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OPINION -- How the City of Santa Monica Failed Our Children

By Oscar de la Torre

Very few things are more evil and damaging to the human spirit than the sexual abuse of children.

As a father of two boys, I am outraged by learning that the City of Santa Monica failed to protect generations of children from the sexual predators who used the Police Activities League (PAL) to orchestrate what seems to be a pedophile ring.

The rumors about Eric Uller, who took his own life after being arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexually molesting children, were widespread for years in the Pico Neighborhood.

In 1993, a former PAL employee reportedly made a formal complaint about Eric Uller to PAL Executive Director Patti Loggins but it seems that City staff did more to protect the organization from an impending scandal than the children whose lives are permanently damaged.

We have seen these patterns of behavior and cover ups in other institutions with similar devastating outcomes for the children being victimized.

The City’s failure to put the safety and wellbeing of children first in City-run programs created an organizational culture that put our children at risk ("High Ranking Santa Monica Officials Told About Alleged Child Molestation, School Board Member Says," October 22, 2018).

In 2015 PAL employee Don Condon was arrested by LAPD when he was caught taking pictures under girl’s skirts during a LA Dodger game he was chaperoning.

The incident was horrible enough but the response by the City staff and the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) provides evidence that a cover-up was at play.

Someone with authority in the SMPD appropriated the investigation from LAPD who had jurisdiction on the case.

Usurping an investigation from LAPD went against the recommendations made in 2010 by the Office of Independent Review (OIR) that told City officials and SMPD that investigating your own is not a best practice because it lacks objectivity.

I am very familiar with the OIR report because the seven recommendations made came as a result of a biased and malicious conspiracy by certain elements in our City government and SMPD to assassinate my character by filing false felony child endangerment charges against me for breaking up a fist fight between Samohi students ("County Panel to Review de la Torre Investigation," July 29, 2010).

Why would SMPD go against the high profile OIR recommendations in the Condon investigation? Why was there not a robust investigation in the Condon case?

In a plea deal Don Condon did no jail time and walked away with probation while there is evidence to suggest he did more than simply take pictures underneath girls' skirts.

Many suspect that once Condon was arrested he knew he had a get-out-of-jail card and this card's name was Eric Uller.

When large numbers of children are sexually abused for decades in City-run programs one has to ask, how could this happen, of all places in a youth program staffed and monitored by those who swear to protect us?

And there lies a major question for our City moving forward: Should law enforcement be in the business of delivering social services to underserved youth?

Can the City Council hold anyone accountable when the programs are a part of law enforcement’s public relations apparatus?

It’s obvious from this scandal that our current City Council members, who depend on police union endorsements and campaign funds for their elections, are compromised in holding these programs accountable.

In 2015, we experienced this biased preferential treatment first hand.

City staff produced multiple biased reports to make the case to de fund the Pico Youth & Family Center (PYFC).

At the same time, PAL was under investigation for five counts of child molestation by Don Condon yet received $1.6 million dollars in pubic funds without any public discussion. Not one question from a City Council member!

On the contrary, when parents tried to raise these concerns, Mayor Kevin McKeown cut their microphone off during public comment.

The City’s defunding of PYFC at a time when our members started raising these concerns is also relevant as the City wants to shut down any critical voice for historically marginalized groups. The power dynamics of class and race cannot be overlooked in these matters.

What is the criteria City staff is using to completely de fund one program for “administrative errors that were self reported and corrected,” while at the same time continuing to fund another program whose staff and volunteers are being investigated for sexually molesting multiple children?

Tax payers deserve answers to these questions, and at a time in our City when public safety is our number one concern, we want our police fighting crime with integrity and leave the tutoring and counseling to trained service providers.

On Tuesday evening, the City’s paid consultants will address the City’s child abuse scandal at PAL. I expect they will only discuss policy changes, but we know now that recommendations for change from outside consultants are not always adhered to.

What I don't expect they will answer is who is responsible within the City government for enabling the harm to our children that went on for so long?

What impact did this generational trauma have on the lives that were permanently damaged? What impact has this had on the victims' families and our community?

And more importantly, how do we as a community begin to heal the wounds emanating from these horrible crimes against our children’s innocence?

We hope the City will answer these questions when it concludes an ongoing investigation into allegations that City officials knew or should have known of Uller's crimes.

Oscar de la Torre is a school Board member and executive director of the Pico Youth and Family Center

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