A staff member at a St. George school for troubled youths that has recently come under intense scrutiny is now facing a child abuse charge.

Gino Sanchez, 38, is the sixth staffer at Red Rock Canyon School who has been charged with child abuse in the first six months of 2019. He’s the only staffer charged in connection to an April riot.

Sanchez is accused of punching a 17-year-old girl in the face and pulling her hair during the April 28 brawl that broke out at the St. George school, which provides residential treatment and schooling for youths ages 12 to 18.

Several students and staffers told police that violence escalated after Sanchez called a group of young girls “thirsty hoes,” “bitches” and “horny little girls” before ordering them back to their rooms, according to nearly 100 pages of police reports recently released in response to a records request.

The comments upset the girls, they later told police, and they confronted the staffer.

Charging documents say that two school employees watched Sanchez yell at the girls in the courtyard, go up a flight of stairs, then grab the girl by the hair and punch her in the face. A third staff member reported that she watched the girl punch another staff member, then Sanchez hit the girl in the forehead.

Sanchez told police the girl attacked him, according to charges, and he pushed her back and away from him “with an open hand.”

“Sanchez denied punching [the girl],” charging documents state, “saying that if he did there would be injuries.”

A St. George detective viewed surveillance video, prosecutors wrote in charging documents, which showed Sanchez come up the stairs and confront the girl. While the details weren’t clear, the detective noted seeing Sanchez’s arm move towards the girl and the girl’s head then move back.

Red Rock Canyon School’s parent company, Sequel Youth and Family Services, said in a Wednesday statement that Sanchez was placed on administrative leave after the fight.

“We are currently reviewing the charge against Mr. Sanchez,” the statement reads, “and will take action upon our final review.”

Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap said last week that his office had just received the case and were evaluating whether Sanchez should be charged.

Belnap’s office charged Sanchez on Tuesday with a class A misdemeanor, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail.

Fifty police officers — some outfitted with SWAT vests and AR-15s — responded to the school that night to find students breaking glass, pulling down blinds and throwing punches at each other. Some were assaulting staffers.

Five youths were taken to the hospital to be treated for cuts and scrapes to their hands and heads. Seven now face charges in juvenile court for their role in the riot, according to prosecutors.

After the brawl, Utah authorities threatened to pull the facility’s license if more than a dozen significant changes aren’t made. Officials from two other states removed most of their foster children who had been placed there — and one Oregon senator even questioned why Utah allows the school to stay in business.

“My goal is not just the Oregon kids,” Oregon Sen. Sara Gelser told The Salt Lake Tribune. “All of those kids should be out of there. That place should not be operating.”

Utah’s Department of Human Services cited inadequate staffing as a contributing factor to the riot, and said investigators found “numerous accounts of mistreatment, abuse, acts of violence and overall disrespect” to the students who are staying there.

Sequel, the parent company, pushed back on the state’s findings in a now-deleted document that was posted on the school’s website, saying that while there were not enough staffers working on the night of the riot, it does not believe the fight was a result of understaffing.

Mandy Moses, the chief operating officer for Sequel, said in a statement that the company is working to resolve the issues brought up by licensing officials. The school will be in good standing again after a 90-day period if the changes are made.

A review of public records show that, even before the riot, police were frequently contacted to investigate violence at Red Rock Canyon School, often involving staffers assaulting the youths. Sanchez is the 10th employee to be charged with child abuse since 2017. Other staff members have been accused of choking, pushing or punching kids in the face, according to court records.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)
(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)