A veteran seventh-grade teacher at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica has been charged with sexually molesting five of his female students, a Los Angeles County district attorney spokeswoman said.
The District Attorney’s Office charged Thomas Arthur Beltran, 60, Tuesday, May 6th, with eight counts of lewd acts on a child, three counts of continuous sexual abuse and three counts of sexual penetration of a foreign object on a child under 14, said deputy district attorney Robin Sax Katzenstein of the District Attorney Sex Crimes Division. Beltran pleaded not guilty to the charges the same day at the Superior Court Airport Courthouse.
If convicted, Beltran could face life in prison.
The Los Angeles resident remains in police custody. Katzenstein, who was assigned to prosecute the case, requested bail to be set at $3.3 million. Beltran is scheduled to return to court Friday, June 6th.
Beltran, who teaches English as a second language at Lincoln Middle School, has worked at the school for about 20 years. He has been with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District about 30 years, said superintendent Dianne Talarico.
Santa Monica police arrested Beltran in the 6100 block of Centinela Avenue in Culver City Saturday, May 3rd, just one day after a 12-year-old student, accompanied by her parents, alleged to detectives that she had been molested by Beltran, said Lt. Alex Padilla of the Santa Monica Police Department.
After police interviewed more students, four other female students have come forward to allege that Beltran molested them during school hours, and in one of the cases, the student alleged that she had been molested for more than a year, authorities said.
Police said they were unsure exactly where the incidents occurred and declined to disclose what was involved due to the ongoing investigation.
Noting that Beltran has worked in the school district for three decades, Padilla said police are unsure if there are additional alleged victims but are encouraging people who believe they were abused to come forward.
“If there are any other victims out there, we want to know,” Padilla said. “We’re hoping that, through the information out there, we’ll get other [alleged] victims to come forward.”
Lincoln Middle School principal Tristan Komlos admitted that the news of the allegations against Beltran was a shock and said the incident is “affecting all of us personally.”
“Anytime there are allegations against an adult in the school district that has to do with children, I think there’s always a little bit of shock and dismay,” added Talarico.
School officials have put the veteran teacher on home assignment.
“You’re innocent until proven guilty and we believe that,” saidMike Matthews, the school district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, who noted that if Beltran were found innocent, he would remain employed with the district.
Parents of students in Beltran’s classes were individually contacted to be informed about the allegations. Others were notified through a letter from Komlos.
Counseling and additional support from other community agencies is also readily available to those who feel they need someone to talk to, Komlos said.
Counselors have been on the school’s campus to speak with students, staff and parents and they will remain as long as they are needed, Komlos said.
“This is when the children need us most,” said Talarico. “It’s difficult, but we really have to be strong for the children and we really have to make ourselves available to support them and help them cope with things that are somewhat difficult for them to understand.
“I just think we have to be as responsive to their needs as we possibly can and ensure that we are going to do everything we can to make things safe for them.”
Because of the diversity of the student population, counseling is also available in Spanish, Russian, Farsi and Japanese.
“This is a difficult time for the Lincoln community, but as always, we continue to work together on behalf of all our students,” Komlos said, pointing out that keeping students safe and comfortable is a top priority. “We’re going to keep on keeping on.”
Padilla added, “It’s a very tough time for the families and our hearts go out to them.”
A parent meeting was held May 5th in the Lincoln Middle School auditorium, where many gathered among school administrators, district officials, a full counseling team, school board members and Santa Monica Police Lt. Darrell Lowe.
At the meeting, parents were provided index cards on which to write questions that they had for the school and the district. The cards were picked up and then answered by school officials, including Komlos, Matthews and Talarico.
Questions were asked about the investigation and how parents should talk to their children and the media. One parent asked if there had been complaints against Beltran before.
Komlos said the district is cooperating with police but is unable to divulge whether complaints had been made against Beltran before, as personnel issues are confidential.
Another parent asked a question about how employees are screened before they are hired. Matthews said that all employees undergo background checks, including fingerprinting.
“We don’t hire anyone until the fingerprints come back and you’re clear,” he said.
District officials have also encouraged any additional alleged victims — or anyone with additional information — to come forward.
“This is a very serious matter,” said school board president Oscar de la Torre. “We’re cooperating with law enforcement to make sure we get to the bottom of what happened at Lincoln Middle School.
“Our first priority is that student safety is assured and any alleged victims are provided the counseling and support needed during this difficult time.”
Anyone with additional information regarding this case is asked to contact Santa Monica Police Department detectives at (310) 458-8451, or the Communications Center at (310) 458-8491.
Callers who wish to remain anonymous may also call the SMPD tip line at (310) 458-8449, or We-Tip national hotline at (800) 782-7463.