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'I think it was a system failure' | CMS sued as volunteer faces several sex crime charges

A civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in Mecklenburg County alleges CMS district leaders knew about a volunteer teacher's past before he allegedly abused a student.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The parents of a CMS student who says she was sexually assaulted by a Spanish-language volunteer says the district received several credible allegations before she was allegedly assaulted and CMS leaders did nothing, according to a civil lawsuit filed against the district. 

"I think it's extremely troubling," said Alex Heroy, an attorney representing the family along with attorney Fred Monroe. 

The lawsuit regards Ricardo Mata, a longtime Spanish teacher who would offer after-school sessions at CMS schools with his business, PlaySpanish. 

Mata helped teach some 15,000 students, according to his website before it was taken down. 

"It's incredibly scary for everyone in the community," Heroy said. 

Heroy's client, who WCNC is not naming, says Mata sexually assaulted her multiple times in 2016 and 2017 while she was in kindergarten and first grade. 

The civil lawsuit said, "Among other abuse, Mata removed [the victim's] clothes and underwear and performed oral sex on her, while on school property." 

Heroy alleges CMS leaders knew about past allegations against Mata and Mata's criminal record but did nothing to protect children in the district. 

"There are policies I think that were missed in the beginning, and then they didn't ever act on the information they had," Heroy said in an interview with NBC Charlotte. 

In the lawsuit's complaint, Heroy lists the previous allegations. They include a background check completed by Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Police Department. It found that in 2009, Mata was banned from a Charlotte-area private school after allegations of "touching [a] young girl's private area." 

The background check also showed Mata was convicted with assault of a female and making threats towards her in 1999. The charges were later dismissed after an appeal. 

These discoveries were reported to CMS and the board, according to Heroy's findings. He argues that school leaders did nothing at the time and did not notify parents whose children were being taught by Mata. 

"I think it was a system failure," Heroy said. 

Heroy also found that later in October of 2017, emails between CMS and CMSPD showed the district had an internal debate "whether to ban him as a CMS vendor."

"You don't give someone with his history, and the allegations against him, you don't give him unsupervised, unfeathered access to our children," Heroy said. 

CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston promised volunteers will undergo further layers of checks to keep students safe. 

"Anyone who comes into our school as a volunteer, we're wanting to make sure they belong there," he said. 

However, Heroy and his client believe those at fault should be held accountable. 

"We all need to stand up and pay attention so it doesn't happen again," he said. 

Heroy is also urging parents to have tough, appropriate conversations with their children, because he believes there could be more victims. 

"Unfortunately, I don't think this is the only one," Heroy said. "I think there are other children who he's done this to."

Mata was arrested earlier in 2019 and now faces several sex crime charges. He pleaded not guilty and his trial is tentatively set to start in January. 

His attorney, public defender Peter Nicholson, could not be reached for comment. 


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