56 Arizona Educators Face Discipline For Sexual Misconduct With Minors This Year

August 31, 2023

By Corinne Murdock |  

56 Arizona educators and 22 certified in Arizona have faced discipline in relation to sexual misconduct with minors this year.

The Arizona State Board of Education (ASBE) provided us with a list of all adjudicated cases this year involving allegations of sexual misconduct. 56 educators’ cases involved minors, for which their certificates were either revoked, suspended, or voluntarily surrendered, with two given letters of censure with conditions; they are reproduced below. 

Those educators listed as “certified in Arizona,” signify that the alleged or actual misconduct didn’t occur in the state, but that they held teaching certificates in the state. 

  • Deniz Akca (Cartwright Elementary School District)
  • David Atzenweiler (certified in Arizona)
  • Felix Armenta (Gadsden Independent School District)
  • Joshua Bahen (certified in Arizona)
  • Steve Belles (Chandler Unified School District)
  • Lucas Bogard (Blue Adobe Project)
  • James Conkle (certified in Arizona)
  • Gregory Boujikian (Phoenix Union High School District)
  • Scott Brockish (Arizona State University Preparatory Academy)
  • Nicholas Brozina (certified in Arizona)
  • Holly Craft (Agua Fria Union High School District)
  • Timothy Dargon (Mingus Union High School District)
  • Troy Davis (Tolleson Union High School District)
  • Melissa Didiana (certified in Arizona)
  • Stephen Escudero (Prescott Unified School District)
  • Cody Fortune (certified in Arizona)
  • Irvin Garcia-Flores (Aqua Fria Union High School District)
  • Esmeralda Velasco-Guerrero
  • Walter Halaberda (Flagstaff Unified School District)
  • Douglas Hester (Phoenix Union High School District)
  • Robert Holland (Phoenix Union High School District)
  • Cheng-Hsuan Tsai (Tempe Montessori School)
  • Michael Irving (certified in Arizona)
  • Nathan Jellicoe (Dysart Unified School District)
  • Cory Kapahulehua (Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center High School)
  • Daniel Scott Larsen (Winslow Unified School District)
  • Mark Lindrud (certified in Arizona)
  • Kelly Martin (Legacy Traditional School)
  • Marissa Montero (Chandler Unified School District)
  • Elaine Mooneyham (Parker Unified School District)
  • Michael Naumann (Pendergast Elementary School District)
  • Samantha Peer (Lake Havasu Unified School District)
  • Marvin Pacheco Villa (Western School of Science and Technology)
  • Zachary Parker (Phoenix Union High School District) 
  • Jacob Ramirez (Paradise Valley Unified School District)
  • Jaron Rheinlander (Marana Unified School District, ASU Preparatory Academy)
  • Dylan Riddle (Vail Unified School District)
  • Todd Roatsey (certified in Arizona)
  • Eric Sapul (Altar Valley School District)
  • Andrea Schembre
  • Brandon Shinault (Adams Traditional Academy)
  • Joshua Silverthorn (certified in Arizona)
  • Scott Sims (Deer Valley Unified School District)
  • Jessica Smith (Accelerated Learning Center, Phoenix Charter High School)
  • William Thorpe (Vail Unified School District)
  • Angel Torres (certified in Arizona)
  • Clarence Walker III (certified in Arizona)
  • Christopher Walton (certified in Arizona)
  • Shawn Watson (certified in Arizona)
  • Colin White (Payson Unified School District)
  • Jorge Valencia (Flagstaff Unified School District)
  • Zobella Vinik (Tucson Unified School District)
  • Dante Yarborough (Mesa Unified School District)
  • Jose Garcia Zepeda (Phoenix Union High School District)
  • Russell Zysett (certified in Arizona)

AZ Free News reported recently on one of the educators prior to her sexual misconduct charges and resulting teaching certificate loss: Zobella Vinik. Last March, we reported on Vinik’s arrangement of her former high school’s first-ever drag show alongside a fellow school counselor who identified as a transgender man, Sunday Hamilton (formerly April Hamilton). A district spokeswoman told us at the time that not hosting the drag show would constitute gender expression discrimination.

Last May, Vinik was arrested for felony sexual conduct with a minor. Vinik voluntarily surrendered her teaching certificates last June. Vinik pled guilty to felony charges of sexual conduct with a minor and child abuse last month; she will be sentenced this month. 

There were educators listed in our original report that are before the ASBE but haven’t been adjudicated, with the first two cases below adjudicated just before the start of this year. Their case summaries on ASBE meeting documents cited inappropriate behavior with minors. Select portions of the 22 case summaries are reproduced below:

  • Shane Martin (Yuma Elementary District), teaching certificates voluntarily surrendered Nov. 10, 2022, case last considered in February: “On June 02, 2022, the Yuma Elementary District notified the Investigative Unit of allegations that Shane Martin engaged in inappropriate electronic communications with two previous 8th grade students via text messages. An example of the inappropriate comments included sleeping together, the use of drugs, and not using protection. The report further indicated the parents contacted our local police department. The result communicated was that there was no criminal activity that could be processed from the transcript shown. The district did their own investigation and concluded that Shane Martin had violated their policy and district expectations of communication between student and teacher.”
  • Christopher Carter (Tempe Union High School District) teaching certificates voluntarily surrendered Dec. 1, 2022, case last considered in February: “On November 14, 2022, the Human Resource Director of Educational Services LLC notified the Investigation Unit of the allegations that Christopher Carter:  exhibited predator behavior by physically assaulting students, helped underage students get drunk, shared time inappropriately with underage students, took underage ex-students to strip clubs and pursued sexual relations with ex-students when they turned 18 years of age.  These allegations of unprofessional and immoral conduct occurred in the 1990’s at Corona Del Sol High School, in the Tempe Union High School District.” 
  • Wulfido Jr. Devilleres Caday, teaching certificates suspended pending a public hearing and final decision of ASBE: “On or about January 27, 2023, Educator Caday was arrested for Luring a minor for sexual exploitation, and Attempted Sexual Conduct with a minor by officers from the Phoenix Police Department. Educator Caday was texting with an undercover police officer who Educator Caday believed to be a 15-year-old boy. Educator Caday wanted to engage in sexual intercourse with the minor child.”
  • Manual Gavina (Phoenix Elementary School District), teaching certificates suspended pending a public hearing and final decision of ASBE: “On or about December 10, 2019, officers from the Phoenix Police Department arrested Manuel Gavina for three counts of Sexual Abuse of a Minor. Educator Gavina inappropriately touched several female students’ breasts and buttocks. Educator Gavina admitted to touching hundreds of female students’ breasts.” 
  • Levi Jackson (certified in Arizona), teaching certificates suspended pending a public hearing and final decision of ASBE: “On or about October 4, 2022, Educator Jackson was arrested for five counts of Felony Sexual Abuse, 2 counts of Felony Lure Minor for Sexual Exploitation, 1 count of Felony Sexual Conduct with a Minor, and 19 counts of Misdemeanor Contribute to Delinquency of a Minor by officers from the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office. Educator Jackson inappropriately touched his foreign exchange host student, Student A, over a period of several weeks. Educator Jackson touched Student’s A private area, gave Student A an inappropriate massage near Student A’s groin, asked to see Student A’s private area, discussed masturbation with Student A, and rubbed his own groin against Student A.”
  • Lynn Matthews (certified in Arizona, taught in the state for 10 years before teaching in Utah), teaching certificates suspended through May 5, 2025: “[T]he Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission (“UPPAC”) […] found that Educator Matthews began communicating with 15-year old student BM sometime before March 11, 2020, and thereafter engaged in extensive communication via email over the next four weeks. The email conversations ranged from trivial subjects such as hair styles, plays and movies, and day-to-day activities to highly personal and intimate subjects such as rape, abuse, medical issues, and mental health.  In some communications, [Educator Matthews] used profanity.  [Educator Matthews] used terms of endearment toward BM and expressed love for her.  She treated BM as a confidant despite her young age sharing her own rape and subsequent pregnancy experience with BM. On April 10, 2020, Educator Matthews and BM exchanged four emails.  Educator Matthews stated in one. ‘I am totally not gay either but if JLO, Halle Berry, or Jennifer Aniston ever want to make out with me, they are going to get the best make out session of their lives!’ Educator Matthews also made the comment, ‘I find it quite funny that you pay for your own phone and then your mom controls it…that makes you a SUCKER!’”
  • Jalen Montgomery (Scottsdale Unified School District, Coronado High School), teaching certificates voluntarily surrendered: “On March 7, 2023, the Scottsdale Unified School District notified the Investigative Unit of the State Board of Education of allegations of unprofessional conduct and an improper relationship with a female student. Engaging in improper communication with the female student before and after school.  Coronado High School reported inappropriate boundaries.”
  • Gustavo Orellana (certified in Arizona), teaching certificates revoked: “On April 13, 2021, the Utah State Board of Education revoked Gustavo H. Orellana’s Level 1 Secondary Education License on a finding that he engaged in immoral conduct and unreasonable disciplinary action in violation of the code of ethics, and pled guilty to two counts of sexual battery of students.”
  • Eric Popely (certified in Arizona), teaching certificates revoked: “On or about January 27, 2021, Eric Popely plead guilty in the District Court of the Sixth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in Bannock County of one count of Child Sexual Abuse by Causing or Having Sexual Contact with a Minor Under 16 years of age.  Eric Popely violated I.C. § 19-2413.  Eric Popelywas sentenced to up to fourteen years in custody for his conviction.”
  • Joanna Reyes (Sunnyside Unified School District), teaching certificates suspended pending a public hearing and final decision by ASBE: “Educator Reyes was involved in a romantic relationship with her former 5th grade student, Student A, who was twelve-years-old. This case was presented to the Pima County Attorney’s Office on February 13, 2023 for felony charges. The felony charges were declined. However, multiple misdemeanor charges of Disorderly Conduct and Criminal Nuisance will be filed with the Tucson City Court.” ASBE informed AZ Free News that her case is under review for appropriate next steps in the disciplinary process.
  • Justin Walters (Desert Garden Montessori School), teaching certificates revoked: “On or about April 14, 2022, Justin Walters plead guilty in the Maricopa County Superior Court of one count of Sexual Conduct with a Minor – position of trust, committed on June 1, 2019 through and including December 23, 2020.  Justin Walters also plead[ed] guilty to two counts of Attempt to Commit Sexual Conduct with a Minor – position of trust, committed on October 31, 2019 through and including November 1, 2019, and January 18, 2020 through and including January 19, 2020.  Justin Walters violated A.R.S. §§ 13-1401, 13-1405, 13-3821, 13-610, 13-702, 13-801, and 13-1001.  He was sentenced to four years in prison and lifetime supervised probation with all sex offender and computer usage terms, and he must register as a sex offender.”
  • Jacob Williams (Yuma Union High School District, Somerton School District), teaching certificates suspended pending a public hearing and final decision of ASBE: “On or about October 6, 2022, officers from the Yuma Police Department arrested Jacob Ray Williams for Sexual Exploitation of a Minor. Educator Williams was ‘Snapchatting’ with a minor female student, requesting her to send naked pictures. Educator Williams sent pictures of his genitalia to this minor female student.”
  • Nathan Williams (certified in Arizona), teaching certificates recommended for revocation, “On December 8, 2022, the Alabama State Department of Education revoked Nathan Jay Williams’s Alabama Professional Educator Certificate on a finding that he engaged in immoral conduct and unreasonable disciplinary action in violation of the code of ethics, and he was arrested on two counts of Child Solicitation by Computer-Electronic Solicitation of a Child and two counts of Traveling to meet a child for an Unlawful Sex Act.”
  • Blake Young (Maricopa Unified School District), teaching certificates voluntarily surrendered: “On February 22, 2023, the Maricopa Unified School District notified the Investigative Unit of allegations that Educator Young engaged in inappropriate and unprofessional conduct with a female student, including inappropriate text messages that were sexual in nature.”
  • Juan Jaimes (certified in Arizona), teaching certificates revoked: “During the 2005-2006 school year, student A was enrolled in Mr. Jaimes’ class. In January 2006, Student A turned 18-years-old. During the summer of 2006 between Student A’s junior and senior year of high school, Mr. Jaimes began a dating relationship with Student A. Their relationship became intimate and sexual in nature. Student A wanted to get married, but Mr. Jaimes could not because his divorce was not processed yet. From 2006 through 2007, Mr. Jaimes continued to engage in an inappropriate sexual relationship with Student A. In October 2006, Student A became pregnant with Mr. Jaimes’ child. Student A carried the pregnancy throughout her senior year of high school before giving birth in June 2007. Before the child was born, Mr. Jaimes and Student A ended their relationship. After the child was born, Mr. Jaimes paid $700.00 a month in child support. After a seven-year break-up, Mr. Jaimes and Student A reinitiated their relationship at the end of 2014. They were married in March 2015.”
  • James Limones (Sunnyside Unified School District), teaching certificates voluntarily surrendered: “On May 16, 2023, the Sunnyside Unified School District notified the Investigative unit of the allegations that Educator Limones had raped a female who was a minor and was placed on probation for 12 years.” ASBE further informed AZ Free News that Limones entered a plea deal on Sept. 14, 2021 for sexual assault, and that his case will be presented to the board at a future meeting for a revocation.
  • Mark Lucero (Douglas Unified School District), teaching certificates voluntarily surrendered: “On June 13, 2023, the Douglas Unified School District notified the Investigative Unit of theallegations.  Educator Mark Lucero began “following” a female student on social media, liking her pictures and messaging her. Lucero asked the student what she thought if a grown man asked a younger girl out for coffee. The student would later open her school binder and find a picture of a coffee cup with a heart inside.”
  • James Miller (Dysart Unified School District), teaching certificates voluntarily surrendered: “[R]eport indicated that Miller was texting a female student multiple times between February 25, 2022 and February 14, 2023. The Surprise Police Department was notified and the police report revealed the following: ‘At approximately 0800 hours on February 17, 2023, while on duty as Willow Canyon High School’s SRO, I was summoned to Principal Adam Schwartz’s office for a meeting in reference to what is generally described to me as a “Grooming” case. After receiving the 27 photos containing text messages between Educator Miller and Student, I observed profanities, the offer of a one on one meeting for lunch separate from other students of campus initiated by Miller and references to Student’s physical state and “Beautiful” and “cutie”. Although “inappropriate” and against district policy as well as ARS 15-203(A)(44) which establishes “best practices” for cellular use between school employees and students, I found no grounds for criminal charging. All parties listed above, except for Miller, were advised concerning the criminal aspect of my findings. Nothing further at this time.”
  • Michael Molina (Douglas Unified School District), teaching certificates voluntarily surrendered: “On June 14, 2023, the Douglas Unified School District notified the Investigative Unit of allegations that Educator Molina engaged in unprofessional conduct with students. Educator Molina had a challenge activity where he would play a ping-pong game in class with the students. If Educator Molina would make the ball into the cup, he would have students kiss each other or kiss him on the cheek.”
  • Humberto Sauceda (certified in Arizona), teaching certificates voluntarily surrendered: “On May 4, 2023, Educational Services LLC notified the Investigative Unit of allegations that Educator Sauceda engaged in inappropriate communications with a minor student by sending her multiple handwritten letters and text messages in violation of district policy. In one letter, Sauceda admitted to having “feelings” for the student because he was alone and had no one. No police report was prepared in regard to these allegations.”
  • Ryan Trerise (Glendale Preparatory Academy Great Hearts), teaching certificates voluntarily surrendered: “On April 6, 2023, the Glendale Preparatory Academy Great Hearts notified the Investigative Unit of allegations that Subject Ryan Trerise #601-4467 engaged in inappropriate communications with a student that included inappropriate boundaries by sharing personal information about his sexual experiences when he was 14 years old, questioning the student about her sex life, and talking to the student about portions of the Bible that relate to sex.”
  • Alfredo Vidal-Rojas (Roosevelt Elementary School District), teaching certificates voluntarily surrendered: “On May 11, 2023, the Roosevelt Elementary School District notified the Investigative Unit of the allegation that Alfredo Vidal Rojas had improper social media communication with an 8th grade female student from Ed and Verma Pastor Elementary School. This information was not reported to any police department, nor was there a report made.” 

ASBE also shared their process for investigations and procedures following allegations of sexual misconduct by educators with AZ Free News. Upon receiving any reports or allegations of misconduct, ASBE’s Investigative Unit issues a notice of investigation to the accused (called the “respondent”) outlining the allegations, possible violations of rule or statute, and advisement of the option for the accused to participate in the investigation, voluntarily surrender their certificates or right to work in an Arizona District or Charter school or do nothing.

In the case of voluntary surrenders of teaching certificates, the board will still hear the case at its next scheduled meeting. The board meeting summary of the case will include the original allegation information as well as any available supporting documents about the educator’s conduct. 

“Investigators conduct and complete a thorough investigation,” stated ASBE. “Completed investigations are then reviewed for best next steps and if it is determined that disciplinary action is warranted, the case is scheduled for the appropriate action.” 

ASBE did note that individuals may plea to or be found guilty of a lesser charge from the charge originally reported to their Investigative Unit; however, that doesn’t change the information included in the unit’s investigation or summary to the board.

ASBE meeting materials may be reviewed here

Note: Some of the accused educators have denied the allegations against them.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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