AURORA | Former Prairie Middle School teacher Brian Vasquez has been sentenced to 40 years to life in prison for having inappropriate sexual contact with five students.
Vasquez, 35, pleaded guilty in July to three counts of sexual assault and one each of sexual exploitation and attempted sexual exploitation. He was sentenced Friday.
Vasquez had taught social studies at Prairie Middle School in Aurora for seven years before being fired.
Investigators say much of the sexual contact happened inside the school, as well as in Vasquez’s car. One girl told police Vasquez groped her in class while he was teaching.
Last week, Cherry Creek schools agreed to pay $11.5 million to students sexually assaulted by Vasquez.
The settlement was split evenly five ways, said Abbe Smith, a spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District. Each victim was awarded $2,300,000.
$2,000,000 of the settlement was drawn from school district insurance. The school board met Monday morning to approve the remainder of the settlement, Smith said.
“We acknowledge that no amount of money can right the wrongs committed against these students by Mr. Vasquez,” school district officials said in a statement. ” No student should ever suffer the injury and loss of innocence that these young women suffered as a result of the reprehensible actions of Mr. Vasquez. The district is committed to doing right by these young women and their families and hopes this settlement brings some degree of closure so that they can move on with their lives and continue the healing process.”
The attacks had a rippling effect across the district, resulting in criminal charges against other school officials and prompting policy changes across the district.
“We are in awe of the strength and resilience of our five clients,” said attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai of Rathod Mohamedbhai, which represented the five victims. “They are all survivors of unimaginable horrors, which occurred during their very young and formative years. Our clients appreciated the substantial policy changes and focused determination by Cherry Creek School District to ensure that their lifelong trauma will hopefully never be experienced by another student in Colorado.”
Prosecutor Cara Morlan said the plea agreement happened quickly when Vasquez’s defense team approached prosecutors and said the DA’s office made some errors in explaining their plans to the victims but made sure they didn’t make any decisions without their input.
“It’s the longest sentence of this kind that we’ve ever gotten through a plea, and I think that’s significant,” George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th judicial district, said in the courthouse lobby after the sentencing hearing. “The chances are he will likely not get out of prison, and if he does it’ll be much, much, much later in his life.”
Aurora police said in a hearing last year that when they went to Prairie to question Vasquez, they were initially only investigating accusations from one girl who said she had exchanged inappropriate text messages with the teacher. 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, police said.
Detectives subsequently interviewed the other girls over several days in August and largely confirmed much of Vasquez’s story, police said.
In all, Vasquez faced 37 counts related to sexual contact and sexual communications between him and the girls. At 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 for the judge to drop some counts, but White rejected that.
Three Cherry Creek School District administrators were charged early this year with failing to report accusations against Vasquez to police.
Prairie Principal David Gonzales, Assistant Principal Adrienne “A.J.” MacIntosh and counselor Cheryl Somers-Wegienka were charged with misdemeanor charge of failure to report and early this year. In the original indictment, the three staff members were accused of conducting their own investigation which 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. 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.
Brauchler has chastised state lawmakers for failing to change the statute of limitations for “mandatory reporters” who fail to report child abuse.
“Honestly, what we need is a change in the law,” Brauchler said Friday. “The law that we have right now is abysmal if what we’re trying to do is to protect children.
“The bottom line is 18 months is not a sufficient period of time to hold people accountable for having to reveal some of these very sensitive issues.”
Brauchler publicly supported a bill sponsored last legislative session by state Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) that would have widened the statute of limitations pertaining to people who fail to report child abuse, including teachers, healthcare professionals and clergy members. The bill failed in a Senate “kill committee” on a party-line vote.
The bill aimed to change the statute of limitations from 18 months to five years.
“It’s one of the shortest statutes of limitations I’ve ever heard of in the country,” Brauchler said in a video posted to Twitter shortly before the bill died this winter. “ … It is weak, it is ineffective and it doesn’t adequately protect our kids.”
Brauchler, who is currently running to become the state’s Attorney General, said he will continue to support expanding the statute of limitations if additional measures are introduced in the Legislature next session.
Gonzales and MacIntosh have trials set for later this year and both remain on leave from CCSD. Court records show no pending cases for Somers-Wegienka, which could mean charges against her were dropped and the case sealed, or that she reached a plea agreement and the case was sealed.