Tucumcari schools face lawsuit

By William Thompson: Quay County Sun

Tucumcari public schools have been named in a lawsuit alleging officials failed to properly notify Santa Fe Schools of molestation allegations against a former teacher.

Santa Fe attorney Patrick Casey said he represents two elementary school students who claim they were molested at a Santa Fe elementary school by Ernest Dominguez, a former Tucumcari school teacher.

Dominguez was a teacher at Tucumcari’s Granger Elementary School in 1998.

Casey said Tucumcari schools notified the state education department about the allegations against Dominguez, but now there is an issue as to whether Tucumcari schools fully cooperated with later inquiries from Santa Fe Schools.

“Tucumcari schools may have notified the state about Mr. Dominguez, but the efficacy of any of those documents is questionable,” Casey said. “We are still in the discovery stage of the lawsuit. If it is found that Tucumcari schools did everything properly, then they are out of the lawsuit. I’ve told their lawyers that.”

Casey said the lawsuit should go to trial in late fall in Alburquerque.

Attorney Frank Coppler, an attorney hired by Tucumcari schools to tackle the current lawsuit, also said notification of Santa Fe schools is the main issue involving Tucumcari schools in the lawsuit.

“The issue is whether Tucumcari schools responded properly to Santa Fe schools. Mr. Casey says they may have not. Tucumcari schools say they did respond to Santa Fe schools. That is the issue the court will decide.”

In 2000, Tucumcari schools faced a civil lawsuit filed by attorney Clea Gutterson on behalf of two Granger Elementary students who accused Dominguez of molestation.

Neither Gutterson nor Dominguez could be reached for comment.

Tucumcari schools’ attorney Frank Albetta said the school district was dismissed from that case.

”The plaintiffs settled with Mr. Dominguez out of court,” Albetta said. “Tucumcari schools and the Tucumcari schools board of education were dismissed from that case and did not pay any money out, neither did they make any settlement out of court with the plaintiffs.

Coppler said he does not think Tucumcari schools did anything improper at any time.

“To me it looks like Tucumcari schools did everything correctly,” Coppler said. “The minute they were aware of Mr. Dominguez’s alleged propensities they placed him on suspension. They later worked out an agreement with him in which he left his job with the school (Granger Elementary). Tucumcari schools then notified, by letter, the state’s teacher licensing division. They told the teacher licensing division of the molestation allegations.”

Albetta confirmed Coppler’s contention that Tucumcari schools acted properly.

“I, myself, reported by letter to the state licensing unit on behalf of the Tucumcari school district,” Albetta said. “I reported the allegations against Mr. Dominguez to the state entity that had the power to pull his license.”

In a letter dated Oct. 26, 1998, Albetta wrote Marilyn Scargall who was the director of the Professional Licensure Unit for the state department of education. Albetta stated in his letter, “On behalf of the Tucumcari municipal schools, I am reporting the referenced teacher (Dominguez) to the Licensure Unit for investigation and possible license revocation for inappropriate touching of students.”

James Ball, assistant secretary of educator quality for the public education department, said Tucumcari school officials did notify the state education department of the Dominguez situation, “and we did conduct a thorough investigation.”

Neither Ball nor the public education department’s public information officer, Jennifer Chavez, would comment further.