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Former Centennial Arts Academy teacher charged by DA in molestation case

A former Centennial Arts Academy teacher was formally charged Feb. 7 by the district attorney with two counts of child molestation. 

Gabriel Ramon Espinoza, of Gainesville, faces allegations made by two young girls who were his students.

Espinoza was originally arrested Feb. 24 and has since been released. He was the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, or STEAM, activity teacher.

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams said Espinoza was terminated March 29, 2021.

The allegations involve touching the chest of one student on Feb. 16, 2021, and touching the thigh and leg of the other student sometime between August 2017 and May 2018.

The Gainesville Police investigator testified at a prior hearing that one girl said “that she didn’t say anything because he was a teacher and she didn’t want to get in trouble.”

Espinoza was charged in a formal accusation, which was filed by the district attorney instead of being presented to a grand jury for indictment.

Defense attorney Arturo Corso took issue with the fact that this case was not presented to a grand jury. He said the allegations are false and that he would “aggressively defend the case.”

“It strains credulity that a person as well-liked and regarded as Gabriel Espinoza, with no criminal history ever … can just one day be haphazardly accused by a kid who doesn’t want to do her work in class,” Corso said.

Corso said these allegations have “ruined the teaching career of a respected man.”

When asked about the case not going before a grand jury, Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh pointed to a change made by the legislature last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Courts across Georgia postponed jury trials and did not reconvene grand juries to indict new cases for some time as a public health precaution. 

House Bill 635 in 2021 gave district attorneys the authority to “prefer accusations,” a formal charging document filed by the district attorney. The bill also made it so these cases would be tried the same as if the case was indicted by a grand jury. 

The exclusions to this rule are murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, and aggravated sex crimes which are considered “serious violent” felonies.

The bill was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in May 2021 and became law.

Darragh said he has filed these accusations in cases that have fallen under the criteria by the law change.