SAN DIEGO -- A San Diego High School teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with an underage student, as well as assaulting and threatening the girl to keep her from exposing the relationship to others, was charged Wednesday with 20 felony counts.
Juan Carlos Herrera, 49, a special needs curriculum instructor, was arrested Monday in connection with his alleged relationship with the unidentified female student.
Deputy District Attorney Jessica Coto said the alleged offenses occurred "on almost a daily basis" between February 2018 and March of this year, when the girl was 15 and 16 years old. The incidents occurred in his classroom, his car and at hotels, she said.
The prosecutor said the girl is a San Diego High School student, but is not a special needs student and not one of Herrera's students.
The investigation began last Wednesday, when the alleged victim's mother reported finding suspicious and concerning text messages from Herrera on the girl's cellphone, Lt. Carole Beason said.
In addition to 16 counts he faces related to sexual assault, Herrera is also charged with assault, dissuading a witness and making criminal threats. Coto said Herrera threatened to cut the girl's arms and legs off if she told anyone what was going on, choked her, and threw her on the ground.
"This case involves emotional manipulation by the defendant, who was verbally abusive and coercive towards the victim in this case, who was particularly vulnerable, as (Herrera) took advantage of information he knew about her background and used it to manipulate her," Coto said.
Herrera faces 16 years and eight months in prison if convicted of all counts, but Coto said the investigation is ongoing, and could yield additional charges in the future.
Herrera elected to represent himself at Wednesday afternoon's arraignment, pleading not guilty to all counts.
Herrera contested the allegations, as well as his bail, which was raised to $1 million at the prosecution's request due to the nature of the allegations and apparent frequent trips Coto alleged he makes into Mexico. The prosecutor also said he was arrested at the border Monday. Herrera alleged he's not a flight risk, and was re-entering the United States when he was arrested.
"The profession I've chosen limits the income that I make," Herrera said, while arguing bail. "I'm the sole provider of my house."
Herrera also said he's an eight-year Navy veteran and never had any accusations or complaints against him during his 25-year teaching career.
Herrera is due back in court Monday for a bail review hearing, during which he intends to contest the $1 million bail set at Wednesday's arraignment.