A preliminary hearing for a former Los Angeles unified teacher accused of inappropriately touching elementary school students began Thursday in Long Beach with testimony from one of the alleged victims.
Robert Pimentel, 57, is charged with continuous sexual abuse and committing lewd acts involving a dozen girls younger than 14. The alleged sexual misconduct happened over a six-month period.
Pimentel retired last March 2012. About that time, Los Angeles police began investigating him. He was arrested on January 23 and has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. The ex-teacher is being held on $12 million bail.
A 10-year old girl who was a fourth grader in Pimentel’s class at George De La Torre, Jr. Elementary School was the first witness to take the stand. The minor, identified in court as Jane Doe #1, said Pimentel put his hands in her pants on top of her underwear.
“It made me feel weird and bad,” the girl said.
She also said Pimentel hurt her once when he allegedly grabbed her by the neck and picked her up. She said Pimentel did that to another girl and left a bruise around the other student’s neck.
Before telling her mom about the teacher’s behavior, the 10-year old said she shared details and talked about what happened with seven other girls.
She then told her mother after another student who wasn’t in her class suggested she should.
“I told (my mom) and she got mad and frustrated and said why didn’t I tell her at the beginning of the year,” the girl testified.
The judge is expected to hear testimony from more girls, students and LAPD detectives over the next few days. At the end, the judge will rule if there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial.
Pimentel smiled and waved to people he knew sitting in the courtroom. He also greeted the judge when he walked into the courtroom. He leaned over to talk to his attorneys and took notes as the witness testified.
Defense attorney Joe Yanny said he thinks the girls were encouraged to make allegations against Pimentel.
“I think they were after money,” he said. “This came up on the heel of Miramonte.”
In February 2012, Los Angeles police arrested former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, 61. He is charged with more than 20 counts of lewd conduct with dozens of his students.
LAUSD settled 58 civil claims from parents for about $30 million from that case.
Attorney Luis Carrillo, who represents the families of three students who accuse Pimentel of molesting their girls, was at the hearing only as an observer. He disputes the idea that the victims were encouraged to make allegations against Pimentel.
“It’s a fact that none of the kids talked to any lawyer before they talked to LAPD,” Carrillo said.
The attorney held a press conference this week an accused LAUSD officials of knowing about Pimentel’s behavior in October 2009 and failing to report it or act on it. Carrillo said a school district memo summarizes interviews done with parents about the teacher’s inappropriate touching.
The preliminary hearing is scheduled to continue Friday with testimony from the detectives who investigated the case.