The Austin Chronicle

Cops Still Looking for Student Accused of Sexual Assault

By Jordan Smith, November 3, 2006, News

Austin police are still looking for 18-year-old Nathan Manuel Mendoza, who is wanted on a charge of attempted aggravated sexual assault after he allegedly held a pair of 8-inch-long scissors to the neck of his Reagan High School teacher, Susan Straker, after school on Oct. 24. Officials say Mendoza is a registered sex offender who is on parole and living at a halfway house on Cameron Road, after serving time in a state juvenile facility for a 2002 charge of indecency with a 4-year-old in San Antonio.

According to an affidavit filed by AISD Police, Mendoza went to Straker's class during the final class period last Tuesday, to get help with a writing assignment, and stayed behind when school let out, just after 4pm. When Mendoza brought his assignment to Straker's desk, according to the affidavit, he asked if she "had ever been victimized." When Straker said no, Mendoza pulled out the pair of red-handled scissors and held them to the left side of Straker's neck, telling her that he was "going to victimize" her. "I will kill you," he allegedly said. Straker, who was seated at her desk, tried several times to stand, but Mendoza pushed her back, before asking if she would "give me anything I wanted." After Straker said she didn't have anything to give him, Mendoza allegedly asked for sex, grabbing her left breast. Straker replied, "No, that ain't happening," and successfully pushed Mendoza back and stood up; Mendoza fled and, at press time, had not yet been arrested.

The incident has raised questions about when and how AISD officials are informed that registered sex offenders, like Mendoza, are enrolled at area campuses. There are 15 registered sex offenders attending Austin public schools, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. AISD is investigating the incident, but according to district General Counsel Mel Waxler, APD notifies district officials with the names of registered offenders at the end of each month – apparently, since Mendoza enrolled at Reagan on Oct. 17, news of his presence on campus had not yet made it to AISD HQ on West Sixth.

"Unless otherwise told, we do not necessarily know about specific students who are registered sex offenders attending specific schools," Waxler wrote in a statement. When the district "knows, or has reason to believe" that there is a registered sex offender on any campus, the district investigates but is "very careful not to misidentify any student for any reason." Indeed, Waxler said the Texas Youth Commission does not inform district officials directly about the sex-offender status of any former juvenile inmate, in part, he suggests, because the agency "operates on a belief that juvenile offenders can be rehabilitated and deserve a fresh start."

Nonetheless, Waxler wrote that district staff members are working "hard to improve … policies, processes, and systems within established law to meet the needs of … students, faculty and community. We acknowledge that we have work to do still, and we count on the partnerships that we have with our parents, the community, and the State to strengthen our resolve to meet the challenges before us."

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