Santa Rosa schools sued over sex assault case

The family of a Santa Rosa teenager has filed a Title IX lawsuit against the the city’s school district alleging that its officials failed to protect their daughter from a sexually hostile educational environment after she was repeatedly assaulted by a school employee.

The suit stems from state cases being tried against Josue Cepeda, 35, and Isaac Ruben Flores, 24, former school district employees who are charged with multiple counts related to sexual relationships they pursued with female students.

Cepeda taught criminal justice and served as a high school football and basketball coach, according to the document filed in federal court on Friday. He was charged in May with one count of improper relationship between an educator and a student and six counts of sexual assault of a child.

Flores was also employed as a coach and worked with Cepeda, according to the document. He was charged in May with one count of improper relationship between an educator and student, two counts of sexual assault of a child and four counts of delivery of a controlled substance.

Charges against the men are pending.

The civil rights complaint is asking for $10 million in damages for the school’s failure to follow Title IX guidelines intended to prevent sex-based discrimination and harassment in programs that receive federal funding.

The civil rights complaint was filed against the Santa Rosa Independent School District; Heriberto Villarreal, SRISD superintendent in 2018; Jaime Garcia, Santa Rosa High School principal; Josue Arnold Cepeda, district employee; and Isaac Ruben Flores, district employee.

Cepeda and Flores are being sued in both their individual and official capacities.

The Brownsville Herald on Tuesday reached out for comment from Superintendent Angela Gonzalez, who stated she would provide a response on behalf of the district.

“I have received your email, we are working on a response. I’ll send it by the end of the day,” Gonzalez said in an email received Wednesday morning.

As of press time Wednesday, the Herald had not received a response from her or the district.

In 2017, Cepeda taught criminal justice at Santa Rosa High School and coached boy’s high school football and basketball. The complaint alleged that Cepeda used his position as an authority figure to develop relationships with girls.

Plaintiffs Janie Doe and John Doe — the student and her father — wrote that Cepeda would regularly obtain information from students and his athletes to pursue, coerce, and mislead young girls with the goal of developing sexual relationships.

Cepeda “used his position with the District to foster the relationship with his female students by consoling them on incidents that would occur and being ‘the shoulder to cry on’,” the complaint alleged.

According to the document, the school’s counselor was informed of sexually oriented activities taking place in the school and reported those allegations to the district. Officials chose not to investigate despite the fact that the student involved was a child.

Cepeda was accused of watching the girls work out at the gym, obtaining their phone numbers to text them, and concocting a scheme to spend time alone with the girls during school hours.

Plaintiffs claimed that other teachers repeatedly approved requests made by Cepeda to excuse the girls from class.

Flores, according to the document, was aware of Cepeda’s alleged relationships and the lack of action from the district, empowering him to pursue his own sexual relationships with young female students.

The document stated that in late 2018, the employees’ conduct was reported to the district. The allegations were not investigated, prompting staff members to leave the district, the suit claimed.

As the abuses continued, Flores and Cepeda coerced the girls with drugs, alcohol, and parties in hotel rooms in La Feria, the lawsuit alleges. Both teachers at the school and principal Jaime Garcia were allegedly aware of the incidents and chose not to take action, the complaint alleged.

Cepeda was accused of engaging in sexual intercourse with Janie Doe’s classmate at least five times at the hotel in La Feria, between late 2018 and March 2019. Flores then entered into an intimate relationship with Janie Doe, according to the lawsuit.

Documents filed in the state-level case allege that Flores had sex with the girl twice at his home between late 2018 and early 2019.

The incident was reported to federal investigators by a school resource officer after students shared a Snapchat showing Cepeda drinking with young students, according to court records.

Cepeda and Flores were allegedly suspended in February 2019 by then-interim superintendent Yolanda Chapa, according to the federal complaint.

The document made allegations that Garcia and Cepeda are actually related, and that Garcia had been informing his relative of claims being made by affected students when the incidents were finally brought under investigation.

The lawsuit claimed that the school district’s inaction deterred people, including teachers from reporting the conduct, causing further harm to the plaintiff and her family.

Plaintiffs are asking for damages based on a violation of Janie Doe’s civil rights, the district’s deliberate indifference and failure to act in accordance with federal regulations, and health issues suffered by Janie Doe including depression and anxiety.