Several days after a Riverside guitar teacher was arrested and charged with lewd acts and sodomy with a child under 14 years old, a woman who says she was his coworker recorded a video targeting their employer.
That video, posted Monday by Marie Strassenburg, accuses Guitar Center of failing to notify the parents of children who may have been taught by the man who has been charged.
The Westlake Village-based company said in a brief statement that it was cooperating with law enforcement on an investigation into a former employee.
Riverside police announced July 28 that Nathaniel Hernandez had been arrested by a SWAT team the previous day, about three weeks after an investigation began.
Hernandez, 27, has been charged with five counts of a lewd act with a child under 14 and one count of sodomy with a child under 14. Court records indicate the alleged crimes occurred March 1; he was charged July 18, when a judge signed a warrant for his arrest.
Last week, Hernandez was described by police only as a “guitar instructor at a music business in Riverside.” A Riverside Police Department news release said detectives were seeking the public’s help identifying other potential victims.
"Due to Hernandez’ access to children, it is believed there could be other victims who have not yet come forward," the release said.
Three days after police announced the arrest, Strassenburg took to Facebook Monday night, posting a nearly 4 1/2-minute video that she said she hoped would go viral. By early Tuesday evening, the video had more than 700,000 views and was rapidly gaining more.
In the video, apparently recorded inside a vehicle, Strassenburg addressed the camera and said she was a piano instructor at Guitar Center Moreno Valley in Riverside and had “just walked out.” Hernandez, she said, didn’t show up for work a month earlier and was subsequently fired.
The store manager, Strassenburg said, asked that she and the store’s music lessons manager should “keep it quiet” and pretend Hernandez was out sick.
“We thought nothing of it until bounty hunters came in looking for him,” she said. “When I found out he was wanted by the police, we both pressed the store manager to get in touch with the parents and the students that used to be Nathaniel’s and he refused. He told us to keep it to ourselves, to keep it quiet.”
Strassenburg discovered what Hernandez had been charged with, she said, her voice shaking.
“We asked him, ‘Why, why are we keeping this a secret?’” she said in the video.
She alleged Guitar Center refused to contact Hernandez’s music students.
On Tuesday, Mario Birts, whose son had attended lessons with Hernandez, told KTLA he feels he "definitely" should have been notified.
"I want to know who my son’s in contact with and why they’re not going to be there anymore,” he said.
In her video, Strassenburg noted that Hernandez had a previous felony conviction; Riverside County court records show he was convicted of burglary in 2008 and sentenced to three years of probation.
When she asked a corporate-level employee why Hernandez had been hired to work with children given his criminal record, the employee told her that “background checks cost money,” Strassenburg said.
“Really? How expensive is a background check? Is that worth a child’s innocence?” she asked. “I think not.”
Asked Tuesday about Strassenburg's claims, Guitar Center's media relations team sent a short statement. It read:
"Guitar Center has recently been made aware of a matter regarding a former employee from its Moreno Valley store. Guitar Center conducts background checks on all of its employees and takes the safety of its employees and customers very seriously. Guitar Center is fully cooperating with law enforcement in its investigation of this matter.
"We cannot comment further as this matter involves a pending investigation."
Strassenburg, meanwhile, ended her video by calling for a boycott of Guitar Center, urging parents to seek private music lessons.
The chain store has more than 280 locations across the U.S. and bills itself as the world's largest retailer of music equipment such as guitars and amplifiers. The Moreno Valley location is at 2550 Canyon Springs Parkway in the eastern edge of Riverside.
Hernandez's arraignment was Monday, according to court records. He is due back in court Aug. 9.