Settlement, guilty plea arrive in Santa Rosa ISD sex assault

Seventeen days after a civil lawsuit against the Santa Rosa Independent School District and two former teachers accused of sexual assault was dismissed, one of the teachers pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges on Monday.

Josue Arnoldo Cepeda pleaded guilty to the charges in the 103rd state District Court, the same day jury selection in his trial was set to begin.

Cepeda has been sentenced to 19 years in prison. In addition, he will have to register as sex offender for the rest of his life and will have to abide by lifetime protective order for the victim.

Cepeda pleaded guilty to six counts of sexual assault of a child, one count of trafficking a person and one count on improper relationship between an educator and student, the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office said in a media release.

Cepeda and Isaac Ruben Flores were accused of engaging in sexual relationships with the student and her friend, the lawsuit alleged.

Flores, 26, remains named in a six count indictment and faces three counts of sexual assault of a child, one count of trafficking of persons, one count of indecency with child, and one count of improper relationship between educator/student.

A motion hearing on Flores’ case is scheduled for Oct.6.

Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz said incoming Superintendent Angela Gonzalez supported the investigation by law enforcement officials and her cooperation was instrumental in Monday’s verdict.

“Dr. Gonzalez was targeted by the administrative personnel, school board members, and the community for cooperating with law enforcement and the District Attorney. These folks know who they are. If not for Dr. Gonzalez’s courage and commitment to the children of Santa Rosa, today’s plea deal would not have happened,” Saenz said.

According to federal court documents, the federal case against Cepeda and Flores and the district was dismissed Sept. 10 after a settlement with Janie Doe and John Doe was reached. The amount of the settlement is not listed in court documents, though the parents had sought $10 million.

Plaintiffs Janie Doe and John Doe (Janie Doe’s father) filed suit in January 2020 against Santa Rosa ISD, former superintendent Heriberto Villarreal, Santa Rosa High School principal Jaime Garcia, former teacher and coach Cepeda, and former coach Flores, citing alleged Title IX violations.

Cepeda and Flores were charged with multiple counts related to what prosecutors allege were sexual relationships with two female students beginning in 2018.

Cepeda, 36, had been named in an eight-count indictment that includes six counts of sexual assault of a child, one count of trafficking of persons, and one count of improper relationship between educator/student.

School district officials had been accused in the federal complaint of failing to take action after learning of the ongoing abuse, which according to the lawsuit was first reported by concerned individuals in late 2018.

Cepeda and Flores were suspended in February 2019 by superintendent Yolanda Chapa, the document stated.

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