Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE — The Española school district has agreed to settlements totaling more than $7.5 million to shut down lawsuits over a former fourth-grade teacher accused of having improper contact with female students.
Española Public Schools recently agreed to a $4.37 million settlement in the second of three civil lawsuits over the actions of teacher Gary Gregor, 61, who had faced accusations of impropriety at schools in Utah, Montana and Santa Fe before he ended up in Española.
The new payout comes on top of $3.2 million settlement in 2016 in the first lawsuit involving Gregor, who was fired by the Española district in 2010. That suit accused him of twice asking a fourth-grade girl to spend the night at his home, giving the girl gifts including candy and teddy bears and touching her private parts. The suit also alleged a principal failed to report complaints about Gregor.
Much of the first settlement still may have to come from the Española school district’s coffers instead of from insurance.
A private insurer covering losses through the New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority continues to dispute payment of about $2.5 million of the loss on grounds that the district knew of potential claims against Gregor before the insurance policy was in place. The issue has been under arbitration for months.
Apparently, there is no such dispute over the latest, larger settlement. A claims administrator for the insurance authority said this week that the Española school district isn’t on the hook for any of the $4.37 million.
“This whole journey through the justice system for these young women shows that just because something has gone unpunished — hidden and covered up — for years does not mean that it will remain so,” said Cammie Nichols, plaintiffs’ attorney in the Gregor lawsuits. “Evil does not dissipate with the passage of time.”
The third suit concerning Gregor, on behalf of four more alleged victims, was filed in federal court just last month and remains pending. It accuses Gregor of sexually abusing four girls while a teacher at Española’s Fairview Elementary during the 2007-2008 school year.
Efforts to obtain comment from Española school district officials this week were unsuccessful.
Accusations against Gregor over the years have raised questions about how he managed to move among different school districts, in different states, after facing repeated accusations of wrongdoing.
Allegations against Gregor first became public in New Mexico in 2011 when the state Public Education Department failed to renew his teaching license, following accusations of improper behavior with female students in Española.
It turned out that he previously had received a PED reprimand for similar actions while working for Santa Fe Public Schools years before. Still, he received a non-critical “neutral recommendation” from the Santa Fe district when he agreed to leave.
Gregor had gotten into trouble with Santa Fe school officials when it was reported that docents at the Museum of International Folk Art observed him fondling girls during a field trip.
Before he came to New Mexico, Gregor faced criminal child sex abuse charges in Utah that were dismissed in 1995 for lack of evidence. He also worked as a teacher in Montana where, according to one of the New Mexico lawsuits, he was fired under a school policy barring teachers from after-school activities with students.
It was only in April of this year that criminal charges were filed against Gregor, in a case prosecuted by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office.
Gregor faces three counts of rape of a minor, four counts of kidnapping and five counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor.
The criminal indictments came a few months after Gregor’s history was cited in a major series of investigative reports by USA Today on how teachers who sexually abuse children continue to work in schools.
Nallely Hernandez, one of Gregor’s alleged victims, has spoken openly about her case, including appearing on the ABC news program “Nightline.”
On Monday, Gregor was expected to enter a plea in state District Court to the criminal charges but backed out.
“I will continue to fight for New Mexico’s most vulnerable and protect victims from those in positions of power,” Attorney General Hector Balderas said in statement afterward. “We will move forward with the prosecution of Mr. Gregor and present our case to a jury in January.”
Nichols, the plaintiffs’ attorney in the civil cases, has said that the family of the first girl to sue over Gregor’s action came to her law firm only after police investigated Gregor in 2009 and turned information over to the District Attorney’s Office, and “nothing was happening, so they became very, very frustrated.”
In May, the board of the Public Schools Insurance Authority voted to support proposed “Pass the Trash” legislation to “stop districts from being able to allow troubled teachers to resign quietly and move to other districts,” according to minutes from a May meeting.