A local artist who recently served as art coordinator for the county superintendent of schools was found dead in Mexico last week. His death, an apparent suicide, came a day after he was released from jail amid an investigation into allegations that he had unlawful physical contact and communications with a 15-year-old girl.

Nick Mansfield, 37, who had played a key role in the recent launch of an art space in downtown Nogales, was arrested by Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputies and jailed on Dec. 6 on assault charges, according to police reports and jail records. He was released from custody on Dec. 11 on his own recognizance as the investigation against him continued.

Soon after his release – the next day, according to Mexican media accounts – he died near Hermosillo, Sonora.

Mansfield hadn’t been formally charged at the time of his death, and County Attorney George Silva said the investigation wouldn’t continue now that the suspect is dead.

Since no charges had been filed against him, Mansfield never had the chance to enter a plea on his own behalf, and it was unclear if he had hired a lawyer. Documents obtained by the NI regarding the investigation do not include any police interviews with Mansfield, and Silva said Mansfield invoked his rights and was therefore not interviewed at the time of his arrest.

Mansfield began working at the County Superintendent of Schools’ Office on Aug. 12 without having cleared a background check, according to County Human Resource Director Sonia Jones. His work included organizing a film festival of short movies made by eighth-graders from schools around the county – a project that was covered by this newspaper.

But almost as soon as he started the job, detectives in San Diego began investigating allegations that Mansfield had an inappropriate relationship with a 15-year-old girl from California.

On Aug. 21, the girl’s mother told police in San Diego that her daughter had previously met Mansfield in San Diego. In July of this year, the woman said, she and her daughter traveled to Santa Cruz County for a photoshoot with Mansfield, according to Sheriff’s Office documents obtained through a public records request.

In a subsequent forensic interview conducted in November, the girl reportedly told investigators that Mansfield had touched her unlawfully during the visit and had made inappropriate comments to her in person and through a chat app.

On Nov. 25, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office received an email from their counterparts in San Diego saying that the forensic interview with the alleged victim had been completed.

That same day, Mansfield was fired from his job with the county, according to Jones, the county’s HR director.

Jones did not respond to the NI’s question about the reason for Mansfield’s termination, stating only that he was on a “temporary assignment.” But she confirmed that he hadn’t submitted a background check or completed a fingerprint criminal history clearance.

A personal website apparently belonging to Mansfield includes a page describing an art project titled “Forever Guilty” that looks at the difficulties faced by people with a criminal conviction. “I know that these are tough waters to tread in, because I check that box, too. I have been turned down for jobs, housing, etc.,” the page says.

It’s not clear what Mansfield’s exact duties were at the superintendent’s office or to what degree he worked directly with students.

At an Aug. 21 County Board of Supervisors meeting, Superintendent Alfredo Velasquez introduced Mansfield as an artist from Memphis, Tenn., stating: “He’s come on part-time and he’s going to be part of our staff in kicking off some of the art projects in Santa Cruz County.”

Velasquez did not respond to repeated calls, voice messages or an email seeking comment for this story.

On Dec. 5, investigators in Santa Cruz County reviewed the forensic interview with the alleged victim, which had been forwarded from California on a CD. Mansfield was arrested the next day and released on Dec. 11.

What happened next isn’t entirely clear, but Mansfield eventually made his way to Hermosillo.

On Dec. 17, acting on a tip, a sheriff’s deputy contacted authorities in Hermosillo and ultimately confirmed that Mansfield had died in Mexico. The deputy’s report states that the death was believed to be a suicide.

The report doesn’t state when the death took place, but Sonoran media outlets reported that an unidentified man was found dead on the Boulevard Francisco Serna after being hit by a moving vehicle around 3:30 or 3:40 p.m. on Dec. 12.

This fall, Mansfield led the creation of Revival, an art space on Morley Avenue in Nogales that held its grand opening on Nov. 20. Speaking for an article published Nov. 26 in the NI, he said the idea behind the project was to provide local artists a place where they could both work on and display their art.

Other partners involved in Revival say they are hoping the keep the project viable without Mansfield by seeking new partnerships and funding sources.

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