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Santa Monica to Pay $42.6 Million to Alleged Victims of Sexual Abuse
 

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By Jorge Casuso

March 10, 2020 -- The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to pay a total of $42.6 million to settle claims filed by two dozen individuals who allege they were sexually abused while participating in a City run youth program.

A Superior Court judge will allocate a total of $38 million to 19 individuals and a total of $4.6 million will be paid by the City to settle five additional cases, said City Attorney Lane Dilg.

The claims stem from a series of alleged sex crimes committed by Eric Uller against youth participating in the Santa Monica Police Activities League (PAL) program between approximately 1987 and 1999, when he was a volunteer, Dilg said.

One other claim was filed by a woman who alleges she was sexually abused by another individual, Fernando Ortega, who was associated with the PAL program but was not employed by the City, Dilg said.

After the vote, Council member Ana Jara commended the alleged victims for coming forward, noting that most were "children of color" from the Pico Neighborhood where she resides.

"These are lifelong neighbors and dear friends," Jara said, fighting back tears. "To these men, thank you for being brave and coming forward, not only for yourself but for standing up for others.

"We are here to support and process this horrific trauma," Jara said. "As a City we need to take responsibility. We cannot overlook that these were all children of color."

Councilmember Greg Morena -- a father of two boys who said many of the alleged victims were his friends from middle school -- called the alleged abuse "unfathomable."

"I am completely heartbroken," Morena said, his voice breaking. "Most of us have known each other since John Adams.

"We were not there at the time but we are here now," he said. "Today we are here for you, and we hope that your loved ones and your community can begin healing.

"We have done everything in our power to protect your children, our children."

Tuesday's votes cap a series of startling charges that have gripped the beach city since October 2018, when Uller was arrested for lewd and lascivious acts with a minor 14 or 15 years old ("Santa Monica City Employee Arrested for Lewd Acts with a Minor," October 18 2018).

Uller -- a systems analyst for the Information Services Department who worked in the Public Safety building -- committed suicide three weeks after his arrest ("Uller Found Dead in Apparent Suicide," November 15, 2018).

Shortly after the arrest, the City hired Praesidium, Inc., a nationally recognized consultant in child abuse prevention.

It also launched an independent investigation of allegations that City officials previously knew, or should have known, of Uller’s alleged criminal conduct.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has also launched a probe of City Hall ("Sheriffs Probing Alleged Child Molestation Cover-up Involving City Hall," January 15, 2020).

On Tuesday, the Council unanimously voted to authorize an additional $625,000 contract with Praesidium over four years to serve as a "child protection officer" to help safeguard against sexual abuse at City-run youth programs ("Santa Monica Expected to Hire 'Child Protection Officer' in Wake of Sex Abuse Allegations," March 6, 2020).

It also adopted a resolution "confirming the City’s commitment to enhancing procedures and practices to ensure lasting, City-wide efforts to prevent incidences of abuse of children in any City programs."

Hiring a child protection officer was among the recommendations the firm made to the Council last October. ("Consultant Presents Recommendations to Better Detect and Prevent Abuse at City Youth Programs," October 16, 2019).

“The Council, City staff, the City Attorney and I are committed to do everything possible to ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again,” said City Manager Rick Cole. “That message is unequivocal.

"We will be vigilant, and we will not tolerate any behavior that compromises the health and safety of the youth of Santa Monica.”


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