An explosive, front-page investigation on Sunday (5/10/09) in the Los Angeles Times reported that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) "repeatedly" returned teachers and aides credibly accused of child molestation back to classrooms, and these individuals then molested children again. The jaw-dropping story, by Times staffer Jason Song, is incredibly angering, and the tales of abuse are stomach-turning. (An accompanying audio slideshow at the Times web site is quite sad and maddening.)
In the last several years, media outlets have endlessly ripped and tarred the Catholic Church for mishandling episodes from decades ago. Meanwhile, these episodes in LAUSD date back are all quite recent. One documented case dates back to just last year! From Song's story:
- The first complaint against [Ricardo] Guevara came in 1995 … Guevara, who denied the allegation, was never charged with a crime. He was cleared to return to work at the same school … Several years later, he was hired full time at the Miramonte Early Education Center … District administrators knew of the 1995 accusation, but no one informed school leaders … In 2002, a 6-year-old accused "Mr. Ricardo" of repeatedly touching her groin during class one day … But with no witnesses besides the child, who over time mixed up details of what had occurred, prosecutors declined to pursue the case. Guevara returned to Miramonte to work with children.
- In 2002, a student reported that Michael McMurray, a fourth-grade teacher at Plainview Avenue Elementary School in Tujunga, had on several occasions forced a girl to sit on his lap and pose for a camera … Two years later, during class, McMurray wrote a note to a fourth-grader on a Post-it, according to police documents. "Are you comfortable with me putting my hand on your knee?" he asked … McMurray, who molested her on at least two occasions, later pleaded no contest to sexual abuse of a child and was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Ten other girls stepped forward, complaining that they too had been touched inappropriately by McMurray, but the charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement. At least three girls have sued the district.
- James Marlo Duffin, a fourth-grade teacher at Middleton Elementary School in Huntington Park, had been investigated in May 2001 for allegedly touching a girl's buttocks … Duffin returned to the classroom. Almost two years later, while teaching at Gulf Avenue Elementary School in Wilmington, he was accused of touching a girl's buttocks and molesting two other students … It is not clear whether Duffin's new principal had been told of the prior allegation.
- Even as he was applying to be a trainee at the district in 2001, the aide, Paul Thompson, was under investigation by police for allegedly raping a 10-year-old boy at a group home where he had worked … A district background check failed to pick up on the complaint … Between July 2002 and March 2003, Thompson repeatedly forced the boy to perform sexual acts, according to amended criminal charges in 2005 alleging eight counts of lewd acts with a child. After a jury acquitted Thompson on five counts and could not agree on the other three, a mistrial was declared. In a second trial that ended in November 2005, the jury acquitted him of all remaining charges. Within a week, Thompson was reassigned to Blythe Street Elementary School in Reseda to be a special education aide to a female second-grader, according to his later testimony. It is unclear whether his new principal was told of the prior allegations.
- [In 2007], before he was transferred to Markham Middle School as assistant principal, [Steve] Rooney had been arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. He allegedly brandished a handgun at the stepfather of a student who attended Foshay Learning Center … Police told senior district officials that they had found evidence in Rooney's home of a possible sexual relationship between Rooney and the student, police later told The Times. But the student, 17, did not cooperate with the LAPD investigation, police said. No charges were filed. Without conducting their own investigation, L.A. Unified officials reassigned Rooney to Markham after a few months. In 2008, Rooney was arrested for allegedly kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 13-year old female student from Markham at his home. Since then, he has been charged with various sexual crimes involving four girls, two former students at Foshay and two at Markham.
Where's the outrage?
- At Google News, the only link I can find about the scandal is the original story in the Times.
- The web sites of ABC7 Los Angeles, NBC4 Los Angeles, and CBS2 Los Angeles currently carry nothing about the story and give no indication they've covered this at all.
- If KFI radio's popular morning host Bill Handel, a perpetual Church basher, announced the story this morning (5/11/09), I missed it. Instead, I tuned in this morning at 7:40 am to hear Handel spending several minutes on the story about a Catholic priest several thousand miles away in Florida who had an affair. Handel then proceeded to voice several falsehoods about the Church. (See below.)
KABC's Doug McIntyre deserves credit for interviewing Song this morning on his radio show and at least spending a few minutes on the issue.
Meanwhile: Is the Times finally turning a corner in their reporting?
For several years, we have reported on the disparate coverage by the Times and other mainstream outlets when reporting the awful crime of child abuse. While the Times and others seem to trumpet each-and-every decades-old allegation against a Catholic priest, they have either downplayed or ignored current-day scandals in our nation's schools. As we've written before, "When it comes to the abuse of children, it sure seems like the national media doesn't get too worked up unless the words 'Cardinal,' 'bishop,' or 'priest' is in someone's job title." (For a catalog of this disparity, see "Los Angeles Times: Clergy Abuse and School Abuse" at TheMediaReport.com.)
A couple questions remain, however:
- Will the Times follow up on this report and continue to uncover other egregious cases? Remember how the Boston Globe handles the Catholic Church abuse scandal in 2002: It wasn't just one article. The Globe alone ran a mind-blowing 989 articles related to the scandal in the 2002 calendar year alone! (Yes – that's an average of almost three a day! See for yourself.) On McIntyre's show this morning (5/11/09, 9 am hour), Song told the audience that, "Since the Rooney incident, the number of teachers 'housed' – that's the term they use for being placed on administrative leave while charges against the employee are being investigated – has almost tripled in number."
- As the rest of the national media tracked the Church scandals in Boston several years ago and expanded on it, will mainstream outlets give this outrageous scandal the wide attention it deserves?
Falsehoods by Bill Handel: 1. Priestly celibacy in the Church only came about "1,000 years after Jesus." Wrong. The Council of Elvira, circa 309 A.D., shows that priestly celibacy was already being firmly practiced by the Church. 2. "Gays can't receive communion." Nope. Just having homosexual desires does not bar anyone from receiving the Eucharist. 3. "Divorced Catholics cannot receive communion." Wrong again. That's another myth.