A staff member at a now-shuttered Utah school for troubled youth is facing charges after authorities confirmed he fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl who had been a student.
Atonio Kavea, 28, was arrested last week in St. George for allegedly having a sexual relationship with the girl, who he met while she was a student at Red Rock Canyon School.
California authorities have charged him with two felony crimes and are now seeking to have him extradited there, according to police in Porterville, Calif.
The girl reported to police last August that she was pregnant, and said the father of her child was an employee of Red Rock Canyon School.
The California officers reached out to St. George police in April, according to a search warrant affidavit, and asked them to gather DNA from Kavea for a paternity test. Porterville police said in a Tuesday news release that the test confirmed Kavea was the infant’s father.
The girl reported to police in her home state that she had met the man at Red Rock and began an “online relationship” with him last January after she left the school. He would travel to California monthly, according to the affidavit, and take the then-14-year-old girl to hotel rooms where they would have sex.
Porterville police estimate that Kavea drove from Utah to California 15 different times, and had sexual encounters with the girl in four different California cities.
Kavea is currently in the Washington County jail, with bail set at $150,000.
As Porterville police were investigating this case, officers in St. George were conducting another, separate investigation into a sex assault involving a Red Rock Canyon School employee. Police there have remained tight-lipped about the specifics, and were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
Red Rock Canyon School closed this summer after it faced intense scrutiny following a riot and recent revelations about the number of staffers accused of assaulting students.
Sequel Youth and Family Services, which owned the St. George school, announced it would close Red Rock because the school had not “consistently delivered on our mission.” It also announced days later that it would shutter a second treatment center, Mount Pleasant Academy, due to low enrollment. The company continues to operate two other facilities in Utah.
Red Rock Canyon School provided residential treatment and schooling for youths ages 12 to 18 — a mix of teens whose parents pay for them to stay there, out-of-state foster children and some who are ordered to be there by a judge.
Red Rock also had been frequently visited by police investigating staffers for child abuse, drugs and sex crimes, according to a Salt Lake Tribune investigation. Utah regulators were not heavy-handed with the company through most of those instances, at least until the riot broke out in April.
Since 2017, St. George police have been called to Red Rock Canyon School a total of 72 times, according to hundreds of pages of recently released police reports. In that time, 24 staffers were investigated for child abuse.
He is the 10th staffer in the past 2½ years to be charged with child abuse, with accusations ranging from choking, pushing or punching kids in the face. And two employees since 2017 have faced drug charges, accused of accidentally leaving meth at the school.