SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office again delayed filing charges Thursday against a Cloverdale High School special needs students’ teacher who was arrested in March for allegedly running a “fight club” in class.
The District Attorney’s Office asked Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite for 60 more days to investigate the case. The next court date is June 28.
Cloverdale police said high school officials informed them on March 7 about an alleged fight in a classroom. Police said they then learned about a “fight club”-style atmosphere that teacher Federico Vargas created for students and hid from the administration.
Police said after several days of interviews, it became clear that Vargas not only allowed the students to fight each other, but he refereed the fights.
Police said in a news release that the fights “occurred on multiple occasions over a period of time not yet determined but (was) isolated to Vargas’ classroom.”
“Multiple student injuries were uncovered during the investigation, one of which required medical treatment as a result of the fighting,” police said.
Vargas, 41, of Santa Rosa, was arrested on March 9. He posted bail after he was booked in Sonoma County Jail on suspicion of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and child endangerment.
On March 19, the District Attorney’s Office requested 30 more days to investigate the case, and the judge set Thursday for filing of charges against Vargas or disposition of the case.
Vargas, his attorney Justin Petersen, his wife, mother and other supporters vehemently denied the allegations after the court hearing Thursday morning. They said the allegations came as a shock.
Supporters said they believe the allegations were a response by the school district after Vargas defended a 16-year-old male special needs student who was expelled for fighting in August.
“I drove from Santa Rosa to Cloverdale to stop the fight,” Vargas said Thursday morning.
Vargas’ wife Vanessa Lee-Hodson said she and Vargas have been teaching special education, at-risk students who are deemed out of control for about 10 years.
“They are students other teachers don’t want to teach,” Lee-Hodson said.
“My students support me. I just don’t know how this [the allegations] could happen,” Vargas said.
“We’re guessing there’s an underlying motive for the allegations,” Petersen said. “We don’t have the police reports so we don’t know who made the allegations and what was said.”
When Cloverdale police announced Vargas’ arrest, Cloverdale Unified School District Superintendent Jeremy Decker said the allegations “rocked me to my core.”
Decker did not immediately return phone calls for comment Thursday morning on the Vargas’ family’s response to the allegations.
The Cloverdale Unified School District Board of Trustees is meeting in a special session Thursday afternoon and will consider and/or take action during closed session on a dismissal, release or discipline of employment.
Vargas, who is on leave, said he expects to be fired.