Questions remain following social media allegations

After a protest at a La Joya campus which occurred over a viral Facebook post that informed the public of a sexual assault in the district, the community is still reeling from the aftermath.

After a suspect was punished with only one year of probation on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, the mother of a former student (victim) at Tabasco Elementary School created a “Justice ForHer” Facebook page to warn the community that a 14-year-old student assaulted her 5-year-old daughter on campus last April.

20180924 JusticeForHerOn Monday, the creator of the Facebook page approached the Progress Times and agreed to speak with the publication under the condition of anonymity.

Due to the nature of the crime and that the people involved are minors; Progress Times will not disclose the names of the individuals.

“I was informed of this incident by my daughter,” the mother said on Monday. “I notified the police department, Child Protective Services and had a meeting with the principal the day after the incident. I did everything I thought I had to do. I took my daughter to get tested at the emergency room at Renaissance, I have copies of everything. I am not lying, this is the truth. My district has done nothing.”

The Justice forHer creator also said that she was pushed to create the page after the sentencing of the suspect she said attacked her daughter. His sentencing at the 449th district court under Judge Renee Rodriguez-Betancourt was the result of a plea agreement she didn’t know of until after the sentencing, she said.

“I was frustrated, crying and heartbroken. It’s not fair,” she said of the sentencing. “I tried to get the Texas Rangers involved and nothing was done. That is why I turned to social media so parents can know about this incident because it is not right.”

The post created an uproar in the community that led to a protest where 50 individuals lined up in front of Tabasco Elementary School demanding to know why the public wasn’t made aware of this incident. The La Joya school district addressed those allegations at a press conference later that morning.

“The people that needed to be notified, were notified,” La Joya ISD police chief Raul Gonzalez said Monday. “There is misinformation that we did not notify people regarding this case. We have state and federal guidelines that prohibit us from disclosing information. If you were not notified, that means you were not an appropriate person who needed to be notified.”

District officials did not comment on the validity of the allegations Monday but said district police was notified of the incident April 26, the day the incident took place. The district police department investigated the case and an arrest was made, but after the case was reported Texas Child Protective Services and the Texas Education Agency, and transferred to the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office, the case was out of the district’s hands.

“The district can confirm this investigation was done with the same level of integrity as all other investigations and none of the students involved received any kind of special treatment,” district attorney Jerry Muñiz said Monday. “In addition, the investigation was conducted free of any politics or precision from any third party.”

Gonzalez added that counseling services were offered to the victim but the family declined the services, but on Monday’s report the mother said the district never reached out to her to offer counseling and she ultimately withdrew her daughter from the district.

Gonzalez stressed during the press conference that there are guidelines in place that prevented the district from notifying the public of the incident.

“The rumor of us not informing anyone is false,” Gonzalez said Monday. “We informed everyone we were obligated to. If you didn’t receive that information, it’s only because laws did not permit us too. Unfortunately, social media is in the hands of the community and make irresponsible comments that create fear and chaos and we have to explain we did not cover anything up.”

The 14-year-old suspect in the case was part of the Coca Cola Valued Youth Program. According to Coca Cola Valued Youth Program website, “this dropout prevention program works by identifying junior high and high school students in at-risk situations and enlisting them as tutors for elementary school youngsters who are also struggling in school.” The program has been in place in the district for more than 20 years, but once the incident was reported on campus it was suspended the following day, officials said.

On Monday afternoon, hours after the press conference, the district announced in a press release that the program was suspended indefinitely districtwide.

Following social media claims and Monday’s initial report that the mother contacted Child Protective Services first and that the district was withholding the incident report from her, chief Gonzalez invited Progress Times to view the report.

Though Gonzalez didn’t allow the Progress Times to keep a copy of the report, the 30-page-long report detailed information on the case, and showed that CPS was contacted Friday, April 27, the morning after the incident. He stressed that he worried that social media uproar would result in the victim being “revictimized” due to the attention the incident has received.

“There is no cover-up here, simple as that,” Gonzalez said Tuesday. “This is information we are not disclosing to the public, but we can show this to the mother. She is an appropriate person.”

However, the Justice ForHer Creator said claims of the district reaching out to the proper authorities first are untrue.

“I stand firmly by that,” she said, adding that she hadn’t contacted Gonzalez on seeing the incident report. “After so many times of denying me my right to have a copy it is hypocritical to let me see it now.”

A representative from CPS said that though he could not comment on the case, he did say it was possible that the district and the mother reached out to CPS to report the incident, which would then have gone onto the
confidential report.

When reached by the Progress Times, Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez sent a statement on the incident where he emphasized that his office seeks the “best possible outcome in all cases, including cases involving juvenile offenders.”

“However, it is important to consider that several factors determine the eventual outcome of all cases,” the statement reads. “Factors such as the age and the availability of the victim, the number and availability of witnesses or lack thereof, and an offender’s right to a jury trial, must all be considered before the District Attorney’s Office makes a recommendation in plea negotiations.”

Attempts to reach Judge Rodriguez-Betancourt for a comment were redirected to the county public affairs office, which had not responded as of press time.

The Justice forHer creator said she feels grateful for the people who attended Monday’s protest, and is making sure her daughter will walk away from this experience as intact as possible.

“Obviously I want the best well being for my daughter,” she said. “I take her to counseling and other types of extracurricular activities I think are beneficial to her well being and her state of mind that will give her the confidence to be strong. My daughter will be fine. I’m sure of that. I will make sure of that.”

Anyone who suspects abuse is going on can anonymously report it to CPS 1-800-252-5400 or at txabusehotline.org.

La Joya ISD students can report any safety concerns to the district through the Anonymous AlertsApp, which they can download for free for Android and Apple devices. More information on the app can be found at the district’s website at lajoyaisd.com.

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