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SALT LAKE CITY — A staff member accused of punching a teenage girl at an embattled youth psychiatric center in southern Utah last year is no longer facing a criminal charge.
Fifth District Judge Jeffrey Wilcox on Wednesday granted prosecutors’ request to drop one count of child abuse, a class A misdemeanor, against 39-year-old Gino E. Sanchez.
A message left with the Washington County Attorney’s Office was not immediately returned.
Sanchez’s attorney Daniel Tobler said his client simply acted to defend himself and others in the midst of a brawl and did not assault or try to hurt anyone at the now-shuttered school.
Sanchez had worked at the center for several years with an “impeccable record” and believes the school failed to follow mandatory safety guidelines, leading to the riot, Tobler said in a statement. The staff did not have the manpower or resources to stop the brawl, and the school’s owners “were happy to allow blame to fall on him in hopes of taking the focus off them,” Tobler continued.
He said the alleged victim in the criminal case has disappeared.
Prosecutors had alleged Sanchez punched the girl during a brawl at the Red Rock Canyon School in southern Utah, where at least 25 were injured on April 28. Police said a 17-year-old girl reported that Sanchez had pulled her hair and punched her in the face.
Sanchez, of St. George, denied the charge. He told police he pushed the girl but did not punch her, charging documents state.
Another staff member said Sanchez was yelling at students to get back in their units and the girl was yelling back, the charges say. While details in video footage were not clear, his arm could be seen moving toward the girl, whose head then moved back, according to the court documents.
The Department of Human Services outlined nine violations in a letter posted on Utah’s legislative website in May, saying the school must comply with more than a dozen changes or risk losing its license.
Red Rock Canyon School has been sued several times in recent years over allegations that staffers physically or sexually abused residents.