CHARLOTTE, NC (The Charlotte Observer) – In April 2018, after Ricardo Mata had been charged with sexually assaulting a first-grader at Eastover Elementary School, then-schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox assured families that the longtime Spanish-language volunteer had been thoroughly vetted.
“All CMS employees and volunteers must pass background checks,” Wilcox, who resigned in July, wrote in an email to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools parents on April 27, 2018.
“Mr. Mata passed the background checks because he had no prior criminal charges.”
According to public documents and a new lawsuit filed by the parents of the Eastover child, Wilcox’s statement was not true.
Whether Wilcox knew it or not, when CMS backgrounded Mata in 2013, investigators found at least two felony arrests, a criminal conviction that had been overturned on appeal and two incidents in which Mata was suspected of molesting young students, one of them from CMS, documents show.
Even so, school leaders appear to have done nothing to limit Mata’s access to hundreds of the district’s youngest children, according to documents from the lawsuit shared with the Observer.
For more than a decade before the 2013 investigation, as Mata’s language program “PlaySpanish” spread to as many as 15 CMS schools, district officials appear to have never checked Mata’s record — a security measure that CMS tells families is mandatory for all volunteers, the lawsuit says.
Had CMS acted on what its investigation uncovered in 2013, the Eastover child would not have been subjected to two years of sexual assaults from which she and her family still struggle, her father says.
“I’m shocked. I’m dismayed. I’m incredibly furious,” the father told the Observer this week. “The red flags were out there, and nobody did anything.”
CMS refused to comment Tuesday on a pending legal matter. Mata’s court-appointed attorney, Mecklenburg assistant public defender Peter Nicholson, could not be reached for comment.
The parents say in the lawsuit that their daughter, who participated in “PlaySpanish” in kindergarten and first grade, was repeatedly molested on school grounds. Some of those assaults, they say, took place during “Lock-Downs,” Mata’s purported student-safety training sessions in which the classroom lights were turned off, and his after-school students were told to scatter, hide and stay quiet.
Mata, according to emails, notified CMS of those drills. Now, the Eastover parents wonder why an after-school language teacher offering security training did not raise alarms among school officials.
According to the complaint, district officials and the school board received “credible information” in 2013 that Mata had molested a Matthews Elementary student enrolled in PlaySpanish.
The resulting probe by CMS police also uncovered a 2009 Charlotte-Mecklenburg police investigation into whether Mata had been responsible for the “forcible fondling” of a 6-year-old female student at the British International School in Ballantyne, an allegation that led to Mata being banned from that campus, the lawsuit says.