Oscar de la Torre, SMMUSD Board of Education
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 wide spread 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. 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.
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 girl’s skirts. Many suspect that once Don Condon was arrested he knew he had a get out of jail card and this cards 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, 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. The 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 under Don Condon and they received 1.6 million dollars in public 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. What is the criteria the City staff is using to completely defund 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, leave the tutoring and counseling to trained service providers.
On Tuesday, October 15, 2019 the City’s paid consultants will address the City’s child abuse scandal at PAL. As expected, they will only discuss policy changes but we know now that recommendations for change from outside consultants are not always adhered to in our City. What they won’t answer is who is responsible for 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 victim’s 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?
Oscar de la Torre is a member of the SMMUSD Board of Education and Founder of Pico Youth & Family Center (PYFC) in Santa Monica. He can be reached at 310-922-5122.