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Authorities had declined for years to prosecute teacher convicted of abuse

SANTA FE – It took a long time for former elementary teacher Gary Gregor to face prosecution for allegations that he had repeatedly molested young girls.

Last week, he was finally convicted on 12 counts of abusing two of his fourth-grade students at Española’s Fairview Elementary during the 2007-08 school year.

Former school teacher Gary Gregor, center, enters a Santa Fe Courtroom Wednesday before a jury found him guilty on 12 counts of molesting two fourth-grade girls a decade ago. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Also, hundreds of documents were released by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and the Española Police Department related to investigations of Gregor.

The records, many of them heavily redacted, shed new light on some aspects of the case. But none of them provides an explanation for why it took a decade for criminal charges to be brought in New Mexico against Gregor.

And neither the Santa Fe district attorney or New Mexico attorney general who were in office when allegations against Gregor first surfaced remembers the case, they said in interviews on Friday.

There was plenty of evidence around, in the form of accounts by young former students of Gregor, including in safehouse interviews documented by the police and in testimony that was provided to high-ranking officials of the state Public Education Department.

In December 2010, one of the girls sat before a hearing officer and two lawyers, and cried as she started answering questions about her interactions with Gregor when he’d been her fourth-grade teacher about three years previously.

Attorney General Hector Balderas and Nallely Hernandez, who testified that she was abused by former teacher Gary Gregor when she was in the fourth grade, speak at a news conference in February. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

A copy of her testimony in a PED hearing over whether Gregor’s teaching license should be renewed shows that she first answered that he had touched her “on my legs” below a table as they sat near each other. The touching took place “lots of times” over months, during both semesters of the 2007-08 school year. It made her feel “weird,” the girl said.

She told friends about the touching. “Did they say anything back?” she was asked.

“That he did the same thing to them,” the girl responded.

More details emerged as the questioning went on. Gregor asked her to go into a closet and said he wanted to kiss her, she said. She drew a picture with Xs marking where he’d touched her. The girl eventually said the teacher put his hands inside her pants more than a few times.

“He said not to tell anybody or else,” the girl said.

According to the transcript from the PED hearing, a second girl was asked about Gregor touching her when she sat in her designated seat as elected secretary of the fourth-grade class.

“… well, one time I was wearing a skirt,” the girl said. “He started here and he like went under my skirt. And then one time he – I don’t remember if he kissed or licked my ear.

“… he was on my leg, and he tried to pull up under my skirt. And that’s when I asked not to be secretary, a president or vice president. And I ended up sitting there, because he said there were no more desks in the classroom.”

Three girls in all testified at the hearing, whose transcript was later provided to both the DA’s office and the AG’s Office in 2011. The girls also told about getting invited to Gregor’s house for dinner and to stay overnight, and getting gifts from him, like a teddy bear or cellphone.

The Gregor case exploded into public view in August 2011, when Gregor filed a court appeal of a denial to renew his teaching license and attached a transcript of the 2010 licensure hearing. Still, no criminal case was made against him.

Police reports in 2009

The records released by the Española Police Department and AG’s Office last week show that a video of a safehouse interview, police reports and other DVDs about the case were sent by certified mail to the Santa Fe District Attorney’s Office in June and November 2009. The safehouse interviews with Gregor’s former students included accusations similar to those made during the PED licensure hearing, according a police report.

During Gregor’s trial last week – on charges filed in 2017 by current Attorney General Hector Balderas – an Española police officer testified about the investigation, but was never asked on the stand how the investigation was concluded or what happened to the case.

There may not be an official record that answers such questions.

The Santa Fe District Attorney’s Office, in response to a Journal records request for “all communication” between the DA’s office and other agencies about Gregor, maintained in a recent email that “there are no responsive documents.”

In addition to showing that the DA’s office received reports from the police department, records released last week also included an October 2009 letter from the Española schools’ contract attorney to the district’s human resources manager, who was conducting an internal investigation of Gregor. The lawyer wrote that he had received a call from Santa Fe Assistant District Attorney Lara Sundermann.

“She said that although the investigation has been submitted to the DA’s office, she has determined that additional follow-up by the Española Police is needed,” Vigil wrote.

Current District Attorney Marco Serna did not return email and phone messages seeking comment last week.

Lawyer pushes for probe

The newly released documents also show that in November 2011, private attorney Cammie Nichols – who has represented the alleged victims of Gregor’s abuse in civil litigation – sent a letter to then-District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco and included the transcript from Gregor’s 2010 PED hearing containing the testimony from the three girls who described sexual abuse.

“We are providing you with these transcripts in the interest of passing along information that may help prosecute Gary F. Gregor,” Nichols wrote.

Pacheco said in an interview Friday that she doesn’t remember the letter or what may have happened with the case. “First of all, I don’t have a recollection of any of this,” Pacheco said. “… I can’t even comment because I don’t have any knowledge of what occurred.”

Pacheco did say it’s typical for prosecutors to request more information from law enforcement in child sex abuse cases. “For many of these cases, there’s a lot of follow-up that is required,” Pacheco said. “Without that information, it’s difficult to go forward.”

In a letter dated December 15, 2011 – about a month after she’d corresponded with the DA’s office – Nichols next provided the PED hearing transcript to then-Assistant Attorney General Shannon Murdock in the hopes that the AG’s office would take up the case.

“As we discussed, the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office has informed our client that it will not be prosecuting Gary F. Gregor for alleged criminal sexual conduct against students while employed as an elementary school teacher,” Nichols wrote in a letter.

Gary King, who was attorney general at that time, before making an unsuccessful run for governor in 2014, also had no recollection of Gregor’s case.

“That doesn’t ring a bell,” King told the Journal Friday. “Normally, our office was good and aggressive at prosecuting crimes against children. I don’t remember having information about this one myself.”

Before Gregor was finally charged last year, civil lawsuits over Gregor’s alleged abuse filed by Nichols had racked up $7.6 million in settlement payouts by the Española school district. Another $1.6 million was paid to another victim this fall.

‘No physical evidence’

Nichols, who began filing the civil suits in 2014, said Friday that the DA’s office never gave her anything in writing about why no charges were filed against Gregor, but that she was told that “they were not going to prosecute because there was no physical evidence.”

“To me, that was code for, ‘We don’t think we can win, so we’re not going to take the case,’ ” Nichols said.

“To me, it was a much bigger case than they were envisioning,” she said. “There were so many other young women to reach out to and teachers who had seen things.

“It’s very difficult for young victims or young survivors like this to express themselves or come forward, and these cases take a lot of work and a lot of time, and they are risky. Someone really needs to be willing to put themselves out there and do all it takes to build a case and have success in court.”

No physical evidence was presented in last week’s trial where Gregor was convicted on 12 counts, with the main evidence being the accounts of two former Gregor students.

He now faces three more trials for similar crimes he allegedly committed against female students in Santa Fe and additional students in Española. The next one is slated for January.

Current AG Balderas, in office since January 2015, started filing charges against Gregor last year amid national media attention on so-called “passing the trash” of sex offender teachers from school district to school district without accountability.

Before he was hired to teach in Española, Gregor had faced accusations of improper behavior with female students in Utah (where a criminal charge was dismissed) and Montana, and then in Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe district gave Gregor a “neutral” recommendation, without any mention of his alleged improprieties with girls there, as part of his agreement to leave the district before he was hired in Española.

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