McALLEN, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — The case against a former Sharyland Pioneer High School teacher who allegedly had sex with a student hit a major snag last month, when a judge determined the statute of limitations had expired.
Gilberto “Gilbert” Luna, 35, of Alamo was arrested in August after the McAllen Police Department determined Luna had a sexual relationship with a student from September 2018 to March 2020.
Luna was charged with improper relationship between educator and student. The charge, however, is subject to a three-year statute of limitations.
After reviewing the case, state District Judge Mario E. Ramirez Jr. signed an order to discharge Luna’s bond.
“Defendant is in restraint of his liberty pertaining to an arrest for Improper Relationship Between Educator and Student (Tx. Penal Code §21.12) which is subject to limitation of 3 years from the commission of said offense,” according to the order, which is dated Sept. 26. “The sworn probable cause for arrest (dated 1 August 2023) states that the relationship ended over 3 years prior to the arrest (March 2020).”
The Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office doesn’t plan to proceed with the improper relationship charge unless the facts change, said First Assistant District Attorney Alex Benavides.
Prosecutors may take another charge against Luna — possession of child pornography — to a grand jury.
“We’re simply awaiting the next decision by the DA’s Office,” said attorney Lennard K. Whittaker of McAllen, who represents Luna.
The Sharyland Independent School District hired Luna in August 2017, according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act.
Four people applied for the position. After interviewing the candidates, then-Principal James D. Heath recommended Luna for the job.
“Gilbert Luna is currently employed by the City of Weslaco Police Department. Before that, he was a police officer for the City of Edinburg. He has a teaching certification for 4-8 generalist and has passed his certification test for Trades and Industrial Education. He qualifies as certified because of his years of experience as a police officer,” Heath wrote in a memo dated July 10, 2017. “After the committee interviewed 4 candidates, Mr. Luna was named as a finalist along with one other candidate. I met with both candidates and felt that Mr. Luna was the more qualified candidate for our program.”
Both the Edinburg Police Department and the Weslaco Police Department, though, had fired Luna for misconduct.
It’s unclear if Sharyland ISD knew what happened in Edinburg and Weslaco when the district hired Luna. Records released by Sharyland ISD included a letter of recommendation from a Weslaco Police Department employee, who described Luna as “a truly valuable asset to absolutely any team.”
Sharyland ISD assigned Luna to Pioneer High School, where he taught classes on law and criminal investigations.
Luna started exchanging text messages with a student in 2018, according to an affidavit filed with the McAllen Municipal Court.
Investigators assigned the student a pseudonym — Ms. Garcia — to preserve her anonymity.
“Ms. Garcia stated when she began her senior year (2018) Mr. Luna boldly pursued her after learning she was then seventeen years old,” according to the affidavit.
Garcia said they had sex in September 2018 and “became a couple” the following month.
“Ms. Garcia stated over the course of their relationship, she and Mr. Luna went on multiple outings, had sexual intercourse and exchanged sexually explicit photographs between each other,” according to the affidavit. “Ms. Garcia stated several of their sexual encounters were on school campus, causing fellow students to spread rumors of their involvement. Ms. Garcia stated she and her friends were coached by Mr. Luna in the event that school personnel were to question the nature of their relationship.”
The relationship ended in March 2020.
Garcia contacted the McAllen Police Department in July 2023 after she became concerned that Luna still had “sexually explicit videos and photographs” of her, according to the affidavit.
Luna was charged with improper relationship between educator and student, a second-degree felony.
Asked why the McAllen Police Department decided to charge Luna after the statute of limitations had expired, a police spokeswoman said: “He was arrested pursuant to warrant” and didn’t respond to a follow-up question.
During the investigation, a detective searched Luna’s phone.
The detective found 11 photos of Garcia “at the age of seventeen, engaging in sexual conduct with Mr. Luna,” according to an affidavit filed with the McAllen Municipal Court. “The photographs stored in Mr. Luna’s cell phone, range from November 2018 through February 2019.”
Luna was charged with possession of child pornography, a third-degree felony. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.