EXCLUSIVE: Fifth student reported abuse by Mendota Unified principal

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- An independent witness could be the most important person in a sex abuse case involving accusations from four girls against a Mendota Unified principal.

Richard Garcia answered to the charges made against him by four former students -- four felony charges of continuous sexual abuse.

"[We] enter a plea of not guilty to each and every count," said defense attorney Daniel Harralson on Monday.

Garcia left court with his attorney and supporters -- free on a $480,000 bail.

In a warrant Action News uncovered, police said they started their investigation in June when a girl reported Garcia touching her private areas back in 2013, when she was in second grade.

She's a prior abuse victim and told police it wasn't fair that a family member got punished for doing it, but not her teacher.

"Now is this out of spite or is this now with a young child who now understands what the ramifications are for something like this," legal analyst Tony Capozzi said of the alleged victim's history of abuse. "It could go either way with a trial."

The girl told investigators she saw him do it to other girls, and three more gave similar stories about Garcia getting them close to his desk, wrapping his arm around them and letting his hand drift.

We've also discovered a fifth victim came forward to Mendota police back in 2014.

Her report didn't lead to criminal charges, but prosecutors could use her testimony against Garcia.

"It's a very similar act and this is while he's a school teacher," Capozzi said. "That's going to be brought out at a trial and with that subsequent act taking place that's going to lend credence to these other acts by these young children."

Capozzi says Garcia's attorney could argue the girls don't really remember what happened five years ago when they were seven or eight years old.

RELATED: Mendota Police arrest elementary school principal on child molestation charges

But their stories are boosted by another classmate at Washington Elementary School. She called herself a family friend of Garcia's and said he never touched her inappropriately, but she sat six or seven feet away from his desk and saw him touch girls in their private areas.

"The fact that it didn't happen to her but she saw it happen to other people and she was friends with the alleged perpetrator in this case, I think that's a major, major fact for the prosecution in this case," Capozzi said.

Garcia is due back in court next month.

He's on administrative leave from the Mendota Unified School District.
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