to Aurora police. He was arrested in August and faces 37 counts related to sexual contact and sexual communications between him and the girls.
Prosecutors say that despite laws requiring school staff to report any suspected child abuse to law enforcement, and despite ongoing training from the district that made those laws clear, the staffers opted not to tell police or the department of human services.
Vasquez’s abuse of students continued for years after those initial accusations, according to the indictment and testimony at a hearing last year. It only stopped in August when a parent of another girl went to Aurora police and reported what they suspected was a sexual relationship between Vasquez and their daughter.
When police questioned Vasquez later that week at Prairie, he admitted to abusing multiple young girls, included the girl who had been suspended back in 2013.
Cherry Creek school district officials confirmed the indictments and said they sent a letter home to Prairie Middle School parents Wednesday afternoon.
“We are aware of the indictments. The two individuals who are employed with Cherry Creek Schools, Prairie Middle School Principal David Gonzales and Assistant Principal A.J. MacIntosh, have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the court proceedings. We will continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office,” CCSD spokeswoman Abbe Smith said in a statement.
The letter from CCSD to parents at Prairie Middle from Tracey Grant, CCSD’s executive director of middle schools, talked about the administrative leave for both Gonzalez and MacIntosh and stressed the two had not been convicted of a crime. The letter didn’t mention Vasquez or the charges the former teacher is facing.
The indictment said the staffers told the Grand jury that they didn’t remember the earlier accusations against Vasquez, but prosecutors noted letters the staffers signed regarding the girl’s suspension.
CCSD Superintendent Harry Bull, who announced his retirement this week two days before the indictments came down, told the Grand Jury that district policy mandates school staffers report accusations of child abuse. No policy says staffers should launch their own investigations, Bull testified.
Two lawyers who represent two of the girls and their families under the Victims Rights Act did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the staffers’ indictments.
According to testimony at the preliminary hearing, Vasquez’s sexual contact with teen girls escalated after the girl’s 2013 accusations, and included raping a 15-year-old girl in 2016 and 2017, and exchanging graphic photos with a 15-year-old in 2015.
Aurora police said that when they went to the Aurora middle school to question Vasquez this year, they were initially only investigating accusations from one girl who said she had exchanged inappropriate text messages with the teacher, Detective Patrick McGinty testified during Vasquez’s preliminary hearing last year.
But Vasquez immediately offered the names of four other students, and said his relationship with the girls went beyond just texting and included sexual contact, McGinty said.
Detectives subsequently interviewed the other girls over several days in August and largely confirmed much of Vasquez’s story, McGinty said.
The preliminary hearing was filled with graphic testimony about Vasquez’s relationships with the girls. At times police struggled to keep the numerous acts and multiple victims straight.
“I understand, there are lots of children, Detective,” Deputy District Attorney Cara Morlan said when McGinty got crossed up on some of the details.
At one point, police said one of the victims indicated a school employee might have known about the attack.
McGinty testified that the girls told police they felt pressured by Vasquez to escalate their relationships with him. In one case a girl told police Vasquez had a sexual relationship with her friend as well and pressured her into more sexual contact by telling her that the other girl was “his favorite” because she had sex with him.
Much of the illegal sexual contact happened inside the school, according to testimony, as well as in Vasquez’s car at various spots around Aurora. One girl told police Vasquez groped her in class while he was teaching.
Another girl told police her relationship with Vasquez was limited to illicit pictures and she had to repeatedly rebuff his attempts to grope her. Many of the girls struggled to remember dates, McGinty said, but that girl remembered one incident because it happened around the time she had braces put on. Vasquez’s lawyers argued that the lack of specificity on the date range — which stretches from early 2013 to August 2017 — was reason to drop some counts, but a judge rejected that.
The letter sent to parents at Prairie reads in full:
This letter is to inform you that two Prairie Middle School administrators, Principal David Gonzales and Assistant Principal A.J. MacIntosh, have been placed on leave pending the outcome of legal proceedings related to charges for failing to report child abuse. Former school counselor Cheryl Somers, who no longer works for the district, has also been named in the legal proceedings, all of which stem from a grand jury investigation. We will continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement in this matter. It is important to note that at this time none of these three have been convicted of any crime.
Prairie has a strong school community and we will continue to work together with staff, teachers and parents to provide outstanding educational opportunities to all of our students. A plan is being developed to provide interim administrative support. We will communicate additional details by Friday, January 12.
As always, the safety and security of our students is our highest priority. If you have questions or concerns, please call me at 720-554-4209.
Executive Director of Middle Schools