CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A local family has filed a lawsuit against Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, claiming the district is to blame for the devastating sexual trauma their 6-year-old daughter endured.
Channel 9's Allison Latos talked to the girl's father who didn't want to be identified to protect his child's identity.
He said what happened to his daughter on school property is something every parent should be upset about, and the school district did not do enough to protect thousands of students.
The family enrolled their daughter in Play Spanish, an after-school program at Eastover Elementary School, in 2016 and 2017.
The program was run by Ricardo Mata.
The girl's father claims Mata repeatedly molested his daughter, and it wasn't until she didn't want to go back that he discovered what was being done to her.
"Very traumatic, very unusual behavior that came to the surface---terrified," he said.
In September 2016, an email from Mata to parents and CMS officials says, "I want to let you know that on Oct. 4, we will conduct 3 separate safety drills: a fire drill, a tornado drill and a lock down."
The girl's father said Mata used those drills to turn off the lights, isolate his daughter and abuse her.
"She is my little angel and that’s all been taken away. It’s a nightmare," he said.
He claims his daughter's innocence was stolen at a place he expected her to be safe.
"I’ve lost trust with the school system that is supposed to be educating and protecting our children," he said.
Immediately after learning about the sexual abuse, he said he went to the police.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police arrested Mata on several child sex charges last year. He's facing criminal charges involving the girl at Eastover Elementary School and a 7-year-old child at Covenant Presbyterian Church.
On Tuesday, the family's attorneys, Alex Heroy and Fred Monroe, filed a lawsuit against CMS, the school board, Play Spanish and Mata with claims including assault and battery, emotional distress and negligence.
The lawsuit states Mata claimed to have worked with over 15,000 children in the Charlotte area from 1997 to 2018.
It also states that in October 2013, CMS and the board received credible information that Mata sexually molested a child and officials requested a background check for him.
The check revealed the following:
- In 2009, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department investigated Mata on allegations of "forcible fondling" involving a 6-year-old girl and no charges were filed.
- In 2000, Mata was convicted of assault on a female and communicating threats but the charges were later dismissed on appeal.
- In 2013, CMS police contacted the Guilford County sheriff asking for an explanation of a 1993 criminal case where Mata was extradited to Georgia telling the chief deputy "several children and parents have expressed concerns over his affectionate touching and comments."
The family's attorneys question whether Mata had ever had a background check until 2013 when he was accused by another family of sex crimes.
"They just looked the other way and let this man continue to be unsupervised around thousands of CMS students every year. Completely unfettered access," said Heroy.
The big concern for the family is how long Mata may have been doing this.
"What we want is change," the girl's father said.
According to documents, Mata ran the Play Spanish aftercare program at 15 different CMS schools for 20 years. For many of them, documents said he operated without a contract with the district, which he should have had.
According to the CMS website, any outside group, like Play Spanish, that works directly with students should register as volunteers, and all volunteers have to go through background checks.
In July, a presentation was made to the school board about ways to improve safety around the district.
There were several recommendations and some specifically mention outside groups.
The Safety Task Force said if the groups use school facilities, they have to have a valid agreement in place, they have to show proof of background checks for all people involved and have to clearly state they're not affiliated with the district.
They also recommended requiring more training for volunteers before allowing them to be with students unsupervised.
Channel 9 reached out to CMS and officials are not commenting on the lawsuit.
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