AURORA | Aurora Public Schools paid $5.5 million in settlement money to two former students who were sexually assaulted by an employee at Rangeview High School, according to documents obtained by Sentinel Colorado.
James Dolmas, 30, was sentenced last year to 17 years in prison for a pair of felony charges of sexually exploiting a child. Dolmas previously worked as a campus monitor and theater assistant at Rangeview.
He was arrested in 2019 after investigators discovered that he was in a sexual relationship with a Rangeview senior student and had exchanged sexually explicit messages with a second student, according to court documents. On multiple occasions, Dolmas hit the girl with an electrical cord and paint sticks, causing bruising on her buttocks, legs and breasts.
After police recommended the original charges, multiple other girls said Dolmas had assaulted them in the past. Prosecutors said Dolmas sexually assaulted a total of four girls and had unlawful sexual contact with a fifth.
“The sexual contact and the volume of actions and number of girls is very concerning,” District Court Judge Shay Whitaker said at the sentencing hearing. “But what is most disturbing is the violence,” Whitaker said. “He preyed on these girls.”
He is currently incarcerated at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility in Cañon City.
The settlements, dated Aug. 19, do not admit guilt on behalf of APS nor any of its employees except for “the conduct of James Dolmas.”
The claimants, who are anonymous, will receive $2.75 million each.
One of the victims’ lawyers is Qusair Mohamedbahi of Rathod Mohamedbhai law firm. Last year Mohamedbhai negotiated an $11.5 million settlement for five students who were sexually assaulted by a Prairie Middle School teacher in the Cherry Creek School District, according to school district records.
The terms of the Dolmas settlement strictly limit discussion of the case. In a statement, Mohamendbhai told the Sentinel that “the matter involving my two clients has been resolved.”
Earlier this year, a classroom monitor at APS’ Vaughn Elementary School was arrested on child exploitation charges. A Vista PEAK teacher was also arrested in connection with sex crimes against minors at an Arizona school district.
“We have no comment,” district spokesperson Patti Moon said in an email.
There is little concrete data on how prevalent the issue of school employees sexually assaulting students is. The most recent quantitative study, conducted in 2000, found that as many as 1 in 10 K-12 students had experienced some form of sexual misconduct from a school employee, said Terri Miller, president of the national organization Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation.
“It’s an epidemic that’s gone unaddressed,” Miller said.
Often, perpetrators can avoid detection for years because many assaults are handled “in house” by school districts and not referred to the legal system, Miller said. Additionally, in many cases sexual contact with students over the age of consent is not considered a crime.
In the 2021 legislative session, Colorado passed a law requiring school districts to inquire with the department of education whether someone resigned or was fired from a school based on an allegation of sexual conduct with a student 18 or older before hiring them.
The main victim in the Dolmas case was 17 and 18 years old during the time of the assaults, according to court documents.
To prevent these cases, Miller said that schools need to do a better job of recognizing grooming behaviors and training employees on how to properly report suspected abuse.
“Training is key,” she said.