Child Molestation: School's Failure to Supervise a Volunteer Senior Citizen - A Case Study
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Child Molestation: School's Failure to Supervise a Volunteer Senior Citizen - A Case Study

INTRODUCTION

The following facts are true.

These five cases resulted in positive outcomes because parents joined together and immediately hired an experienced civil trial lawyer at the outset.

The original version of this article was prepared as a trial brief for five preschool children and their parents who filed suit against a local school district for damages suffered by the children as a result of sexual abuse by a volunteer grandfather. All five were represented By Richard Alexander, Personal Injury Lawyer. Evidentiary references, without attachments, have been retained to show how these claims were structured.

All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the children and their parents. These claims against this nursery school were settled with court approval prior to trial as a result of thorough investigation and the cooperation of a team of parents, child psychologists and experienced private legal counsel. Each child is now the beneficiary of a special trust fund maintained solely for the child's benefit.

This case, as in the case of all children who have been molested or abused, who have been represented by Richard Alexander, was filed anonymously, using fictitious names to avoid a public record that could ever be used to identify these children. Furthermore, using a protocol followed over 20 years of representing abused children, each child was only called upon to testify once in the criminal prosecution of the molester and each was attended by both her parent and psychologist under the protective supervision of a judge.

The children were not deposed in the civil action. The civil litigation process can, and is designed, to offer substantial protections to children, including protection from the slightest abuse. Testifying therapists have reported that this protocol actually "empowers" the child, after a course of therapy, to gain some control over their abuser and with the guidance of a therapist can be and often times is therapeutic.

In this case the Local School District Preschool was a publicly owned and controlled preschool provided by a school district and offered low cost preschool services utilizing parent volunteers.

On several occasions, the school's director learned of physical and sexual abuse by a volunteer grandfather involving at least five children. One parent told the director to report the misconduct to the Police Department. The director took no action.

The children, Ann One, age 4, Betty Two, age 4, Carrie Three, age 4, Denise Four, age 4, and Ellen Five, age 4, were digitally penetrated by an adult male who is referred to here as Elderly Molester, a volunteer with a grandchild at the preschool. In addition, Elderly Molester physically abused the girls and masturbated while he forced them to watch and to touch his penis.

Ann, Carrie, Denise, Ellen and one child who did not bring suit, Kathy Smith, reported the abuse to their teacher, Ms. Director. Ms. Director did nothing, which allowed the abuse to continue unabated. Mr. Elderly Molester was eventually was arrested and held to answer on sixteen criminal charges of molestation and attempted kidnapping. However, as a result of a massive stroke suffered by Mr. Molester, the criminal charges were never brought to trial.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

LSDP was a co-operative preschool where parents participate in day-to-day activities and at events sponsored by LSDP.

During the 1995-96 school year, Ms. Director acted as the teacher and Director of LSDP and was responsible for enrolling, instructing, training and supervising the participating parents and children. (See Exhibit F, Criminal Court Preliminary Hearing Testimony of Ms. Director (hereinafter "Director Testimony"), pp. 305, 502.)

Ann, Betty, Carrie, Denise and Ellen attended LSDP on designated weekdays. In addition, they participated in school sponsored field trips as well as "park days" which were usually held on Wednesdays and involved preschool activities at local parks.

Elderly Molester's participation at LSDP began in November, 1995. His grandson, John Jones, attended the school. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, pp. 305-307, 503.)

Elderly Molester spent an inordinate amount of time at LSDP, often on days when his grandson was not attending and on days when Elderly Molester's presence at the preschool was not required. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, pp. 308-309.)

From the outset, Elderly Molester showed a preference for girls rather than boys. Ms. Director recalls that he showed particular interest in Ann, Denise and Ellen, among other girls. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, pp. 312-314.)

Ms. Director also acknowledges that Elderly Molester did not follow instructions well, that he often left his assigned or designated area at LSDP, and that she allowed Elderly Molester to be alone in one-on-one situations with LSDP children. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, pp. 524, 526-527.)

It was believed that LSDP considered expelling Elderly Molester for these reasons, among others, which included Elderly Molester's failure to complete the adult education hours required of all participating parents as well as his failure to pay his grandson's tuition. However, like Ms. Director, LSDP took no action.

In January, 1996, Ms. Director became acting Director of LSDP, replacing Kelly Harry who resigned after ten years with the school. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, p. 502.)

Ms. Harry's style of direction was vastly more consistent and structured than the ever-changing style followed by Director.

Ms. Director favored an unstructured program which resulted in a chaotic, free-flowing environment at LSDP which was largely unsupervised, resulting in children who were upset on a daily basis. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, p. 498.)

Prior to Ms. Harry's departure, LSDP employed two teachers, namely Ms. Harry and Director. When Ms. Harry departed, however, LSDP failed to fill the vacancy. That understaffing, coupled with the daily attendance of approximately twenty-four children as well as Director's unstructured style of direction and failure to provide adequate supervision, created a situation which readily facilitated Elderly Molester's ability to molest Ann, Betty, Carrie, Denise and Ellen on the school's premises and at school events.

Between November, 1995 and July 3, 1996, Elderly Molester repeatedly molested Ann, Betty, Carrie, Denise and Ellen, and others. The molestations occurred on the preschool premises, during field trips, and at Green Park and Eden Park during nursery school "park days."

At least five children notified Ms. Director when the molestations occurred, informing her that they had been injured or abused by Elderly Molester, but Ms. Director did nothing. (See Exhibit A-2, Criminal Court Preliminary Hearing Testimony of Ann One (hereinafter "Ann Testimony"), pp. 12, 15, 31-33, 38; Exhibit C-2, Comments Made by Carrie Three (hereinafter "Three Comments"), p. 7; Exhibit D-2; Criminal Court Preliminary Hearing Testimony of Denise Four (hereinafter "Denise Testimony"), p. 384; Exhibit E-2, Criminal Court Preliminary Hearing Testimony of Ellen Five (hereinafter "Ellen Testimony"), p. 405; Exhibit G, Criminal Court Preliminary Hearing Testimony of Kathy Smith (hereinafter "Kathy Testimony"), pp. 265, 272-276.)

Ms. Director was aware of her duty to report child abuse to Child Protective Services. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, p. 517.) However, she never notified Child Protective Services or the girls' parents, and failed to take any precautionary measures whatsoever.

Instead, Ms. Director simply told these innocent five-year-olds to "work it out" and tell her if it happened again. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, p. 320; Exhibit G, Kathy Testimony, p. 274.) They did, and Director did nothing except tell Elderly Molester "not to do it again." (See Exhibit A-2, Ann Testimony, pp. 15, 32-33, 38; Exhibit G, Kathy Testimony, p. 274.)

In late February or early March, 1996, Ms. Director was notified that the Police Department had concerns about Elderly Molester's peculiar interest in young girls.

Marjorie Miller, herself a mother of a four-year-old girl who attended another preschool, urged Director to contact the Police Department to get further information and to inform the parents of the children who attended LSDP of Elderly Molester's interest in young girls. (See Exhibit I, Declaration of Marjorie Miller.) Ms. Director did neither.

With Director's acquiescence, Elderly Molester's abuse continued without restraint.

Elderly Molester was given full privileges at the school with intimate and unlimited access to all youngsters, but especially the girls in whom, Director admits, Elderly Molester had a recognized interest. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, pp. 311-314.)

Elderly Molester participated in "circle time," a daily LSDP activity where songs and stories were shared. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, pp. 505-506.) During "circle time," Elderly Molester would cause girls, rather than boys, to sit on his lap. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, pp. 309-311; Exhibit B-2, Criminal Court Preliminary Hearing Testimony of Betty Two (hereinafter "Betty Testimony"), pp. 229-230, 237.)

Following water-related activities in the preschool sandbox, children at the nursery school often needed a change of clothing or sponge bath. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, pp. 322, 518-519, 521.) With Director's full knowledge, Elderly Molester was allowed to participate in the washing, dressing and undressing of the children. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, p. 521.) He was also allowed to accompany the children to the bathroom alone.

LSDP and the School District had no rules or safeguards regarding undressing or changing clothes, nor was there any protocol in place regarding parental involvement with children of the opposite gender in bathroom and toilet use. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, pp. 499-500.)

A brazen and bold molester, Elderly Molester fondled the girls during school functions, sometimes in the presence of others. He digitally penetrated the girls' anuses and vaginas, and forced some of the girls to touch his penis while he masturbated. (See Exhibit A-2, Ann Testimony, pp. 18-19, 29-30, 44-46; Exhibit C-2, Three Comments, pp. 1, 7, 9; Exhibit D-2, Denise Testimony, p. 363; Exhibit E-2, Ellen Testimony, pp. 343-345, 352, 357-358, 404-406; Exhibit G, Kathy Testimony, pp. 264-265, 271-272, 280-281; Exhibit J, Criminal Court Preliminary Hearing Testimony of Officer Sue M. (hereinafter "Sue M. Testimony"), pp. 417-450, 478-484, 572, 575-577, 579-580.)

Elderly Molester told the girls that they shared a "secret," and that if a girl told anyone, he would "steal" her or hurt her or her parents. (See Exhibit A-2, Ann Testimony, pp. 17, 41; Exhibit C-2, Three Comments, pp. 1-2, 4-9; Exhibit D-2, Denise Testimony, pp. 367-370, 380-381, 383-384, 391-393; Exhibit E-2, Ellen Testimony, pp. 337, 340, 347, 353-354, 358-359; Exhibit J, Sue M. Testimony, pp. 428-429, 435-436, 446-447, 450, 576.)

Elderly Molester threatened to feed the youngsters to the sharks if they reported the abuse. (See Exhibit C-2, Three Comments, pp. 2-3, 6; Exhibit E-2, Ellen Testimony, pp. 337-338, 355, 402, 409-415; Exhibit J, Sue M. Testimony, pp. 429, 479-480.)

Elderly Molester molested Kathy Smith on the preschool playground, chasing and molesting her during a game of tag. Like Ann, Carrie, Denise and Ellen, Kathy reported the abuse to Ms. Director, but Ms. Director did nothing. (See Exhibit G, Kathy Testimony, pp. 264-266, 269-276, 278, 280-281; Exhibit J, Sue M. Testimony, pp. 417-418.)

Elderly Molester fondled Betty, Ann and Carrie while holding them on his lap during "circle time" or while reading to them in the school's "book corner." (See Exhibit A-2, Ann Testimony, pp. 13-15, 33-38; Exhibit B-2, Betty Testimony, pp. 228-230, 237, 240; Exhibit C-2, Three Comments, p. 7; Exhibit J, Sue M. Testimony, p. 445-446, 448-450, 572, 575-577.)

Carrie was additionally molested by Elderly Molester while on a preschool field trip. While riding in the back seat of a vehicle being driven by another participating parent, Elderly Molester fondled Carrie as she sat in her car seat. (See Exhibit C-2, Three Comments, p. 9; Exhibit J, Sue M. Testimony, p. 449.) Carrie also states that she was molested in the LSDP bathroom when Elderly Molester "put his finger in the place where I pee, and I peed on his hand." (See Exhibit C-2, Three Comments, p. 9; Exhibit J, Sue M. Testimony, p. 449.) She remembers Elderly Molester going into the same bathroom with Denise. (See Exhibit C-2, Three Comments, p. 9; Exhibit J, Sue M. Testimony, p. 456.)

In April, 1996, Elderly Molester fondled Ann in the nursery bathroom, inserting his finger into her vagina after pulling her panties down around her cowboy boots. (See Exhibit A-2, Ann Testimony, pp. 11-13, 25-32, 43-45; Exhibit H, Criminal Court Preliminary Hearing Testimony of Dale Coleman, pp. 451-458, 461-462, 464-465, 470; Exhibit J, Sue M. Testimony, pp. 445-446.) Ann also recalls having her "privates" touched by Elderly Molester while she was wearing overalls and sitting on a blue cushion in the book corner. (See Exhibit A-2, Ann Testimony, pp. 13-15, 33-38; Exhibit J, Sue M. Testimony, pp. 445-446, 572.) She reported both incidents to Director. (See Exhibit A-2, Ann Testimony, pp. 12, 15, 31-33, 38.)

When pressed at Elderly Molester's preliminary hearing, Ms. Director reluctantly recalled at least one occasion when Ann complained that she wanted to go home. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, p. 525.)

Elderly Molester repeatedly molested Ellen and Denise at LSDP and during "park days," licking Denise's face and legs, and touching the twins where, as Ellen describes it, their "poopies come out." (See Exhibit D-2, Denise Testimony, pp. 364-365, 371, 386-388; Exhibit E-2, Ellen Testimony, pp. 337-340, 342-344, 350-353, 357-358, 405-406.) Elderly Molester referred to this as the "poopie game." (See Exhibit E-2, Ellen Testimony, p. 340; Exhibit J, Sue M. Testimony, pp. 428, 478-479, 579-580.) Denise recalls that Elderly Molester would smell his fingers after inserting them into Denise's vagina. (See Exhibit J, Sue M. Testimony, pp. 433, 482.) He also masturbated in front of Denise and Ellen and forced them to touch his erection, which the girls described as "hard" and "skin" colored. (See Exhibit E-2, Ellen Testimony, pp. 344-345; Exhibit J, Sue M. Testimony, pp. 422-439, 482-483.) Elderly Molester called this the "potato game." (See Exhibit J, Sue M. Testimony, pp. 430-431, 437-439, 481-482, 579.)

On several occasions, Elderly Molester caused one or more of the girls, to be injured on the preschool swings. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, pp. 323, 326, 496-497, 516.) It is believed he did this for two reasons. First, it enabled him to console the girls and hold them. Second, it was a way for him to demonstrate to the children that he was indeed capable of hurting them and carrying out his violent threats. On at least one occasion, he hit Carrie with a book, and he "punched" her numerous times. (See Exhibit C-2, Three Comments, pp. 1, 7.) Carrie recalls that Elderly Molester knocked Denise's and Ellen's heads together and made them cry when they said they were going to tell Director. (See Exhibit C-2, Three Comments, p. 9.)

Although she knew about the children's complaints, Ms. Director did not restrict Elderly Molester's activities in any way until the end of the school year when she finally decided "it would be prudent to have [Elderly Molester] working in the preschool environment in an area that was open in which he could be easily supervised." (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, pp. 321, 326-327, 494-495.)

At that late date, Director decided specifically to keep Elderly Molester away from closed rooms. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, p. 327.)

Ms. Director did not share her decision and her knowledge of the molestations with the girls' parents and did not notify Child Protective Services, despite the fact that she admittedly "questioned [Elderly Molester's] judgment" as early as December, 1995. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, p. 497.)

On July 3, 1996 at a school sponsored "park day" at Green Park, Director finally advised one of the parents to keep an eye on Elderly Molester. That day, Director observed Ellen Five and Elderly Molester behind a tree. Ellen was wearing a sun dress, and was lying face down on Elderly Molester's chest after having straddled him. Elderly Molester was playing the "poopie game." (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, pp. 315-317, 492-493, 508-509; Exhibit E-3, Ellen Testimony, pp. 341-342; Exhibit J, Sue M. Testimony, pp. 419-422, 440, 484.) Ms. Director located Ellen's mother, Irene, and drew her attention to Ellen and Elderly Molester. Ms. Director told Irene that she "couldn't really say very much at [that] time, but what was happening . . . looked inappropriate to [Director]." (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, p. 317.) She also told Irene that the School District had hired an investigator but that Director was hesitant to say more because she was worried about being sued by Elderly Molester for slander or defamation. Irene and the twins left the park immediately. (See Exhibit F, Director Testimony, pp. 493-494, 509.)

On July 14, 1996 Elderly Molester was arrested by police for attempted kidnapping and lewd acts with a child.

Ms. Director subsequently acknowledged to Kathy One that she was sorry that Ann had been molested, and was particularly remorseful because, Director admitted, it had been Director's decision to keep Elderly Molester on as an active participant at LSDP throughout the 1995-96 school year despite concerns expressed to Director by other LSDP parents and board members regarding Elderly Molester's interest in young girls and his inability to appropriately perform his duties as a participating parent.

But for Director's failure to contact Child Protective Services when she was first informed that Elderly Molester had molested one of the girls, and her resulting refusal to call Child Protective Services on each of the four subsequent reports of abuse, these children would not have been molested repeatedly, if at all, and would not have suffered the irreparable harm to which they have been subjected.

DAMAGES

The damage suffered will plague each girl throughout her lifetime.

In this case, the damage was worsened because the abuse occurred at the preschool or at school sponsored activities, locations which the girls rightfully trusted and believed to be "safe."

The damage was further intensified because the trust which the girls placed in Ms. Director was violated.

Worse still, having been sent to the preschool by their unwitting parents, it is common for such victims to harbor resentment against their own parents, falsely believing that they knew about the abuse, but forced the girls to go to school anyway. Many abused children conclude that, "my parents don't love me because, if they really loved me, they wouldn't have let this happen."

Moreover, the shame and guilt which accompany the abuse leads molested children to lose self-esteem, commence self-loathing, and believe that they are not worthy of love. Commonly, victims conclude that their actions were bad, and that they should be punished. As a result, sexually abused children enter into destructive relationships or engage in promiscuous or self-defeating behavior.

Each of these girls remains frightened. They have nightmares and have expressed feelings of shame and self-doubt.

Absent regular long-term therapy by skilled professionals, loss of trust and feelings of self-loathing extend into all aspects of the life of a sexually abused child, infecting everything including relationships with therapists, employers, friends, relatives and spouses. Once sexualized and traumatized, there is no going back -- only going on. The abuse is a constant, daily burden.

Ann, Betty, Carrie, Denise and Ellen were robbed of the innocence of childhood and saddled with psychological and emotional baggage which each girl will carry always, forever altering and affecting her life and the lives of her family, and her future partners and children. Their innocence can never be regained. Their wounds will never heal completely.

When puberty knocks, so will the pain. When boyfriends call, so will the memories. Ann's first kiss won't taste as sweet. The high school prom will not be just a corsage and a pretty dress for Betty. Although her ring may sparkle, Carrie will question her engagement. Her wedding photos will reveal a smiling but ever vigilant Denise, and Ellen will think twice about sending her own daughters to preschool. These are the futures to which these girls will be subjected.

ANN ONE, BORN JANUARY 1, 1991. MOLESTED AT AGE 4.

Ann has been receiving weekly therapy from Norma Taylor, Ph.D. since December 6, 1996. Her therapy is currently being paid by the California Victims of Crime Program ("CVCP").

Ann is shy and often experiences extreme anxiety when separated from her parents. She also experiences nightmares. However, Dr. Taylor opines that Ann's ability to verbalize her emotions during therapy sessions now will assist her in handling and working through issues related to her childhood trauma. She suffers from post-traumatic stress and is currently in remission.

Dr. Taylor conservatively estimates that Ann will require three years of teenage therapy, including some family and parent sessions, as well as three to five years of additional therapy over the course of her adult life.

Ann's past and estimated future medical care totaled $67,150.00.

BETTY TWO, BORN JANUARY 1, 1991. MOLESTED AT AGE 4.

Betty has been receiving therapy from Dolores Elliott, Ph.D. since October 15, 1996. The therapy has been paid by CVCP.

Betty still expresses fear of being kidnapped. Although she believes that Elderly Molester is in custody, Betty is fearful that he will escape and steal her.

Betty tends to bottle her emotions in an attempt to protect those around her, including her mother, from experiencing the extreme pain that the abuse has caused. As a result, Dr. Elliott opines that Betty will need to undergo therapy for a longer period than others.

Dr. Elliott conservatively estimates that Betty will need five years of teenage therapy, including some family and parent sessions, as well as seven years of additional therapy over the course of her adult life. Betty's past and estimated future medical care totaled $97,470.00.

CARRIE THREE, BORN JANUARY 1, 1991. MOLESTED AT AGE 4.

Carrie has been receiving weekly counseling through CVCP from Dr. Taylor since March 10, 1997. She continues to suffer from acute post-traumatic stress. At times, she sobs uncontrollably.

Carrie only recently started playing outside and using the swings at her new school. She told her mother, "they aren't like the scary swings at LSDP." For a considerable time, Carrie refused to play outside in her own backyard and she still insists on sleeping with her parents or her brother. She fears that Elderly Molester will escape from jail and will kill her. She continues to have nightmares and has exhibited inappropriate sexual behavior. She has expressed feelings of guilt, and asked her mother, "Am I a bad girl?"

Dr. Taylor plans to continue counseling Carrie through the end of 1998, and conservatively estimates that she will need three years of teenage therapy, including some family and parent sessions, as well as five to seven years of additional therapy over the course of her adult life. Carrie's past and estimated future medical care totaled $86,640.00.

DENISE FOUR, BORN JANUARY 1, 1991. MOLESTED AT AGE 4.

On August 30, 1996, at the request of the Police Department, Denise underwent a physical examination at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, Center for Child Protection. The examination was stressful and included examinations of both her anus and vagina.

Denise has been receiving weekly counseling through CVCP from Dr. Elliott since October 10, 1996.

Denise is a timid child. She was extremely frightened when she encountered a giant Easter Bunny at a Chuck-E-Cheese party. She was afraid that Elderly Molester was hiding inside. Although she is timid, she is able to express her emotions and ask for help.

She has exhibited sexualized behavior, including masturbation, and has been bed-wetting. She has also manifested oppositional behavior and temper tantrums.

Denise will continue to receive therapy through this year. Dr. Elliott conservatively estimates that Denise will need three years of teenage therapy, including some family and parent sessions, as well as five to seven years of additional therapy over the course of her adult life. Denise's past and estimated future medical care totaled $82,320.00.

ELLEN FIVE, BORN JANUARY 1, 1991. MOLESTED AT AGE 4.

Like her sister, Ellen also underwent a medical examination of her anus and vagina at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, Center for Child Protection.

Ellen has been under Dr. Elliott's care, attending weekly sessions since October 10, 1996. Her sessions have been paid for by CVCP.

Despite her brave exterior, Ellen remains deeply scarred. On July 7, 1996, just prior to his arrest, Elderly Molester happened to encounter Ellen and her grandmother in a local supermarket. Ellen was petrified. She urinated in her pants and told her grandmother, "I don't want to hug that man." Like Denise, Ellen was also scared of the costumed Easter Bunny at Chuck-E-Cheese. She, too, has expressed oppositional behavior in addition to sexualized behavior including masturbation and bed-wetting. She still worries that Elderly Molester will kill her parents.

Unlike her timid sister, Ellen gives the false appearance that she is brave, strong and in control. Underneath that facade, however, is a very damaged and frightened little girl who comes unraveled under pressure. Dr. Elliott opines that Ellen's bravado will preclude her from healing as quickly, and will mask the gravity of the abuse she suffered.

Ellen will continue to receive therapy through this year. Dr. Elliott estimates that Ellen will need three years of teenage therapy, including some family and parent sessions, as well as five to seven years of additional therapy over the course of her adult life. Ellen's past and estimated future medical care totaled $82,050.00.

CONCLUSION

A final settlement of the claims of these children was approved by the Superior Court and each is now the beneficiary of a special trust that will provide for future care and funding of each girl's education after high school. In the case of every minor, none of the trust funds can be withdrawn without prior Court approval and will only be provided to these children once they reach adulthood.

The lesson to be learned for parents of school children and school administrators from this case study is to be extremely cautious of volunteer child care providers, to only accept male volunteers when they can be supervised, and most importantly to fully and completely listen to children when they report their experience.

If you or a family member have been wrongfully injured call us at 1.888.777.1776 or use this form, delays can hurt your case, so please don't hesitate to contact us.

While the results that we have obtained in other cases and our clients' testimonials do not guarantee, promise or predict the outcome of your case, we do promise to do our very best for you in your case.

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