A Kennewick teacher who owns a Richland martial arts school is accused of inappropriately touching a girl and trying to set up a secret rendezvous to have sex.
Oscar Perez Garnica, 47, teaches math at Kennewick High School and “was placed on paid administrative leave before the school year began when the school district learned about the allegations from law enforcement,” said district spokeswoman Robyn Chastain.
The district is fully cooperating with the Richland Police Department, added Chastain, who had no further comment because it is an active criminal investigation.
Garnica has been a Kennewick High teacher since 2006. He also was the girls bowling coach from 2008 to 2016, stepping down in February after the season.
The incident with the young teen girl allegedly happened Aug. 7 at Choice Martial Arts on Wellsian Way. The next day, the girl disclosed the encounter to her counselor, who explained he was required by law to report it to police.
State Department of Revenue records show the martial arts business is registered under Garnica’s home address in Pasco. Court documents say he is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu sensei, or teacher, at the school.
Garnica was charged Monday in Benton County Superior Court with third-degree child molestation. The charge includes the aggravating circumstance that Garnica used his position of trust or confidence to commit the crime.
He has been sent a summons to appear in court Oct. 19.
Garnica had been helping the girl “work through some difficult personal problems,” according to court documents.
They were alone when he invited the girl to sit on his lap. They eventually began kissing and he touched her inappropriately, documents said.
The teacher and student left the center together to get something to eat, and then Garnica drove her home, documents said.
The two allegedly talked about having sex the next day, with Garnica saying he would bring a “glove,” referring to a condom.
After the girl learned her counselor was going to call police, she asked her mother to drive her to the martial arts school so she could talk to Garnica. The mother waited in the car but after some time went inside, where Garnica approached her and said there had been an allegation of inappropriate contact, court documents said.
He explained that he hugged the teen while she was sitting on his lap and that his hand must have slipped, but denied any intentional wrongdoing, documents said.
Deputy Prosecutor Megan Whitmire wrote that Garnica told the mother he had “been through this type of thing before,” that there would be interviews and his name would be placed on “a list” for a year, and then everything would be fine.
Police found the girl and Garnica both deleted all communications with each other from their cellphones, but some segments of conversations were retrieved, court documents said.
Phone records showed more than 400 text messages between the girl and Garnica from late July until Aug. 9, when the girl’s mother took her phone away and got a civil court order for Garnica to have no contact with the teen.
Many of those messages were sent between midnight and 3 a.m., including after Garnica knew police were being contacted, documents said.
The girl allegedly sent one text saying “I’m done … all I do is cause pain,” with a response from Garnica saying “You bring happiness and smiles to my life.”