A man accused of sending threatening messages to staffers at the Vista Unified School District made an appearance in a North County courtroom Tuesday.
Arturo Avina, 33, a former speech therapist for Rancho Buena Vista High School, was arrested Friday when deputies executed a search warrant at a home in Vista.
He faces a felony charge of making criminal threats, a felony burglary charge and a misdemeanor vandalism charge. Avina pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is currently in jail on $500,000 bail.
Coworkers described Avina as a “disgruntled employee” of Vista Unified School District.
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Shane Watts said employees at the school district first alerted the sheriff’s department of Avina’s alleged threats in February. The department and school resource officers had been investigating the threats and were able to link Avina to the messages.
The nature of those messages – or whether they were over social media, by phone or through another medium – was not disclosed by investigators.
Lisa Contreras, director of communications for Vista Unified School District, told NBC 7 that the threats targeted “specific employees.” She also confirmed Avina as an employee of the school district.
“The safety and security of our staff and students is our top priority,” Contreras said in an email to NBC 7. “The District immediately contacted the Sheriff's Department and have been fully cooperating in their investigation. Thank you to the Vista Sheriff's department for their commitment to keeping our students and staff safe.”
Vista Unified School District serves sections of the North County, including Vista, Oceanside, San Marcos and Carlsbad, and is the fourth largest school district in San Diego County.
Avina is scheduled to be in court next on March 20. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 3 years and 8 months in prison.