He curated his victim for three months, messaging about rote math problems, before he sent her a video of him masturbating.
Before long, they graduated to kinky confessionals over MySpace where he asked her to share “secrets.” He’d shower her with compliments and they’d send each other nude selfies. He admitted to losing his virginity at age 12. She’d share intimate details about her family struggles. He asked her to think of the “craziest” thing she would do with him. When she blanked, he suggested they kiss.
Then, during an after-school math tutoring session, he moved in for the kill. “At the moment we kissed, we were not talking about math,” he admitted later.
After the hugs and kisses, she started cutting class to have “quickies” in closets and met him for Saturday night romps at $63-a-night motel rooms.
He made it clear “they were not in a relationship but just having sex.” And she was instructed to stay mum about the affair. After all, she was only 13 years old. And he was her 28-year-old, 8th-grade math teacher.
After a fed-up friend of the victim confided in a school science teacher about the seven-months-long molestation, Elkis Hermida was caught on May 11, 2011, and hit with multiple felonies of committing lewd acts upon a minor. He managed to get off lightly by copping a no-contest plea to unlawful sex with a minor and served 18 months in state prison.
After Hermida’s plea, the student accused the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) of neglecting her while she was statutorily raped. However, in November 2013, in a two-week trial, the district convinced a jury (by a vote of 10-2) that because the teen and the teacher had fornicated in secret, the school district was not negligent.
Attorneys for the victim have since appealed to a trio of judges in Los Angeles County Superior Court, claiming the entire trial became a victim-shaming kabuki theater once the teenager’s sexual past was hung out to dry.
A decision as to whether the verdict will be upheld is expected to be handed down by December.
All the while, sources who spoke with The Daily Beast say the LAUSD took advantage of a since-closed ambiguous California law to state outright in court that sex between the teacher and his 8th-grader was consensual.
Keith Wyatt, then the LAUSD’s trial attorney, claimed the minor was somehow culpable for being seduced by a man more than 15 years her senior. “She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn’t she be responsible for that?” he asked in an aired interview last year on the NPR radio station KPCC.
“Making a decision as to whether or not to cross the street when traffic is coming, that takes a level of maturity and that’s a much more dangerous decision than to decide, ‘Hey, I want to have sex with my teacher.’”
When reached by The Daily Beast, Wyatt refused to answer any questions, saying “You need to talk to the district spokesperson,” before hanging up.
“During the trial, the district took the position that the student, who was 13 and 14 at the time of the abuse, should bear some responsibility for the harm she suffered because she willingly participated and didn’t tell anyone about the abuse,” the victim’s attorney, Holly Boyer, told The Daily Beast.
“It is our position, however, that under no circumstances can a child be at fault when you’re talking about sexual abuse by a teacher."
Greg McNair, chief business and compliance counsel for the LAUSD, distanced the school district from its former trial attorney. “Whatever Mr. Wyatt said didn’t represent the [School] Board’s position, not my position,” McNair told The Daily Beast. “The district’s position was at the trial and continues to be: We did not know and we had no reason to know that Mr. Hermida would commit these acts. We just had no reason to know.”
And as the LAUSD pointed out at the trial, the district has a compulsory Code of Conduct where teachers are annually trained and tested. The first rule: “The most important responsibility of the Los Angeles Unified School District is the safety of our students.”
Cuban-born, formerly married “math guy” Elkis Hermida thought he’d worked out the calculus.
“I do know she was 14,” he erroneously guessed when he was asked the girl’s age by her lawyers during his victim’s civil trial. “I know she was planning her quinceañera. She was talking about it so I was assuming.”
The teacher defined the quinceañera, a seminal moment for a girl celebrating her 15th birthday, as “their walking into womanhood in their [Hispanic] culture.”
Maybe she seemed like a woman to him, but in fact she was just 13 years old when she attended Hermida’s third-period math class during the 2010-2011 school year at Thomas Alva Edison Middle School in hardscrabble Southeast Los Angeles.
The youth, whom The Daily Beast is not naming, said during the civil trial: “I mean, I know it may sound crazy because I was 13 years old, but I had grown a crush on him. Not just a—not a crush, but I started to care for him a lot.”
According to one Edison source, romances between teens and older guys were not uncommon. “In the years I worked at Edison with the Latino community, younger girls with older men was pretty normal,” the source said.
But a teen student being preyed on by a teacher was unconscionable, the source said. “It’s perverted… Of course having a teacher-boyfriend would be romantic and exciting. But at 13, you don’t have the experience or the maturity to make decisions like that.”
They first consummated a sexual relationship on a Saturday, Hermida himself acknowledged when he testified at the civil trial.
The victim lied to her mom, saying she was going to help her girlfriend plan a party. Hermida instructed the girl to meet by the school parking lot. When she arrived, her teacher was idling in his car and they engaged in sex—in a room surrounded by mirrors—at the Southern Motel, according to the timeline of events at the trial, where Hermida was shown his motel credit card receipts as exhibits.
They did it again at The Mirage Hotel.
After extracting a vow of secrecy from the student, Hermida turned his classroom into a sex lair by manipulating two bookcases into an L-shape toward the back so he could tryst with the student without anybody being the wiser.
Hermida’s rearranging of the furniture formed an alcove “so they could be together and no one would see them,” according to the court papers. There, they engaged in both “oral and vaginal sex in the classroom with the door closed.”
The convicted teacher admitted he strategically set the shelves up as a private partition one week before having sex with the victim in his classroom.
Hermida began routinely summoning the girl to his classroom during conference periods when he’d be alone. In one meeting, the victim later confided to a friend, they “were in the closet, and the next thing she knows, she hears this [condom] wrapper, and Mr. Hermida says, ‘Let’s have a quickie.’ And he just opens it and they had sexual relations,” said the friend of the victim, who also testified at the civil trial.
In the civil trial, the district’s lawyer, Wyatt, jumped on the witness’s description of this encounter. He blamed the girl for feeling “pumped” after the sex incident and probed the teenager’s sexual aptitude.
Wyatt asked: “What would you call a quickie?” The girl seemed awkwardly confused. “Like, I don’t know how to explain it.”
And the jury also seemed to have free rein with the teen’s sexual history. Jurors asked: “Does the plaintiff intend to be with Hermida when she turns 18 and how old was she [when] she first has [sic] sex?” and “Have you had sex with other boys before having sex with Mr. Hermida?”
Boyer, the victim’s lawyer, is confident that the anything-goes courtroom atmosphere of the civil trial may help sway the three-judge panel to give the victim a new trial. “The admission of evidence concerning the student’s prior sexual history and her alleged willingness to engage in the sexual relationship tainted the verdict,” she said.
During the last motel visit, Hermida hoped to experiment with the student by attempting “to engage in anal sex.”
In the victim’s appeal, the student said she was afraid about having that kind of sex and though “she didn’t want to do it—he did it anyway.”
“I don’t remember the reasons,” Hermida sniggered when asked about the incident at the civil trial. “I don’t remember what happened.”
The victim testified that she wanted out of the trysts but, according to the appeal filed by her attorneys, “she did not feel she had the freedom and control to do so.”
Meanwhile, sources who worked at Edison said there were red flags that something was not right between Hermida and the student.
“People started realizing that the girl was out of the classroom, saying, ‘I have to go to the bathroom’ or ‘I need to see the counselor’ a lot,” a source told The Daily Beast. “We would be asking: ‘Doesn’t [the teacher] even notice she’s been gone to the bathroom for a half-hour?’”
And then there were Hermida’s alleged touchy-feely tutoring sessions.
One teacher says she was struck by the harem of young girls in attendance. “It’s just a lot of girls,” the teacher said. “He’s a young male teacher. It just doesn’t look good for his reputation. I don’t know whether or not we know he’s doing anything wrong. It just doesn’t look good.”
The handsome Hermida also gained admirers for delving into taboo topics like “drinking and going out with friends and problems with his girlfriend.”
And there were the Hermida hugs.
Daily, between class periods, Hermida reportedly waited like a wanton Wal-Mart greeter outside his classroom to dole out his signature hugs to choice female students. And when they would leave for the weekend, there was a Friday goodbye hug from Hermida.
The hugs were described by one male student at the civil trial as “face to face” with “both arms around the girls.” Another student testified that she felt the PDA was wrong “because he was the only teacher doing it.”
Asked during the civil trial if the hugs were appropriate to be doing with students, Hermida shot back, “I shook hands with guys, too. It wasn’t like I just targeted females.”
Almost a year before Hermida was busted, one student at the civil trial recalled seeing Hermida let female students sit on his lap and she says she saw him “touching or caressing hands of female students in a sexual way.” Hermida contested that he liked students sitting on his lap.
Another teacher even says she reported directly to the school's principal that Hermida was acting “unprofessional” while lying on a student’s desk and apparently texting on his cellphone while other female students around him appeared to be reading a note. The teacher says she aired her grievance to the principal, Colleen Kawai, who vowed to talk to Hermida. But apparently the principal never did.
Asked at the civil trial if she remembered receiving the concerns raised by her teacher, Principal Kawai said, “No, I don’t remember.”Further probed about whether that conduct warranted a talking-to, the principal, who has since retired, acknowledged at the trial it did. “That’s not something we would want our students to do, so the expectation is that teachers model behaviors that you want your students to exhibit as well,” she said.
Cops showed up at Hermida’s doorstep on May 11, 2011, while he was watching television with his roommate. Hermida claimed he was “scared to death” and quickly confessed. The math teacher served 18 months in state prison (in protective custody) before effectively being deported, records show.
While his permanent residence status has been revoked after the conviction, Hermida remains in the U.S. since Cuba is picky about who it repatriates back to its soil. And while diplomatic relations between D.C. and Havana have recently thawed, the process of sending back Cuban felons remains precarious, sources say.
According to a Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman, Hermida was officially deported by a California immigration judge in February 2013 but released “under an order of supervision” a month later “after it became apparent the agency would not be able to obtain a travel document to carry out his repatriation in the foreseeable future.”
The registered sex offender has been living under his stepfather’s roof on a leafy block next door to a house with a tire swing tied to a tree and a few blocks from Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, California. On a recent weekday, a young girl’s voice was echoing from inside the home, calling for 57-year-old Jose Espinoza. Hermida was two hours away in Los Angeles, Espinoza said.
“When this happens and something like that—he’s learned. Of course,” Espinoza added. “He’s, you know, right now he’s doing much better.”
The ex-math teacher is now apparently working to create an online startup. “Actually, right now he’s kind of trying to put a business together with some friends,” his stepfather added. “A website.”
Hermida, at least when he testified, expressed remorse. Asked why he couldn’t stop the abuse, the convict admitted to the court, “I really wish I had. I’ve asked myself that every single day.”
But the damage Hermida did to his student is immeasurable, says a therapist who analyzed the victim, Dr. Lilli Friedland. At the civil trial, she said the youth will need “a great deal of psychological help.” And the clinician painted a dreary future for the teen who suffered teasing and abuse after Hermida was arrested.
Not to be outdone, the LAUSD propped up their own specialist in the civil trial, Dr. Stan Katz, who said the victim’s prognosis “was quite well.”
“It always matures someone because you have to go through experiences which most teenagers don’t have to deal with,” he told the court.
Update, 9/22/15: A Los Angeles appeals court has granted a retrial in the civil lawsuit brought by the student to be able to damages suffered while in the care of Hermida.
"The victim of a crime does not bear any responsibility for the harm she suffers from the crime," the three-judge panel wrote in a unanimous decision. "Plaintiff contends the trial court erred prejudicially in admitting evidence of her prior sexual history. We agree.”
The judges also zeroed in on the fact that Hermida, who served less than two years state time in protective custody behind bars, “had the potential to sexually abuse minors,” citing the teacher’s touchy-feely manners with students and unorthodox methods during tutoring sessions. If the court had been able to lean on these factors there is a "reasonable chance that plaintiff would have obtained a more favorable result in the absence of the erroneous instruction.”