BENTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The trial date for a former Bentonville youth shelter employee accused of raping a minor resident girl has been pushed back again.
A trial for Hunter De La Garza, 24 was set to begin in Benton County Circuit Court on November 1, but Judge Brad Karren issued a bench order resetting the start date to January 17, 2023. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for January 9, 2023.
De La Garza was arrested for rape after an investigation by the Rogers Police Department. On April 9, 2021, the department was notified that a State Police investigator had received a child abuse hotline call regarding a minor girl. According to a probable cause filing, the suspect was De La Garza, previously an employee at the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter.
The allegation was that he raped a 10-year-old girl in the bathroom at the Promenade Mall in Rogers during a one-on-one outing on February 2, 2021. The victim was interviewed at the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) on March 8, 2021, and did not disclose anything about the incident.
She was interviewed at CAC again on April 9, 2021, with the State Police officer observing, and provided details, stating that “I didn’t tell this last time but someone raped me.” She confirmed that it was De La Garza and offered explicit details of what he did to her, describing an encounter in a mall bathroom.
An NWA Children’s Shelter supervisor stated that De La Garza had worked there for a little over a year. She said that there were “several issues” with him and he was eventually fired. The “issues” included his making racial remarks and entering a bathroom with a minor girl.
Several former employees of the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter say leadership waited too long to act in dealing with De La Garza. De La Garza was arrested on February 26 and taken into custody at the Benton County Jail with a bond of $250,000.
An order that De La Garza make no contact with his victim, any minor children, or any childcare facilities was issued on March 4 and remains in effect.
The trial was also delayed this summer, a move that did not surprise prosecutor Nathan Smith, who said that the complexity of the case contributed to the need for a delay.
“It got set for trial very early, so a continuance isn’t surprising,” he added.