Robin Chavez, principal of Santo Niño Regional Catholic School, alerted a mother in late April that an employee had witnessed what she feared was the sexual abuse of a boy — the mother’s young son — by another worker during an after-school program, a police report says.
The mother reached out to New Mexico State Police, which launched an investigation into 30-year-old Robert Apodaca, a health aide at the school.
But Chavez didn’t contact police.
She told a state police officer she had reached out to officials at the Archdiocese of Santa Fe about the incident and was ordered not to alert the state Children, Youth and Families Department or any law enforcement agency, according to a redacted copy of the report, provided by an attorney representing the child’s family, “as it did not yet rise to that level of notification.”
“As of the time of my interview no contact to any department had taken place nor did it appear any contact would be made,” Officer Eric Jackson wrote.
According to his report, the employee told Chavez she had discovered Apodaca alone with students in a dark, locked room where they were watching a film after school a few days earlier. She knocked twice before someone opened the door, the woman said, and was surprised to see Apodaca had a child seated on his lap.
“At that time she [was] unaware of where Mr. Apodaca’s hands were located,” the report says, adding he was “shocked and taken aback” to see the woman in the room.
Jackson wrote in his report the boy said Apodaca routinely picked him up and placed him in his lap and gave the boy treats, and the two frequently spent time alone together while making “rounds” of the school, as well as in a storage room and near a ladder to the roof.
Apodaca told the child, “Don’t tell anyone and to keep it a secret,” the officer added.
State police spokesman Ray Wilson wrote in an email Friday the agency had not yet filed charges against Apodaca but was continuing to investigate the allegations.
Charlie Moore-Pabst, a spokesperson for the state Children, Youth and Families Department, said if the agency had received such a complaint, it would have passed information about the incident — regardless of its severity — to law enforcement because the child welfare agency only handles investigations into concerns of abuse or neglect by parents and guardians.
Apodaca, meanwhile, is being held without bond in the Santa Fe County jail on three felony charges of molesting a student who attended Gonzales Community School, where he previously worked as a health aide, in 2019.
The boy in that case, who was 12 at the time of the alleged abuse, also was a member of a Jehovah’s Witness congregation where Apodaca served as a minister.
Apodaca was arrested in July. In a motion asking a judge to order him jailed until his trial, prosecutors cited a state police investigation into the possible sexual abuse of another child.
The motion also says Apodaca admitted to police that he made sexual contact with the Gonzales student.
Chavez told Jackson she placed Apodaca on leave for violating school policies after the employee came forward with concerns, the officer wrote in his report. Apodaca later resigned.
Chavez declined to comment Friday on the state police investigation. Instead, she referred questions to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
A spokeswoman for the archdiocese did not respond to questions sent via email Friday.
In a brief interview Thursday, after an attorney representing the boy and his family issued a news release on the investigation, Chavez said she was aware Apodaca had been arrested following his resignation from Santo Niño but did not know he was still under investigation. She declined to comment further without an attorney present.
Chavez likely worked with Apodaca at Gonzales Community School, where she served as assistant principal in 2019 before accepting the top job at Santo Niño. She also said Thursday that Apodaca had worked part time at Santo Niño since 2019 before coming on board full time.
Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez confirmed Thursday that Apodaca had worked as a health assistant at six schools in the district starting in 2012 and then resigned in September 2020.
District officials said they were unaware of his arrest in July and that there were no complaints against him during his time as a district employee.
The allegations Apodaca come a couple of years after former Santo Niño art teacher Aaron Dean Chavez was convicted of sexually abusing a young girl at the school, one of three who had come forward with accusations. Jurors deadlocked on other charges. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
At least one Santo Niño parent said she was outraged that Robin Chavez had not informed them of the reason for Apodaca’s resignation in late April. She and other parents were shocked to hear about his “policy violation” and arrest in July on counts of criminal sexual contact with a public school student, said the woman, who asked that her name not be published.
Parents were notified of Apodaca’s departure in a newsletter, she added.
The newsletter, signed by Chavez, begins, “Happy Friday! We are continuing our race to the end of the year.” It describes several end-of-year celebrations.
“One last announcement,” the newsletter continues. “Mr. Robert is no longer employed by Santo Niño. If you need information on our health office, Aftercare program or Summer Program, please speak to Ms. Christine and she will get you to the right person.
“I hope you have a beautiful weekend! Get out and enjoy the sun!”