SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio man faces up to 30 years in prison after pleading no contest this week to aggravated sexual assault of a child.
The 2015 allegations against Nicholas Garcia were originally investigated by now-fired San Antonio Police Department Detective Kenneth Valdez, who closed the case without forwarding it to the district attorney's office for possible charges, SAPD officials confirmed this week.
"They felt that there wasn't enough done on this case, so it was reopened," said Sgt. Michelle Ramos, SAPD spokeswoman.
SAPD officials said that the Garcia case was one of 131 assigned to Valdez in the year before discrepancies with his work were uncovered by fellow investigators.
Valdez was fired last fall after an internal affairs investigation determined that he failed to follow up on evidence and closed some of these cases without fully investigating them, according to suspension paperwork previously released to the KSAT 12 Defenders.
A six-month independent review of SAPD's Special Victims Unit completed earlier this year determined that Valdez acted alone in mishandling the workload.
"There's no excuse for how he handled some of these cases. We were very fortunate in this case, that it was reopened and that it was sent over to the DA's office," Ramos said.
However, multiple people familiar with the allegations against Garcia said Valdez's inaction in the case further damaged the victim, who is now 16.
During a family court hearing related to the case last week, an attorney representing the teen said the victim has not had access to trauma counseling even though it has been nearly three years since the sexual assault happened.
Ramos responded that the teen was put in contact with a victims' advocate after the complaint against Garcia was filed in spring 2016.
The teen and her mother moved to Colorado months later.
The victim's mother told the Defenders after a court hearing last week that she moved in October 2016 to pursue better opportunities.
Public records confirm that Garcia has ties to Colorado and followed them months later.
During his plea agreement hearing this week, Garcia was wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the Colorado state flag.
A source familiar with the investigation said that Garcia moved back in with the mother and the teen in the summer of 2017.
Garcia was arrested in Aurora, Colorado, in late November, weeks after a Bexar County grand jury indicted him in the 2015 case.
The teen and two of her siblings have been in the custody of Child Protective Services since early this month, after investigators here began looking into whether the teen's mother failed to protect her once the sexual assault allegations were made.
"I wasn't protecting him. We just didn't know what was going on or anything because we hadn't heard anything through the case," said the woman outside court.
We are not revealing who she is in order to protect her daughter's identity.
The woman said she spoke with Valdez one time after her child made an outcry at school, but did not receive any kind of follow-up information on the allegations over the next 17 months.
The woman admitted that she eventually allowed Garcia to come around in large part because she and Garcia have two younger children together.
"That whole time I had not received any kind of phone calls, anything," said the woman, whose next custody hearing is scheduled for late next month.
The state has been named temporary managing conservator of her two youngest children.
SAPD officials confirm that the case against Garcia was removed last September from Valdez's workload and reassigned to another SVU detective, who forwarded it to the DA for charges within weeks.
By accepting the state's plea agreement, Garcia's sentence will be capped at 30 years, when he appears for sentencing in October.
He faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison because of his status as a repeat offender, the judge said during the plea agreement hearing.
A felony retaliation charge against Garcia, stemming from alleged threats he made to an assistant district attorney during a court appearance in March, is scheduled to be dismissed.
In that case, Garcia was accused of yelling expletives at a female bailiff then telling the prosecutor, "I bet you feel safe. I'll find you. You have to leave sometime," according to a source familiar with the incident.
Garcia has a lengthy criminal history in Bexar County, including a previous felony conviction for aggravated robbery, according to court records.
Valdez, who was handed a second indefinite suspension in January for failing to obey a lawful order, is appealing both terminations.