The Clark County School District faces a federal lawsuit over allegations that it exposed children to a predatory teacher after neglecting to warn parents about his history of suspected student sex abuse.
The allegations date back to 2008, when North Las Vegas police arrested music instructor Jeremiah Mazo on charges of molesting students at Simmons Elementary School. A Municipal Court judge eventually dismissed and sealed his case, blocking any public review of details from the proceedings.
Without a conviction, the district claimed it lacked sufficient grounds to dismiss Mazo and returned him to the classroom.
Fast forward to April 2015, when North Las Vegas police again arrested Mazo on charges of inappropriately touching his students.
The 54-year-old faced 32 separate counts of child molestation but avoided a trial by pleading guilty to three lesser felony counts of attempted lewdness with a child. In December, a Clark County District judge sentenced him to serve up to 60 years in prison.
Now, Mazo joins the district as a co-defendant in a civil lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas.
“School officials undoubtedly knew that Mazo had or potentially had proclivities to abuse children,” said attorney Robert Eglet.
He represents the parents of two students who Mazo taught and is alleged to have molested during his most recent job at Hayden Elementary School.
“The school district didn’t necessarily have to fire him but at a minimum move him to a position where he had no access to children or at least by himself,” Eglet added. “Over and over again, this teacher had students stay after class, during recess … and yet they knew nothing about it? That’s just unbelievable and tantamount to doing nothing at all to protect these children.”
The district did not respond to requests for comment, but as of Tuesday, court records indicate it had not been served with the lawsuit.
The complaint, which lists the parents as plaintiffs, accuses Mazo of molesting their daughters after dismissing other students from his music class. The repeated incidents caused the girls to lose sleep at night, object to attending school or act out at home, according to the lawsuit.
One of the girls “was afraid to go to school because she thought other students would blame her for having Mazo arrested,” reads the lawsuit.
Eglet’s law firm typically handles personal injury and defective product cases, according to its website. But Eglet said he also had handled other sexual assault cases involving doctors, therapists and chiropractors.
“We believe there’s in excess of 30 victims, at least, probably more,” he said of the Mazo case.
“Inevitably, after the first client comes in and the case becomes public, then a lot of other victims come out of the woodwork,” Eglet said. “It’s kind of like the Bill Cosby phenomenon.”
The lawsuit specifically targets Mazo on claims of sexual assault, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and more.
It also accuses the district of negligent employment practices, failure to warn parents about Mazo and violations of federal law, known as Title IX, that prohibit schools from discriminating on the basis of sex.
Nan Stein, a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, has studied sexual harassment in schools for three decades and said suing on the basis of Title IX made sense.
“They’re smart to do it,” said Stein. “A lot of parents don’t realize they can. They think it only applies to athletics.”
Stein noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that sexual harassment is a violation of Title IX.
However, she wondered what type of warning parents should reasonably expect for a teacher accused, but never convicted, of a crime, as Mazo was in 2008.
“If you’re not found guilty, or if the charges are dismissed, that’s like putting the scarlet letter on a suspected sex offender,” Stein said. “That’s just unusual.”
Contact Neal Morton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @nealtmorton