Protesters gathered outside Temecula Dance Company on Thursday, demanding answers about a dance instructor arrested on suspicion of lewd acts with children, including current and former students.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department served a search warrant on Oct. 12 at the residence of 42-year-old Eric Saradpon on the 39000 block of Sundance Circle, in relation to a lewd acts with minors investigation. They say they seized several “evidence items” at the location.
He was subsequently arrested at the dance studio, located at 28404 Felix Valdez Ave., on suspicion of felony crimes including sodomy by force and lewd acts with children, according to the department. Saradpon has since been released on bail and his next court date is Feb. 23, booking records show.
Members of the local dance community gathered Thursday evening, saying the dance school has not been transparent enough since the allegations were brought to light.
“We came here together, to bring the community together, to demand justice for the kids who don’t have a big enough voice, who are afraid to use their voice,” said dancer JoJo Gomez. “Why the Temecula dance company has not said anything.”
Ed Morel, who owns Temecula Dance Company with his wife, said Saradpon worked at the studio for about 15 years and even passed a background check.
“My wife and I have owned this business for 30 years. We’ve had thousands of kids come through here,” he said. “Anybody who puts any of our kids in danger is not welcome here.”
Morel said he cut ties with Saradpon immediately after detectives informed him about the allegations. He went on to say, “Maybe it happened. Maybe it didn’t. But that has nothing to do with us.”
“I’ve been a professional in the dance industry for 15 years and I’ve experienced a lot of abuse,” said Cierra Lauren, a member of Speak Your Truth Worldwide, a nonprofit raising awareness of mental health issues and abuse within the dance industry. “This is personal to me. I know what it feels like.”
A 13-year-old former student of Saradpon said the instructor would have students spend the night at his home.
“The fact that he has boys sleepover at his house, which are like 13 years old … It was just was weird to me,” the student, identified as Brendan, said.
Brendan’s mom pulled him out of the dance school after the allegations surfaced.
“You see the behaviors of him with the students and you know it’s not normal. But nobody questions it,” his mom said.
She doesn’t believe the owners of the dance company took enough action.
“They didn’t even ask parents to talk to their kids to see if something bad might have happened to them,” she said.