The parents of a 13-year-old student who was allegedly molested by a Goodyear elementary school teacher filed a notice of claim against the school district on Monday as a precursor to a lawsuit.
Their attorneys argue that the principal of Las Brisas Academy was aware of possible child abuse by sixth-grade teacher Brittany Zamora and failed to notify the authorities.
Zamora, who is 27, was arrested in March and charged with multiple felony counts of child molestation, sexual conduct with a minor, furnishing obscene material to a minor, and public indecency. She pleaded not guilty, and a trial is scheduled for November.
The family says that Liberty Elementary School District officials – in particular, Las Brisas Principal Timothy Dickey – were negligent in their handling of the allegations. They're willing to settle the lawsuit for $2 million on behalf of the victim and $250,000 for each parent.
The victim's mother and father have suffered shock and anxiety in the aftermath of their son's abuse, according to the claim.
In the notice of claim – a required step before suing a public entity – attorneys argue that Dickey knew about an inappropriate relationship between Zamora and a student, but failed to alert law enforcement, in violation of Arizona law.
As evidence, the claim cites Dickey's comments to police that three female students wrote statements on February 7, raising issues in the classroom between Zamora and the victim. The following day, Dickey took notes during interviews with multiple students about Zamora; in those interviews, students told him that Zamora and the victim were "dating" or in a relationship.
Zamora reacted hysterically after Dickey interviewed these students, the claim says.
A little over a week after Dickey learned of these allegations, Zamora allegedly had sexual intercourse with the student and performed other sexual activities in her classroom, according to the claim; Zamora allegedly enlisted a friend of the victim to keep watch.
Dickey failed to inform the authorities when he had reasonable grounds that child abuse was occurring and had no business investigating whether a child was the victim of sexual abuse, the claim argues.
On March 21, the boy's father and his stepmother were alerted to sexually explicit messages and images from Zamora via an parental-monitoring app called Sentry. According to the claim, they called Dickey the same night to tell him that Zamora had molested their son.
Citing police reports, the boy's family says that after speaking to them, Dickey called Zamora "to tip her off" to the allegations before Dickey alerted the police.
Dickey dialed Las Brisas Academy's school resource officer two-and-a-half hours after the boy's father contacted him with the information brought forward by the family, according to the claim.
"If Liberty School District officials had acted appropriately upon the information that they possessed, the most heinous acts would never have occurred," the claim states.
The victim is referred to as John Doe in the claim, with his parents listed as Joe and Jane Doe.
Dickey hired Zamora in April 2017 to teach sixth grade at Las Brisas, according to the claim, after previously working with her at Littleton Elementary School, where he had been an assistant principal.
Multiple requests for comment to the Liberty district were not returned.
Russell Richelsoph, an attorney for the victim, told Phoenix New Times that the family is attempting to move to a different part of town to preserve their son's anonymity as he enters the seventh grade at a new school.
“It’s a time of great anxiety at their house," he said.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
He declined to comment on the likelihood of a settlement between the district and the family.
In addition to the violations of Arizona laws, the claim cites violations of Title IX and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Attorneys haven't decided whether to file the lawsuit in state or federal court, according to Richelsoph.
He said that when parents send their kids to school, they're trusting that the adults in the building have their child's best interests at heart. But the administration at Las Brisas failed their son, Richelsoph said.
"This is a situation where not just a teacher abused that trust, but the whole school did," he said.