Prosser School District officials knew a former staffer had engaged in “grooming behavior” with students, yet they allowed him to keep working with kids and even paved the way for him to teach in nearby Granger, a new lawsuit says.
And while in Granger, Stephen J. Castilleja’s troubling behavior went unchecked — and one of his students ended up in explicit video filmed in a classroom, it says.
The civil lawsuit, filed in Yakima County Superior Court on behalf of that student, seeks unspecified damages, plus attorney fees and other costs.
It names the Prosser and Granger districts.
Castilleja isn’t named.
“We have a school district that’s transferring a ‘groomer’ to another district. They’re letting him become someone else’s problem. Because of that, they’re enabling child sex abuse,” said attorney Megan Hale, who represents the student and his mother.
And in Granger, Castilleja used his “classroom as his playground” and it went “unseen or unspoken,” said Hale with Tamaki Law.
Attorneys for the Prosser and Granger districts couldn’t be reached Friday.
Castilleja is in federal prison after pleading guilty last year to making child pornography, child rape and molestation.
The former teacher came to investigators’ attention in January 2016, when his computer’s IP address was connected to child porn files.
He admitted to watching child porn as much as 10 to 15 minutes daily, and he produced pornographic videos and images over almost a decade, investigators said.
Castilleja also admitted to assaulting young boys, who were not Granger students, investigators said.
The lawsuit says Prosser school officials were aware of judgment and boundary issues on Castilleja’s part while he worked there from 2009-14.
He twice was written up — once for “poor judgment” while supervising students on a ski trip, and another time for what the then-superintendent later characterized as “grooming behavior.”
In an interview with police after Castilleja was arrested, then-Superintendent Ray Tolcacher “recounted how Castilleja gave signed sports (memorabilia) to a student as a ‘reward.’ School staff learned of the gift and determined that the item was misrepresented by Castilleja and deeply inappropriate,” the lawsuit says.
However, the district allowed him to keep working.
And when he left on his own a few years later, the district paved the way for him to get an emergency substitute teacher certificate, which allowed him to substitute teach in Granger, the lawsuit says.
Tolcacher didn’t note the “grooming behavior” on a state form requiring the disclosure of any “sexual misconduct materials” to the other district, it says.
Eventually, Castilleja became a full-time first grade teacher in Granger.
His grooming continued, the lawsuit says, with Granger parents saying he’d take kids to his parents’ home, take them on outings while telling them about “nasty stuff,” whisper inappropriate comments to them in class, show them pornography and teach them to masturbate.
Those disclosures came after Castilleja was arrested and the district identified “important kids”/”children of concern” to speak with, the lawsuit says.
The student in the lawsuit was filmed from the waist down, touching himself. The footage appeared to have been captured from under a desk, with other students present, the lawsuit says.