Robert Pimentel (CQ), left, a former fourth-grade teacher charged with multiple counts of sexual molestation, is arraigned by Los Angeles Superior Court judge James Otto, right, in Long Beach, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. Defense attorney Attorney Richard Knickerbocker, middle.
UPDATE 3:08 p.m. The lawyer representing former Los Angeles Unified School District teacher Robert Pimentel — who is accused of sexually abusing 20 students — asserted his client's innocence following an arraignment hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court in Long Beach on Thursday at which Pimentel pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The court set a hearing for Jan. 31 in advance of a preliminary hearing, which was set for Feb 7. Pimentel is being held in lieu of $12 million bail, which his lawyer said he would seek to reduce.
Speaking to reporters, defense attorney Richard Knickerbocker said: "Right now we have accusations, and that's all we have is accusations. We don't even have a determination that there's probable cause for anything other than the fact that a police officer ... got an arrest warrant and he was arrested. ... "
Knickerbocker added: "Right now my client's innocent until proved beyond a reasonable doubt to be guilty, and that's where we stand. We have done some investigation of this because it came up almost two years ago, this issue. So it's not a new situation for which we're being charged. .... The offenses are long-old offenses which all of a sudden came forward for whatever reason when the district attorney decided to file."
Knickerbocker also revealed that Pimentel retired early last March because he was in a "terrible panic" in fear of the impending accusations.
"He was scared to death and very frankly, he thought, I just want to get out of it," Knickerbocker said.
UPDATE 2:57 p.m. Human resource records provided by the Los Angles Unified School District show that no disciplinary actions were on file against former teacher Robert Pimentel, who is accused of sexually abusing 20 children.
Pimentel started with the LAUSD in 1974. He spent more than eight years working as a sub in cafeterias, before becoming a teacher assistant in April 1983 at Lincoln High School, the district's summary showed. That assignment ended in June of that year.
He came back as an LAUSD special ed teacher in 2000 at 74th Street Elementary. He was on provisional status for a year there before moving the following school year to Dominguez Elementary as a regular teacher. He was moved to probationary status in 2002, then permanent status in 2004.
He moved in 2007 to the school where he was when the allegations came forward. He was shown as meeting standard performance evaluations in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011. The district's complete summary of Pimentel's employment is embedded below. (Story continues below document.)
— Mike Roe with Vanessa Romo
Earlier: A fourth-grade teacher who worked nearly 40 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District has been arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing 20 students, a year after another veteran teacher accused of molesting nearly two dozen pupils brought national attention to the district and the problem of classroom sex abuse.
After a 10-month investigation, eight felony counts of continual sexual abuse and seven counts of lewd acts upon a child were filed Wednesday against Robert Pimentel, of Newport Beach, for abuse that allegedly took place at George De La Torre Jr. Elementary in the Wilmington area, officer Christopher No told The Associated Press.
In addition to the 15 felonies, misdemeanor charges are expected for the remaining incidents, No said. Pimentel's bail has been set at $12 million, and an arraignment date hasn't been set.
Police and school officials said Pimentel is also suspected of the sexual abuse of one adult, but they did not say what role, if any, that person had at the school.
Pimentel, 57, left his fourth-grade teaching position last March when allegations arose from several girls who told their parents he inappropriately touched them during school and police opened an investigation.
District officials immediately removed him from campus and parents and state credentialing authorities were informed, school district spokesman Daryl Strickland said. Parents and guardians will be told of the arrest by letter and phone, he said.
Before the official dismissal process with the Board of Education could begin, Pimentel, who had worked for the district since 1974, retired.
"Can you go back and fire someone who's already retired? No, you can't," LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy told the Los Angeles Times.
Deasy said the school's principal was also immediately removed because the superintendent was "dissatisfied" with how the reported criminal activity was handled.
Court records obtained by the Times show the allegations covered a period from Sept. 2011 to March 2012.
LAPD Capt. Fabian Lizzaraga told the newspaper Pimentel is suspected of inappropriately touching the children over and under their clothing.
The Los Angeles teachers' union issued a statement that called the abuse described in the allegations "horrific" and said Pimentel was no longer a member and the union would not be involved in his defense.
The police department said the teacher's name was spelled "Pimental," but the school district and public records give the spelling as "Pimentel."
Police did not know if he had hired an attorney. A woman who picked up the phone at a number listed for Pimentel hung up when asked about a lawyer or comment from family.
There have been several high-profile recent cases of L.A. teachers accused of sexually abusing students. More than 225 parents and students are involved in various claims for damages against the district after Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt was arrested a year ago. Berndt pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct.
In December, a jury ordered the district to pay a boy molested by an elementary school teacher $6.9 million — among the largest awards in the history of the school system.
The jury found the district liable for the repeated molestation of the 10-year-old student in 2008 and 2009 by teacher Forrest Stobbe at Queen Anne Elementary School in the city's mid-Wilshire district.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the bail amount, based on an inaccurate statement from the defense attorney.