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Another $1.6M paid for alleged abuse by teacher

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Another alleged molestation victim of former teacher Gary Gregor has reached a settlement with the Española Public Schools, this time for $1.6 million.

That means a total of $9.2 million has now been paid out in settlements because of Gregor’s interactions with young girls while he taught at Española’s Fairview Elementary School, his last stop in a career littered with accusations of improper and criminal behavior.

The pay-out total could increase, since a federal case is still pending involving three other girls, and a new lawsuit was filed just this week in District Court in Santa Fe on behalf of two more.

The attorney who has represented six girls in cases against Gregor for actions while he was a teacher in Española also filed the new suit, this time alleging sexual abuse against two girls while they were students at Agua Fria Elementary School in Santa Fe. Gregor taught at the Santa Fe school before he was hired in Española.

Named as defendants are Gregor, Santa Fe Public Schools and Vickie Sewing, who was principal at Agua Fria in 2004 when the alleged molestations were committed.

The Santa Fe allegations are not new. The state Attorney General’s Office has brought charges against Gregor based on the same set of facts. They first became public in 2011 when Gregor appealed a state Public Education Department decision rejecting renewal of his teaching license.

A spokesman for Santa Fe Public Schools said this week that it does not comment on pending litigation.

In September, a settlement was reached with one of four alleged victims in the third of three lawsuits filed against Española Schools and Gregor, who is now in jail facing multiple criminal charges related to inappropriately touching young girls who were his students.

In this most recent settlement, “Jane Doe 3” will receive $1.6 million to be paid through the New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority (NMPSIA).

The suit she was involved with remains active for the three remaining “Jane Doe” plaintiffs, so more payouts could be forthcoming for them.

Attorney Jerry Walz, who is representing Española Public Schools, said he couldn’t say for sure if there will be settlements with the other three girls.

“Settlement negotiations are always ongoing,” he said. “If we can resolve them amicably, we’ll do so. If not, we’ll go forward with the litigation.”

Private insurers covering losses through NMPSIA previously paid $7.6 million in settlement payments to two other girls who were Gregor’s students at Fairview Elementary during the 2007-08 school year. One case was settled in 2016 for a $3.2 million payout, while the other was settled last year for $4.4 million.

Attorney Cammie Nichols has represented all six girls who brought lawsuits against Gregor and Española Schools, as well as the two girls in Santa Fe that are part of the new suit filed this week in state District Court.

Asked if she expected more settlements to be reached in the remaining Española case, she said, “Not at this point. We’re preparing for litigation.”

That case is set to go to trial in April.

Gregor, now 62, has gained national attention as an example of “passing the trash” among school districts – when teachers or administrators suspected of misconduct are forced out of their jobs, but not charged or publicly disciplined, and go on to be hired by other school districts.

Prior to coming to New Mexico, Gregor faced accusations of misconduct while teaching in Utah and Montana.

Gregor has been in jail since April 2017 after a Rio Arriba County grand jury indicted him. On his various charges, Gregor has twice backed out of plea deals at the last minute.

No negative recommendation

Attorney Nichols brought her first lawsuit against Gregor in February 2014. She said an Española girl’s family came to her because “nothing was happening” after police investigated Gregor in 2009 and turned information over to the District Attorney’s Office.

Gregor dodged prosecution before. He faced criminal child sex abuse charges in Utah in 1995, but a judge dismissed them for lack of evidence.

According to the second lawsuit Nichols filed on behalf of another girl, Gregor disclosed to PED in 1998, before he was awarded a teaching license here, that he had been fired from a Montana school district for violating a school policy barring after-school activities with students.

Because Santa Fe schools gave Gregor a “neutral” reference after he resigned from the district in 2004, despite allegations that he engaged in inappropriate behavior with female students, SFPS was named as a defendant in Nichols’ initial suit. But a judge dismissed the Santa Fe district from that case.

Still, in January, the state Attorney General’s Office brought charges based on the yearsold allegations from Santa Fe. The criminal complaint states that Gregor would pick certain girls to sit at a table at the front of the classroom. Sometimes, he would have one of the girls stay with him during the lunch break. One girl interviewed said that Gregor would have her sit on his lap and then he would take advantage of her.

Gregor resigned as a teacher at Agua Fria after Museum of International Folk Art employees told the school district they saw him fondling young girls while on a field trip.

With no negative recommendation from Santa Fe schools, Gregor landed his second New Mexico teaching job that kept him around young girls. He was hired in Española in 2005 and stayed there until 2010 when he was fired amid allegations of inappropriate behavior with students. He reportedly twice asked a fourth-grade girl to spend the night at his house. The lawsuit settled in 2016 said Gregor would groom his victim by offering her gifts like candy and teddy bears.

In the lawsuit that led to the most recent settlement, “Jane Doe 3” said that Gregor would often compliment her, “always telling her how pretty and smart she was.”

The girl was elected “president” of Gregor’s class, which earned her a special place in a chair next to Gregor. When she moved away from him, “he looked at her sadly and asked her to come back,” the lawsuit says.

The suit alleges that Gregor would also get the girl to sit on his lap, put his hands in her hair and tell her how much he liked it. He also put his hand on her knee and slowly moved it up her thigh, it alleged.

The girl told her mother that Gregor had her stay in the classroom to “grade papers” during lunch, which the family thought was odd, according to the lawsuit. She didn’t tell her mother about Gregor touching her inappropriately then. But, concerned about Gregor’s interactions with her daughter, the mother had her moved to a different fourth-grade class.

“As a result of her traumatic experience with Defendant Gregor, Jane Doe 3 is uncomfortable with male teachers and authority figures, and dislikes it when men are physically close to her,” the lawsuit said. “She is suspicious of others’ intentions and has tried hard to avoid thinking about Defendant Gregor.”

Premiums increased

Nichols said she thinks there may be other girls victimized by Gregor who are reluctant to come forward.

“I think the reason they haven’t spoken up is deeply personal,” she said. “It’s just too painful for them.”

The ones who have spoken out may have done so because they were finally ready, she said.

“There’s a quote from Maya Angelou that goes, ‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.’ I think the girls that come forward, that’s the ultimate reason,” she said.

Asked what could be done to keep teachers who have been accused of misconduct in one school district from getting jobs in other districts, Nichols said the state Legislature could work toward addressing the problem.

“There is already a pretty good system in place nationally for keeping track of this kind of reporting of teachers,” she said. “The problem is school districts in New Mexico weren’t accessing that database.”

She was referring to a database compiled by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification.

The NASDTEC clearinghouse has information on teachers in all 50 states, U.S. territories and Canadian provinces. But the searchable database is only as good as the information it receives. She said Gregor was able to get a job in New Mexico because all that was done here was a fingerprint check, which didn’t turn up anything. Had officials in Utah notified the FBI, the fingerprints would have been on record.

Española Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez said the school district has a process for vetting prospective employees.

“We always complete reference checks, research applicants on the National Sex Offenders Network (NSON) and have started to utilize Google and social media networks,” she wrote in an email. “Once hired, we run fingerprints through the DPS/FBI; and require drug testing.”

Gutierrez said teachers and administrators go through annual training about what’s appropriate, and what’s not appropriate, behavior with students, “and we recently adopted the Boundaries policy recommended by NMPSIA.”

While Española Schools paid $750,000 that wasn’t covered by insurance in one of the settled Gregor cases, Gutierrez said the school district’s finances aren’t at risk with the other pending lawsuits. She said premiums have increased, but the costs are divided as part of group rates through the NMPSIA.

Ernestine Chavez, executive director with NMPSIA, said that based on loss allocation, the premium for Española Schools was increased by 24 percent starting July 1.

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