A lawsuit that accuses the Elk Grove Unified School District staff of failing to notice “red flags” in an employee’s questionable behavior was filed in the Sacramento Superior Court on Aug. 28.
This complaint was filed on behalf of two minors who were students at Prairie Elementary School when they were reportedly abused by Eric Echols, a then-teaching assistant.
He was convicted in 2017 of committing lewd acts against minors and he is now serving an 11-year prison sentence. The defendant pleaded no contest to the charges of sexual abuse that he committed in 2015 and 2016. Echols was also named as a defendant in the new lawsuit.
Roger Dreyer, a Sacramento attorney representing the plaintiffs and their guardians, wrote in the recent lawsuit’s complaint that the district ultimately failed to train employees on how to recognize and respond to child abuse cases at their schools.
Dreyer wrote that school employees were aware of Echols’s inappropriate behavior toward students when he was a paraeducator at Prairie Elementary. He said that the offender “frequently” placed female students on his lap and he often spent time alone with them before he started abusing them.
“Such repeated and frequent misconduct is an obvious ‘red flag’ of child abuse in a public elementary school environment,” Dreyer wrote.
The attorney stated that employees failed to stop Echols from abusing the students despite seeing the early warning signs.
Dreyer also wrote that several students informed a mandated reporter at Prairie Elementary about Echols abusing a student, but she did not report this case to law enforcement or child protective services for more than 40 days. Dreyer noted that state law requires mandated reporters to share information about reported sexual abuse within 36 hours.
The attorney said that mandated reporter did not inform the district staff about Echols until the following school year.
Echols was placed on administrative leave in July 2016 while authorities investigated him. Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies arrested him a few months later at a relative’s home in Elk Grove.
The recent lawsuit’s plaintiffs are now seeking a court-determined compensation for the physical, mental, and emotional distress suffered by the victims.
Elk Grove school district spokesperson Xanthi Pinkerton declined to comment on the new lawsuit. She said that the district did not receive notification of that civil complaint, as of press time.
This is the second lawsuit filed against the Elk Grove school district by the parents or guardians of Echols’s young victims at Prairie Elementary. This March, a Sacramento Superior Court jury ruled in favor of the three plaintiffs - the district paid $1.1 million to the victims and their families.
“Our consistent focus in this case has been on the young women and families hurt by the actions of this individual,” Elk Grove School Superintendent Christopher Hoffman said in a March 13 press statement. “We want to ensure they have the support they need to heal and thrive. While we are confident that as a school district we did everything we could in this case to prevent this individual’s acts, no young person should ever have their trust violated by an adult – especially a member of our school’s community.”
The district stated they have a “Mandated Reporter Training” policy that trains school employees on handling sexual predator cases and to remind them of their legal obligations as mandated reporters.
This year, Elk Grove Unified launched an online system that enables students to report campus incidents such as bullying, violence, and harassment to district staff.
Echols was among a few former Elk Grove school district employees who were convicted of sexual offenses against minors in the past few years. Last month, former Cosumnes Oaks High School teacher Monte Reed was convicted of committing sexual offenses against three students. His victims’ families last year filed a lawsuit against the Elk Grove school district on charges of failing to stop him from harming the students.