SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – An employee at a New Mexico school is accused of fondling a child on school grounds two years ago. But the school is just finding out about the investigation. Police have charged 30-year-old Robert Apodaca with three counts of criminal sexual contact with a minor after police say he fondled a Santa Fe student in 2019.
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Apodaca is under investigation for another alleged incident at a Catholic school earlier this year. However, school officials say communication about the allegations has been concerning. According to court documents, in June, A Jehovah witness church elder told Santa Fe Police that Apodaca has been fondling a boy in the congregation. The boy said it happened ‘a hundred times.’
One of those times at Gonzales Community School where Apodaca worked as a nurse in 2019. While the report was made in June, Santa Fe Public Schools say they didn’t learn of the allegation until three months later.
“We didn’t learn of the allegations until late last week. Which came to our attention on Thursday afternoon when one of our media outlets locally reached out to us for an interview,” said Hilario Larry Chavez, superintendent of SFPS.
Chavez says they were contacted by police in July, where they asked for verification of Apodaca’s employment by did not share any information on the allegations. “It kind of caught us off guard in which we had to jump into action immediately. We understand that not everything can be shared with us, but any information that can be shared would help us in the future would help us plan and prepare,” Chavez said.
Apodaca stopped working at the school in 2020. He has worked at a handful of schools in the district since 2012. So the district held a virtual town hall Thursday night with staff and parents to answer any questions or concerns. Apodaca went on to work at Santo Nino Regional Catholic School. New Mexico State Police are also investigating him for an alleged incident in April at that school.
According to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, a staff member spotted Apodaca in a locked room watching a movie with students with one student on his lap. The principal then talked to the child and notified the parent.
According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, in a state police report, the school’s principal Robin Chavez said she brought the concern to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and was directed to say nothing. The Archdiocese said that is not true and likely a lack of clarity of communication between Chavez and the reporting officer.
“Contrary to what some have alleged, there was—and is—no attempt at “hiding” child sexual abuse incidents by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and its schools. Tragic history has starkly shown the futility of criminal attempts to do so in the past. It is to great advantage to all organizations and society only to root out child sexual abuse in wherever it is found so that no child (or parent/guardian) need ever suffer such pain again. The Archdiocese of Santa Fe and its schools are absolutely committed to this goal,” said Leslie Radigan, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
KRQE News 13 asked Santa Fe Police why SFPS wasn’t made aware of the allegations against Apodaca until months later. Santa Fe Police sent the following statement:
“This case was handled and investigated by our SVU detectives. The handling Detective did reach out to SFPS personnel to verify Mr. Apodaca’s employment history with the schools. At the time of the investigation and arrest, Mr. Apodaca was no longer employed with Santa Fe Public Schools. According to the handling Detective, Mr. Apodaca had not worked with SFPS since December of 2020, and the Detective acknowledged that he did not follow up with SFPS personnel to advise of the arrest resulting from the investigation.
SFPD Command Staff spoke with members of the SFPS Leadership Team on September 7th, and assured them that direction would be given to their Criminal Investigations personnel, to be more proactive in their communications regarding arrests of any SFPS personnel.”Deputy Chief Paul Joye
Both the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and SFPS said Apodaca underwent background checks before being hired. Read the full statement from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe below: