An employee of a food service firm that contracts with Los Alamos Public Schools is accused of contacting a high school senior this spring, shortly after she turned 18, and asking her to model for a photo shoot at a Santa Fe hotel.
He also offered the teen marijuana, according to police reports and Facebook messages.
“I like to shoot to hip hop and if you smoke bud, I like to get a place with a room we can smoke in to relax both of us,” one of the messages said.
The company, Chartwells K12, has fired the worker, a Santa Fe County man, and he is now under investigation by New Mexico State Police.
The agency received a report of the incident after the Los Alamos Police Department and the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office declined to take the case.
The New Mexican is not naming the man because he has not been charged with a crime.
There is no certainty he will be.
Because the student was over 18 at the time of the incident, it isn’t necessarily criminal under New Mexico law.
Santa Fe attorney Carolyn “Cammie” Nichols, who has represented clients in numerous civil complaints alleging child sexual abuse by school workers, said a prosecutor is not likely to bring a criminal case over this type of behavior unless there was evidence a school worker had sexual contact with a student before she turned 18.
School administrators would be obligated to investigate and determine if there were an inappropriate relationship, Nichols said. It would take some digging and creativity to bring charges, she said.
But Nichols said she believes such behavior warrants penalties.
“This kind of behavior definitely can lead to tragedy, so it would be great if the authorities would pay attention to it or law enforcement find a way to make it fit into something so there is a real consequence,” she said.
In the case of the Los Alamos High School student, a district administrator reported her allegations against the contract worker to local police.
The man’s employer also fired him from his position as a food service worker at Los Alamos High.
“Following comprehensive internal and external investigations, we took prompt action to terminate the employee,” Lisa Claybon of Chartwells K12 wrote in an email.
The mother of the teen, who graduated this spring, said in an interview the man had sent her daughter Facebook messages May 13, less than two weeks after she turned 18.
“I just think you have a great profile and I do photography,” one of the messages said. “I’d love to set up a shoot if [you’re] interested in some easy $$ in a couple of weeks?”
Her daughter showed her the messages right away, the mother said. She then took over the Facebook conversation, posing as her daughter.
The New Mexican is not naming the mother to protect the teen’s identity.
In his messages to the teen, the man said he was working on his photography portfolio and typically would rent a nice hotel room and allow the model to keep it for the night as part of compensation for the photo shoot.
He sent the teen two pictures of another young woman he said he previously had photographed. One of the photos showed the woman’s bare breast.
The man declined to speak with The New Mexican about the Facebook exchange.
The teen’s mother said she reported the messages to Los Alamos Public Schools the following day.
Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Guy confirmed she received the woman’s complaint and filed a report with the Los Alamos Police Department.
But getting police to investigate the incident has been difficult, the mother said.
Los Alamos police referred the case to another agency because neither the student nor the worker lives in Los Alamos. And because of the high school’s closure this spring amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the police report states, the student had not been on school grounds since the incident occurred.
The mother said the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office also declined to take the case.
Sheriff’s Capt. Lorenzo Aguilar, a department spokesman, did not return a phone call inquiring about the agency’s reason for not investigating.
The mother said she then filed a report with New Mexico State Police and sought an investigation against the man on an allegation of sexual exploitation of a child.
Because of her daughter’s age, however, it doesn’t appear the man can be charged with that crime.
“At this time there is no evidence of a child crime being committed,” the state police report says. “The incident will be forwarded to the [district attorney’s] office for further review.”
State police spokesman Lt. Mark Soriano said, “The New Mexico State Police is committed to conducting thorough investigations, so with that, we are going to look into every fact of the investigation and at the completion of the investigation, we will turn over all the evidence that is attached to the District Attorney’s Office.”
The state police report includes details about another woman who said she had contact with the former food service worker when she was 18.
The woman told an officer she had agreed to a photo shoot with the man after responding to an ad he had posted on Craigslist.
In a recent interview with The New Mexican, the woman said the man had asked her to pose nude for photos and gave her a sex toy during the shoot.
The man asked if he could have sex with her, the woman said, and at first she agreed because she wanted the money he offered her for modeling, and she had hoped to launch a modeling career.
She quickly changed her mind after he began “manhandling” her, she said. He pulled her down onto a bed after she told him no, the woman said, and she had to maneuver away from him.
“That’s the thought that keeps me wanting to go forth with this because if he was able to do that to me, who else was he able to do [it to]?” the woman said.
“These other girls think, ‘Oh, I have a photographer. Oh, I want to be a model.’ We don’t know no better because we are not in the industry,” she added.
The woman said she quit pursuing modeling after her encounter with the man.
Though she is frustrated with law enforcement’s response to her complaints, the mother of the Los Alamos High graduate said she is pleased the man was fired from his job and that her daughter is ready to put the incident behind her.
“She is barely starting her life, and this whole thing really dampened even her graduation,” the woman said. “It was already bad because of COVID, but this made it even worse.”