Lawsuit: Pecos Independent Schools was ‘indifferent’ towards sexual abuse of students

Education

PECOS, N.M. (KRQE) – A new lawsuit claims high-ranking officials in the Pecos School District knew coaches were sexually abusing students and did nothing to stop it. Last year, Joshua Rico was accused of sexually abusing students while he was a basketball coach at Pecos High. “Things have got to change out there,” Associate Attorney Leigh Messerer of Hemphill Firm said. “The students are at risk.”

Messerer represents one of Rico’s alleged victims who was 14 when the abuse allegedly occurred in 2018 and 2019. Messerer said Rico posed as another student and talked to the victim on Snapchat, getting nude photos from her. Then, he allegedly threatened to expose her. “It has impacted her entire life,” Messerer said.

Messerer said this is not an isolated incident.

Back in 2018, former Pecos High basketball coach Dominick Baca was arrested and later pled guilty to having sexual relationships with minors. Now, a new federal lawsuit alleges that students alerted school officials of Baca’s inappropriate behavior two years earlier, and nothing was done. “He [Rico] was coaching at the same time that Dominick Baca was coaching and he had just seen how the school turned a blind eye to Dominick Baca,” Messerer said.

The lawsuit alleges that this pattern of indifference by Pecos Independent Schools dates back to at least the 2013-2014 school year. The lawsuit lays out several other complaints of employees’ inappropriate conduct over the years like a female teacher kissing a male student in 2015.

The lawsuit said the district failed to properly investigate complaints, take appropriate disciplinary action, and retaliated against people who reported abuse. “There was a clear culture of don’t go against the superintendent,” Messerer said. “If he has people he is protecting, if you go against them, you’re gonna be the one on the outs.”

Then-Pecos superintendent Fred Trujillo is named as a defendant, as well as then-Pecos Athletic Director Michael Lister. The lawsuit claims they both knew of Baca’s behavior early on and failed to act. Now, Trujillo is the superintendent at Española Public Schools.

Lister is now Española Public Schools Title IX officer, who is the person people report abuse to. “I am not going to comment on if it is appropriate that they were hired, but it’s definitely concerning,” Messerer said.

KRQE News 13 reached out to all defendants in this case as well as all board members for Española Schools but did not hear back. Online court records show that criminal charges against Rico were dismissed in October pending further investigation with the intent to refile.

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