Dominguez previously taught at a Tucumcari elementary school from 1997 to 1998 and was accused of nearly identical behavior at that school
Though he pleaded no contest Friday to molesting four students, former Santa Fe elementary school teacher Ernest Dominguez maintained his innocence to the end.
”To all the families who have claimed to have suffered irreparably — I’ve suffered as much as these kids have,” Dominguez told a state district judge. “My demise was having a strict academic classroom.”
Dominguez, 35, maintained he was speaking “for every teacher out there” when he said that any person in a position of authority can be brought down when they are accused of something.
”And when a child makes the accusation, 90 percent of the time people will believe the child,” he said. “I stand before you maintaining my innocence.”
Despite that proclamation, Dominguez pleaded no contest to four counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor. In exchange for the plea deal which Judge Stephen Pfeffer thought twice about before accepting the agreement — Dominguez will be on probation for up to 20 years, have to register as a sex offender and won’t be allowed to be around children, the mentally ill or the elderly.
However, he will avoid prison.
Dominguez’s comments Friday came after he listened to the parents of his victims detail the nightmare their lives became after the alleged abuse, which took place in 2001 and 2002. The four boys were in fifth and sixth grade at Salazar Elementary School at the time. Dominguez is alleged to have reached his hands down their pants and fondled their genitals.
None of the victims attended Friday’s hearing.
The father of one boy spoke by phone and said through a Spanish interpreter that his son suffered ridicule when other children at school found out what happened. The boy still suffers from depression and is currently a patient in a psychiatric hospital, the father said. The situation also has affected the boy’s younger brother, and triggered depression in him and his wife, he said.
”I’d like for something to happen to this man,” he said. “We’re going to have to live with this the rest of our lives.”
The mother of another boy said her son also suffered greatly.
”Because of what (Dominguez) did, my son, in turn, turned around and hurt his younger brother,” she said. She put her son in a locked-down treatment facility for a year, and she said that he’s now 18 and doing well.
”He took responsibility and he took care of that,” she said. “My younger son forgave him and now we’re a stronger and better family. (But) we’re still overcoming it.”
The same boy’s father said to Dominguez, “Regardless of what happens, it doesn’t matter. Because in our hearts, you are already dead.”
The mother of a third boy said her son is so traumatized by Dominguez’s abuse, he won’t even go out to eat because he thinks everyone knows what happened to him. He also stopped going to school and “fell into a deep depression,” she said.
”He struggles to go to work or shopping for his own personal needs,” she said. “He even struggles to go in and pay for his own gas.”
The boy — now a young man — must be accompanied at all times by a family member who takes care of his needs, she said.
The mother of the fourth boy sounded a similar refrain, saying her son become depressed and withdrawn and stopped trusting people. She also read a letter the boy wrote.
”I want Mr. Ernest Dominguez to receive the maximum penalty for what he did to me,” the boy wrote. “I would like to put this all behind me and move forward with my life.”
Before he accepted the plea, Pfeffer grilled prosecutor Barbara Romo about why she offered Dominguez the plea. She said she met with three of the four boys in April — the fourth couldn’t be located at the time — and explained that if they decided to go to trial there were no guarantees Dominguez would be convicted.
She also told them that each boy’s allegations would necessitate a separate trial, during which jurors could not be told of the allegations reported by the other boys. However, she said she told them she was completely willing to go to trial if that was what they wanted.
All three agreed that Romo should offer the plea — Dominguez would only agree to a deal that guaranteed no jail time — so they could move on and put the abuse behind them, Romo said.
”Their concern was that he never be allowed to hurt another child again,” she said.
Dominguez previously taught at a Tucumcari elementary school from 1997 to 1998 and was accused of nearly identical behavior at that school, Romo has said. The District Attorney’s Office in Tucumcari decided not to prosecute him, she has said. Dominguez and the school district signed a confidentiality agreement to protect both parties from liability, according to court documents. He also taught in Espanola.
The Santa Fe case against Dominguez took so long to move through the criminal justice system because the state District Court dismissed some of the charges against him, and that decision was appealed to the state Court of Appeals, which upheld the decision.
Calling Romo a “highly seasoned” and “aggressive” prosecutor who is experienced in child sexual abuse cases, Pfeffer said he might not have accepted the plea if she hadn’t been the one to offer it. However, he did accept it and imposed probation that could last up to 20 years. The case will be reviewed every five years.
The judge also barred Dominguez from ever holding a teaching position or any other job — volunteer or paid — that puts him in contact with children, the mentally ill or the elderly.
Dominguez will have to register as a sexual offender and will be subject to a closely supervised form of monitoring, Romo said. His probation case will be transferred to Tucumcari, where Dominguez lives with his parents. Pfeffer gave him 30 days to move out of his parents’ home because it is too close to a high school.
Pfeffer also left no doubt as to whether he believed Dominguez was innocent of the charges against him.
”Despite your protestations, this is not an isolated incident,” the judge said. “It’s not just one child accusing you. It also happened in Tucumcari. People are capable of deceiving themselves, and I believe you’ve done that.
”You violated a sacred trust,” the judge continued. “Society has to draw a clear line for these types of crimes.”