LOS LUNAS — The father of a Valencia High School student who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a now-former substitute teacher in 2020 has filed a civil lawsuit against the Los Lunas Board of Education, as well as several district administrators.
The suit alleges the Los Lunas Board of Education, as a body, as well as the individuals named, knew Lawrence Larson, 51, of Meadow Lake, was a danger to “vulnerable females” due to past allegations of sexual assault and did not protect the 16-year-old student and the student body from Larson.
The suit was filed on May 28, and the Aug. 10 response from Los Lunas Schools denies all allegations made in the 21-page filing.
In February 2020, Larson was charged with criminal sexual contact of a minor and false imprisonment. According to the suit, Larson told New Mexico State Police officers he touched the girl’s breast area with a closed hand, and her hip and thigh area with his knee and elbow.
The criminal charges against Larson were dismissed without prejudice — meaning criminal charges may be re-filed at a later time — on June 25, 2020, because the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s office was contemplating taking the case to a grand jury.
The case was not presented to a grand jury because after further review by the DA’s office, it was determined there was insufficient evidence to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt at this time, said Jessica Martinez, chief deputy district attorney.
Even though the case began in 2020, the decision was made after DA Barbara Romo took office, Martinez said.
“Mrs. Romo believes we, as prosecutors, have a legal and ethical obligation to protect both the rights of the victims and defendants,” she said. “To take away someone’s liberty without proper evidence goes against our obligation to pursue justice for all.”
In addition to the board of education as a body, the other parties named in the civil lawsuit are the five now permanently suspended board members — Bryan Smith, Eloy Jiron, Steven Otero, David Vickers and Frank Otero — LLS Superintendent Arsenio Romero, VHS Principal Albert Aragon, VHS assistant principal Joann Carter and LLS athletic director Wilson Holland.
Romero was hired as superintendent in January of this year, after Larson was charged. Aragon and Carter were the principal and vice principal, respectively, at VHS during the 2019-20 school year. Holland has been the athletic director for the district since 2013.
At the time of Larson’s arrest in 2020, then LLS superintendent Dana Sanders issued a written statement saying Larson was no longer an employee of the district. Larson worked for Los Lunas Schools from 2010 to 2011, and was rehired in September 2015 before he was fired in February 2020.
According to the civil lawsuit, during the 2018-19 school year, the girl saw Larson daily, and he talked to her about her personal life, resulting in her seeing him as a friend. Larson spoke to the 16-year-old as if he were pursuing a romantic relationship with her, the suit alleges, recounting that he once told her, “If I wasn’t married, you’re the kind of girl I would date.”
Larson would also hug female students at school, according to the allegations in the civil suit, and on at least one occasion, during a hug, the girl felt his erection through his sweatpants.
The suit claims the defendants failed to perform their duties and protect the girl and the rest of the student body, creating dangerous conditions at the school.
The suit filed against the school district alleges parents alerted staff at the high school and the district about the 2008 suit against Larson.
He left the coaching position after being told by other coaches he wouldn’t be allowed to continue because parents were going to take their children out of athletic programs, according to the most recent filing.
This is the second civil suit the girl’s father has filed in regards to the alleged assault. A civil suit was filed against Larson as an individual on June 10, 2020, which was removed to U.S. District Court in July of that year and is still pending.
Although Larson does not have a criminal history, he has been accused of sexual assault in the past, a situation the newest lawsuit alleges the district was aware of and ignored.
A civil lawsuit filed in federal court by Daveri Pacheco in 2008 alleges Larson coerced, intimidated and threatened her into having sexual relations with him at least six times between Aug. 11 and Sept. 11, 2007, while she was an inmate at the Valencia County Detention Center and Larson was a guard.
He worked at VCDC from January 2005 to September 2007. The civil suit filed against LLS says Larson was a middle school football coach for the district while he worked at the jail. Larson left VCDC voluntarily after an investigation into the allegations, which Larson denied in the response to Pacheco’s lawsuit.
According to the settlement agreement provided by the county, Pacheco settled with the county for $25,000 for her “pain and suffering.”
The most recent lawsuit also alleges Holland rehired Larson a few years later, even though he was aware of the accusations made against Larson about inappropriate sexual contact with a female inmate.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.