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Ex-Wilmington teacher pleads not guilty to sex abuse charges

Robert Pimentel, a former teacher accused of sexually assaulting students, appears at an arraignment hearing on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013.
January 24, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
A former fourth-grade teacher in Wilmington has pleaded not guilty to eight felony counts of sexual abuse and seven counts of lewd acts on a child.

Robert Pimentel, 57, made his first court appearance on Thursday afternoon. The Newport Beach resident was removed from George De La Torre Jr. Elementary in March 2012 when the LAPD began investigating allegations from several girls who said they had been inappropriately touched.

"Right now, we have accusations, and that's all we have is accusations. We don't even have a determination that there was probable cause for anything," said defense attorney Richard Knickerbocker.

The school principal was also removed from her job last March. Superintendent John Deasy said the principal took no action when she received a report four years ago that Pimentel had behaved inappropriately.

Police say he is suspected of assaulting as many as 20 children and one adult, but he was only charged for assaulting 12 children. An investigation is continuing into other alleged assaults, officials said.

Instead of dropping their students off on Thursday morning, many parents and grandparents stayed for a special meeting. They received a phone call from LAUSD on Wednesday telling them a former teacher had been arrested on sexual abuse charges.

Bebee Gutierrez, who has three grandchildren at the school, attended the meeting, but she left wondering how the abuse went undetected.

"They say they're more watchful over the children. Why weren't they watchful last year? It's been going on for many years, different schools every now and then, there's some kind of a problem like this," Gutierrez said.

Some parents are concerned that their children may have been victimized.

"It makes me wonder, you know, did anybody approach them when they were there? I'm definitely going to ask my daughter when I go pick her up," said parent Jennifer Gomez.

This is the latest in a string of teacher arrests in the LAUSD for alleged sexual misconduct. Last January, Mark Berndt, a former teacher at Miramonte Elementary School, was arrested and charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct. Attorney Luis Carrillo, who represents some of the victims in that case, says the LAUSD has failed parents and students.

"I don't think that the superintendent should continue in his position. I don't think that the school board members should be re-elected. What is needed is a clean sweep," he said.

The LAUSD said Pimentel chose to retire before it was able to begin the process of dismissing him. He started working for the district in 1974.

Pimentel is being held on $12 million bail. He is due back in court Jan. 31 for a pretrial hearing.

City News Service contributed to this report.


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