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Editorial: Missed chances to help in the Gary Gregor saga

Ex-teacher Gary Gregor faces up to 168 years in prison for convictions on charges that he molested two fourth-grade girls in Española years ago. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Ex-teacher Gary Gregor faces up to 168 years in prison for convictions on charges that he molested two fourth-grade girls in Española years ago. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — In the saga of former teacher and now convicted child molester Gary Gregor’s unfortunate glide through various New Mexico education bureaucracies – as chronicled in a series of investigative news stories by Journal North staff over the past two months – there were several points in time where Gregor’s path could have been blocked.

Gregor, as of December, stands convicted of molesting two fourth-grade students at an Española elementary school back in the 2007-08 school year after Attorney General Hector Balderas – unlike previous prosecutors who found reasons not to pursue charges against Gregor – finally took on the case.

Here are some key details:

• Before Gregor ever got a license to teach in New Mexico in the late 1990s, he’d already been charged with sexually abusing students in Utah, although a judge dismissed the case. It’s unclear if New Mexico Public Education Department officials ever knew of this episode or checked criminal and court records databases that would have shown the Utah charges.

While a dismissed case could not have been used against a defendant in a subsequent criminal prosecution, this one certainly should have been a red flag for licensure officials in New Mexico. Gregor himself had informed PED that he’d been fired from his Utah school district for insubordination, for violating a “direct order’ not to associate with students after school hours. That was another red flag – did anyone at PED wonder why a school district would fire a teacher for leading a 4H club without something else going on?

• After he was licensed in New Mexico, Gregor took a job at the Santa Fe schools. In 2004, docents at the International Folk Art Museum reported him as acting inappropriately with girl students during a field trip. This spurred a serious investigation by Santa Fe Public Schools. Some of Gregor’s students alleged that he would become aroused when they sat on his lap. But those accounts were challenged as tainted by a lawyer for Gregor because the girls were allowed to talk among themselves amid sessions with a Rape Crisis Center representative.

In the end, SFPS came up with a lawyerly resolution – Gregor agreed to “voluntarily” resign and in return he was given a “neutral recommendation” for potential future employers, with no mention of the allegations by the docents, the student accounts of what had happened in the classroom or a principal’s concern that Gregor had been displaying “grooming” behavior toward the girls.

“Bottom line, he’s gone,” an attorney for the school district wrote in an email.

• He was gone, yes, but not far, soon taking a job in the Española school district. Meanwhile, PED reviewed what had happened in Santa Fe. Initially, a PED lawyer raised the idea of calling in law enforcement. But, again, the most serious evidence – the accounts of what happened when Gregor had girls on his lap – was discounted as legally suspect. In another arrangement brokered by lawyers, Gregor received a reprimand rather than suspension or loss of his license.

• Meanwhile, up in Española, Gregor soon faced a fresh set of allegations about improperly touching girls. The principal at his school, whose own teacher husband faced criminal charges of improper contact with girl students, which were downgraded in a plea deal, at one point told students to stop spreading false stories about Gregor.

It’s stunning, looking back on this series of events, that no one from any New Mexico educational institution – state or local – ever called in police to take a good look at what Gregor was up to or properly gather evidence in a controlled way.

Finally, a parent did call the cops, and that helped lead to a PED decision in 2010 against renewing Gregor’s teaching license. Gregor was never charged by the Santa Fe District Attorney’s office. Available records appear to say the case was dropped because an alleged victim had changed her story over time.

The records also indicate that the DA’s office provided information to the PED as it took action against Gregor’s license in 2010. But prosecutors apparently either weren’t told about or didn’t care to pursue the fact that two other girls also described abuse by Gregor in formal depositions during the PED hearings.

Some accountability was enforced later when a series of civil lawsuits against Española schools resulted in more than $9 million in settlements paid out to Gregor’s alleged victims. There’s a pending civil suit against the Santa Fe schools. And because Balderas brought criminal charges against Gregor in 2017, Gregor faces up to 168 years in prison for his December convictions for the molestation of two Española girls, now adults, more than a decade ago.

Again, at too many crucial points in this story, people in charge found ways to let Gregor off easy. Particularly at Santa Fe Public Schools in the early 2000s, lawyers and administrators did their jobs of protecting or making things easier for their institutions without any obvious concern about what Gregor might do at his next teaching stop.

And there just appears to have been almost a cultural imperative, not so much about protecting a teacher like Gregor, but against bringing law enforcement into situations where criminal behavior had been described. No cops, but evidence was being ruled in or out as if in a courtroom criminal proceeding.

Gregor probably wouldn’t be treated the same way today, as the #MeToo movement, the mounting pedophilia scandal in the Catholic church and other current affairs have raised the collective consciousness about child and sexual abuse.

But that’s too late for the women who say they were molested by Gregor as little girls.

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