Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
At a trial earlier this month in which former Santa Fe and Española teacher Gary Gregor was found guilty of sexually molesting female students, the defense called just one witness: Gregor’s wife.
Not called to the stand was Ruby E. Montoya, principal at Fairview Elementary School in Española during the time Gregor committed the alleged crimes that have resulted in his now facing a prison sentence of up to 168 years.
Although she didn’t testify, Montoya was still part of the trial. Two of Gregor’s former fourth-grade students from the 2007-08 school year, now adults, said that they had reported inappropriate touching to Montoya, but the principal did nothing other than tell Gregor’s students to stop spreading false information.
A woman who was an educational assistant at Fairview, and a parent of a student at the school, testified that she had also gone to Montoya, two or three times, with complaints about Gregor’s behavior with girls.
Montoya was on the prosecution’s witness list for the trial, but they didn’t need her testimony.
The jury deliberated just four hours before delivering its verdict, finding the now 62-year-old Gregor guilty of three counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor, four counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor and five counts of kidnapping. He’ll be sentenced Jan. 2.
Neither Montoya nor anyone else at the Española schools ever reported Gregor to police or the state Children, Youth and Families Department.
Reached by phone last week, Montoya declined to comment for this story.
Her attorney, Jerry Walz, said she could have been a beneficial witness for either prosecutors or defense attorneys.
“She would be able to provide information that would favor the state, and certainly there would be information that she could provide that could be interpreted as favoring Gregor,” he said, adding that the decision not to call her to the stand was a tactical legal decision.
Walz said that Montoya has handled herself well when under oath giving depositions and would be a good witness.
“I think she’s been very factual, very professional and truthful,” he said.
Gregor still has at least three more trials in his future related to alleged crimes against elementary school students, including one scheduled to begin Jan. 15.
Española Public Schools has paid out $9.2 million in civil suits over Gregor’s alleged abuse of girls. There’s a still-pending civil suit against him that also names as defendants Santa Fe Public Schools and a former principal at the district’s Agua Fria Elementary School, where Gregor taught before taking teaching jobs in the Española district.
All of the pending criminal cases against Gregor allege crimes that occurred more than 10 years ago. But for various reasons, most of the allegations were never reported to police. Those that were didn’t result in charges. It wasn’t until late last year that the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office filed criminal charges against Gregor.
Montoya was named as a co-defendant in a civil case against Gregor in 2014, but she never testified because out-of-court settlements were reached and the case never went to trial.
However, she has provided testimony in matters regarding Gregor several times, the first in 2010 when Gregor appealed a decision by the state Public Education Department to revoke his teaching license.
Only then did allegations of Gregor’s inappropriate behavior with female students begin to come to light publicly.
Friendly with Gregor
Montoya, now 64, has been at the center of many of the revelations about Gregor, both because she was his principal from the time he came to Fairview as a second-grade teacher in 2006 to the fall of 2010 when he was stripped of his teaching license, and because she – and her husband, Jimmy – were friendly with Gregor outside regular school hours.
Jimmy Montoya repeatedly faced accusations of improper touching of girls during his own teaching career and served probation on reduced charges in one case.
The 2014 civil suit said Ruby Montoya’s conduct as principal as it related to Gregor “shocks the conscience.” She addressed matters in an “impermissible manner” and engaged in conduct that was “egregious, outrageous or fraught with unreasonable risk,” it alleged.
Montoya defended herself in the depositions, but some of her testimony conflicts with what other people told investigators.
One school employee said Montoya seemed “reluctant” to report concerns expressed to her about Gregor’s behavior to the CYFD or law enforcement.
“We did do an investigation,” Montoya protested when the allegation was raised during a 2015 deposition in one of the civil lawsuits.
And it’s true, the school district and police did conduct investigations. But not until at least two years after bad behavior by Gregor was first reported to her, according to state Public Education Department hearing records.
And Española police were contacted by a parent of one of Gregor’s students, not by Montoya or the school district. The police conducted an investigation, the results turned over to the Santa Fe District Attorney’s Office, which filed no charges.
Art teacher’s report
During the 2006-07 school year, Gregor’s first year at Fairview, an art teacher complained that Gregor wouldn’t let a second-grade girl participate in art activities with the other students in his class, according to information from Montoya’s lawsuit depositions and the PED licensure hearing.
In a letter she wrote to Montoya, the art teacher said the girl, who served as “president” of Gregor’s classroom, was sitting so close to Gregor it made her feel uncomfortable.
The letter prompted Montoya to conduct an investigation, but it didn’t last long. That same day, Montoya met with the girl’s grandparents and father at the school.
“I was really shut down by the parent and the grandparents of the young girl,” Montoya said. “And I really got hollered at.”
Montoya said the family was “livid” that Gregor was being accused of misconduct.
“They said (Gregor) was a family member – a family friend, and that they had had him over, and also had been participating at her baseball games.”
Montoya said she dealt with the situation by telling Gregor not to have class officers, which he agreed to do. But the next year, when Gregor was teaching fourth grade, he went back to having officers. That upset Montoya, but she never reprimanded Gregor for not following her directive.
While Gregor was still teaching second grade, according to another deposition Montoya gave for civil litigation this past summer, Montoya said she caught Gregor inside what she believed to be a locked classroom with the same girl during recess.
Her concern, though, wasn’t about what danger the girl might be in, it was that the girl was deprived of recess, and made to stay behind and grade papers.
Attorney Alicia Lopez, one of the attorneys representing Gregor’s alleged molestation victims, essentially asked Montoya how she couldn’t put two and two together after back-to-back incidents involving Gregor and the same girl.
“So, how did your mind not go there?” she asked.
“I don’t remember,” Montoya said. “I don’t remember exactly what I felt when I found her there. … I’m not going to say that things didn’t cross my mind or things crossed my mind, ‘cos I don’t remember.”
Lopez didn’t let up in her questioning. She asked Montoya if she was aware the girl had testified that “in the minutes before the door was unlocked, that Mr. Gregor had her lying on the floor in front of him, her back to his chest, while he rubbed his clothed penis against her lower body?”
Montoya later said she didn’t believe the child.
“You don’t believe her?” Lopez asked. “Why don’t you believe a child?”
“I don’t know,” Montoya said.
Other red flags
There were other red flags brought to Montoya’s attention.
Several adults said they expressed concern to Montoya about Gregor sitting with girls in the school cafeteria with his hands beneath the table.
Montoya asked him to stop sitting on the girls’ side of the table, she said in depositions, and he did.
There were also complaints about Gregor holding hands with girls as they walked to and from the classroom and the cafeteria. Montoya talked to him about that, too, she said. Gregor told her it was the girls who grabbed his hand, but he agreed to stop that behavior, as well.
Another time, a parent came to her and accused Gregor of grabbing her daughter’s breast while breaking up a playground fight. The principal said she again talked to Gregor, who said that, if that happened, it was inadvertent.
Montoya said she discussed that incident with Assistant Superintendent Dorothy Sanchez. They decided not to place Gregor on administrative leave and investigate the matter further.
The girl’s mother was mad when nothing was done. “Tell him just to stay away from my daughter!” she told Montoya.
Several people who talked to investigators said they either told or warned Montoya about Gregor’s behavior. In her depositions, Montoya wouldn’t go so far to say they were lying, saying instead that she didn’t recall or remember it happening.
Montoya said she has no recollection of the mother of one alleged victim ever coming to her about Gregor inappropriately touching her daughter in the classroom.
“I don’t recall any parent coming to me,” she said.
Nor did any student, she said.
“If I had a student that came to me, I would have done something about it, but I don’t recall a student coming to me,” she said.
According to transcripts from Montoya’s deposition in 2015, four girls told investigators that they came directly to Montoya about being touched inappropriately by Gregor, just as two former Gregor students testified in his recent trial.
The students said to investigators – as one of them, now an adult, testified at trial – that Montoya reacted by meeting with the class and telling them to stop saying untruthful things about Gregor.
“I don’t remember that,” she said when asked about student accounts during a deposition.
“So, you’re not saying you didn’t do that,” her questioner asked. “You’re saying you don’t remember if you did?”
“I don’t remember,” she repeated in 2015.
But in her deposition from June 29 this year, Montoya said that she does remember and that the girls didn’t come to her. She suggested that the girls speak to the district superintendent, not her.
“So, you never went to the classroom and told the students that lying about their teacher was bad?” she’s asked.
“No,” Montoya said.
Montoya also received a complaint from a teacher about Gregor’s talking about religion. It was the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack on America. Gregor allegedly deviated from the lesson plan and started talking about the military and his Mormon religion.
When Montoya confronted Gregor about it, he admitted talking about the military, but not about his religion.
One Fairview school employee, also the parent of a student at the school, testified at Gregor’s trial that he had talked to his fourth-graders about polygamy during a history lesson and told them it was OK for men to marry young girls.
In her 2015 deposition, Montoya was asked if she would she have handled her supervision of Gregor any differently, now that she had the benefit of hindsight.
“I’m not sure,” she responded. “Right at this moment, there’s a lot of information that you’re presenting me with, so I would say I’m not sure.”
Walz, Montoya’s attorney, said Montoya couldn’t provide a definitive answer because, at that time, “the case was based on allegations and not necessarily facts” and it would have been improper for her to speculate.
“Obviously, if she had had absolute knowledge that Mr. Gregor was doing these things, she would have taken other action,” he said.
Walz described Montoya as a parent and grandparent who worked her way through college and had a successful professional career, and who is “a loving and caring person.”
“Once you get to know Ruby Montoya, there is no way there can be any belief that she would do anything that would allow a child to be hurt. She’s not that type of person.”
In her 2015 deposition, Montoya was asked whether she would have hired Gregor back as a teacher. “I really don’t know,” she said. “With what I have here in front of me now, I probably wouldn’t have.”