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Lane + Linnenburger + Lane Suit Says SFPS and Church Protected Sex Abuser and Ignored Warnings

Child sex abusers find organizations that allow them to commit atrocities with impugnity and protect them from exposure and accountability. Robert Apodaca was a perfect storm in that regard - moving between Santa Fe Public Schools, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

Last week Lane + Linnenburger + Lane and The King Law Firm filed a groundbreaking lawsuit on behalf of a survivor of Apodaca's reign of sexual terror. The following is the introduction from that filing.

Events in recent years have revealed two tragic facts about childhood education in northern New Mexico. First, there is an epidemic of child sexual predators operating in positions of authority over children within our schools. Second, a breathtaking number of the adults who have the knowledge and power to do something about it either cannot, or will not, protect our children from these predators. At the epicenter of this tragedy stand the Santa Fe Public Schools, the largest public school district in northern New Mexico, and Santo Niño Regional Catholic School, a private pre-K to sixth-grade school operated by the Roman Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and several of its parishes.

The Santa Fe Public Schools and Santo Niño Regional Catholic School have recently sheltered such child predators on their own staffs. When they were sued over it, these schools vigorously denied the allegations against them at first, only to eventually settle those cases by making large payments to the victims of their abuse. Meanwhile, the predator employees they protected were convicted of molesting students and sent to prison, sometimes for centuries. Those experiences should have been a catalyst for change at these schools, motivating them and their administrators to seriously engage in protecting the children in their care and custody. This case arises because they did not.

In one horrendous example, Santa Fe Public Schools enabled the notorious predator schoolteacher Gary Gregor, even to the point of providing him with a neutral employment recommendation, despite receiving complaints about his inappropriate touching of several schoolchildren. In that case, Santa Fe Public Schools defended their actions and denied the allegations at first, only to see Gregor convicted and sent to prison while the school district paid millions of dollars to his victims. But while Santa Fe Public Schools was paying for Gregor’s atrocities, it turned a blind eye to another predator on its campuses, this time in the nurse’s offices of their community schools – Robert Apodaca.

As he worked as a nurse aide for Santa Fe Public Schools, Apodaca’s outward behavior was textbook sexual grooming. Administrators in the schools where he worked were warned of red flags by others and observed those same red flags themselves. But they did nothing to stop him. They watched as Apodaca collected victims. They sheltered him. They silenced the voices that raised concerns about him. They protected him. They even joked about his alarming behavior with children. Emboldened by the indifference, Apodaca took advantage of their protection to keep abusing more children within Santa Fe Public Schools.

This manifest cowardice and treachery towards our youth did not end with the officials at Santa Fe Public Schools. As it became harder to protect Apodaca within the school district, one of its administrators, Robin Chavez, left the public schools to preside over Santo Niño Regional Catholic School as its principal. Chavez brought Apodaca with her and gave him even more access to children. With the assistance of Chavez and others, Apodaca continued his reign of sexual terror, but this time it was at the small Catholic school that advertises itself as “extremely safe,” and as a place where, due to small class sizes and a close-knit community, problems are “swiftly resolved.” Once he was there, Apodaca abused numerous other children. And while Apodaca was committing crimes against the children of Santo Niño, a former Santo Niño teacher, Aaron Chavez, was being sentenced to prison for doing the same thing. But the experience with Aaron Chavez was not the only time the leaders of Santo Niño failed to learn their lesson. As Apodaca continued his sexual abuse, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, which owns and controls Santo Niño, was enmeshed in bankruptcy arising from decades of unleashing sexual predators on the children of New Mexico.

The leaders of Santa Fe Public Schools and the Catholic Church in Santa Fe failed to protect far too many of Santa Fe’s young students. But one of those students is now taking a stand and demanding accountability from the adults who practically ensured that he would be sexually abused by Robert Apodaca. This case is about that young student—now a young man—and his quest to make sure that no other little boy in Santa Fe will have to endure his pain.

Full story from the Santa Fe New Mexican here.

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