Lawyer: Fresno Unified failed to notify abducted girl's guardians she was missing

The Fresno BeeDecember 4, 2012 

A San Francisco lawyer says Fresno Unified School District should have done more to protect the 10-year-old girl who was abducted on her way to school two months ago, sexually assaulted and left bound in a field near Kerman.

In a claim for damages filed against the district on behalf of the girl, the lawyer says Fresno Unified failed to "appropriately, timely and safely notify the legal guardians" of the girl's absence from school, adding that was a substantial factor in her abduction and the lack of a timely rescue.

School officials are recommending trustees deny the claim at tonight's Board of Education meeting. The next step after a denial is a civil lawsuit.

Kalvin Michael Cardenas, 23, was arrested Sept. 26 in the girl's abduction and sexual assault. He is scheduled to appear Jan. 17 in Fresno County Superior Court for a preliminary hearing. He is being held in Fresno County Jail without bail.

Sheriff's officers said Cardenas grabbed the girl on Sept. 25 while she was walking her bicycle to Vinland Elementary School just south of Fresno State. She was walking to catch a bus to a magnet school.

Cardenas forced her into his truck, threw her bicycle and backpack into the truck bed and drove to a farming area west of Kerman, where he bound the girl's wrists, assaulted her and then left her, officers said. A family driving by saw the girl walking along a road and picked her up.

San Francisco lawyer Christopher Keane, who filed the claim, said Tuesday that school officials had a duty to supervise the girl and that they assumed it when they took attendance. Her absence was "no less significant than if the child was sitting there and something happened," he said.

School officials knew she was not in class but did not contact her guardians the entire day, he said. "The first contact the guardians had was from the good Samaritan who found the girl on the road."

Opportunities were missed to bring her to safety, he said. What she experienced was "pretty horrific and lasted for hours."

Keane wouldn't comment on the girl's health today or whether she has returned to classes.

District spokeswoman Susan Bedi said Tuesday in an email that the district's attendance policy is for an automated phone call system to make three attempts to call parents when students are absent, beginning at 6 p.m. the day of the absence.

The day after the abduction, Bedi told The Bee there was no attendance system or process in any district that would have prevented the incident from occurring before the start of school.

On Tuesday, Bedi said Fresno Unified "is committed to providing safe and secure facilities for all students. Despite law enforcement's increased security before and after school hours, we encourage parents and the greater community to remain vigilant and responsive at all times."

The claim does not specify the amount of damages being sought, but says they are in excess of $25,000 and will include claims for mental health care and other care needs.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6310, banderson@fresnobee.com or @beehealthwriter on Twitter.

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