Robert Pimentel, a former fourth-grade teacher charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse, is arraigned at Los Angeles Superior Court, in Long Beach, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013.
UPDATE 1:03 p.m. KPCC has confirmed that Robert Pimentel, the teacher accused of sexually abusing 20 students, was a youth soccer coach with the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO).
According to the AYSO, Pimentel was a registered volunteer referee with the group from August 2005 to March 2012. He was a soccer coach for one year. They say they have not been contacted by law enforcement for information on the case, but that they are prepared to work with authorities if needed.
"We are unaware of any allegations of abuse by Mr. Pimentel against any youth player associated with AYSO," a statement from the organization reads, "but we are, nonetheless, encouraging our players' parents to contact the authorities directly if they believe that they have any relevant information that may assist in the investigation."
AYSO says that they did suspend Pimentel in March 2012 and that it's their policy to immediately suspend any volunteer when allegations like this come up.
"Upon learning of allegations against Mr. Pimentel in March of 2012, and out of abundance of caution and without casting judgment on any pending investigation, AYSO immediately suspended all volunteer privileges for Mr. Pimentel," AYSO said in a statement.
AYSO has over 525,000 players and more than 200,000 volunteers, according to the organization. They also say they do comprehensive background checks on their volunteers.
— Mike Roe with Erika Aguilar
For decades, Robert Pimentel worked in the Los Angeles Unified School District. During that time he raised a family, coached soccer and avoided problems with the law.
But police said during the last school year, Pimentel fondled some of his female students at George De La Torre Jr. Elementary School and even a co-worker that led to his arrest this week.
On Thursday, the 57-year-old appeared in court and pleaded not guilty. His attorney maintained the 15 felony counts his client is facing are false.
"If you look at the record, before this, Pimentel has had a pretty exemplary life," said his lawyer Richard Knickerbocker. "He has no arrest record, for anything."
It took nearly a year to bring charges against Pimentel and the investigation began just weeks after the arrest of another Los Angeles elementary school teacher, Mark Berndt, who has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct involving students.
Following that scandal, the district mandated that parents be notified within 72 hours of a report of a suspected abuser, and that each case be reviewed by several human resources staffers to ensure it is reported to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
District officials vowed to investigate molestation claims and move quickly to remove suspected teachers from classrooms while investigations are ongoing which apparently occurred in Pimentel's case.
State Senator Alex Padilla has re-introduced a bill that would give school districts more leeway in dealing with teachers suspected of crimes.
Police were contacted in March by the parents of five students who said Pimentel had touched their children inappropriately. District officials immediately removed him from campus and notifications were sent out.
More than 70 interviews were conducted during the police investigation, and 20 female students were found to have been victimized, Los Angeles police Capt. Fabian Lizarraga said. Another victim was a female teacher who complained that Pimentel had inappropriately touched her, police said.
The alleged abuse occurred in Pimentel's fourth-grade classroom during school hours and in some cases was witnessed by other students, Lizarraga said. The sexual abuse involved fondling over and underneath clothing, he said.
The Pimentel case may have been the first in the district that fell under the new policy, district Superintendent John Deasy said.
"It was very close to the first, if not the first," he said. "I don't know if it was a direct result (of the Miramonte case). There was a potentially serious problem there and we acted and did what we did."
Lizarraga added that although there was a spike in parent complaints after the Miramonte case, there wasn't any tie to the Pimentel case.
"These were some really alert parents knowing their kids and noticing subtle changes in their personalities," Lizarraga said.
The accusations against Pimentel span eight months, dating back to September 2011.
In a separate case, a jury in December 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.
A previous report of sexual misconduct against Pimentel occurred four years ago at the school, and another complaint was made eight years ago at another elementary school where both a female principal and Pimentel had worked, Deasy said.
"My determination was that she was previously mishandling other complaints," Deasy said. "My intent was to fire them."
The district never got the chance because both Pimentel and the principal retired after the allegations surfaced last March.
"You can't fire someone who doesn't work for you," Deasy said.
Police said they will review the principal's failure to report those previous allegations.
Investigators attempted to interview Pimentel last year but he declined.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Pimentel had appeared in court but not entered a plea, which is incorrect. It also stated that Pimentel had been a teacher for decades; while with the school district for decades, he was not a teacher with LAUSD for decades.