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Council Votes to Pay Alleged Child Molestation Victims Another $54.9 Million

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By Jorge Casuso

August 25, 2021 -- In what amounts to one the nation's largest sex abuse settlements by a city, Santa Monica will pay a total of $97.5 million to alleged victims who participated in a City-run youth program more than two decades ago.

On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously voted to pay $54.9 million to 61 individuals who allege they were sexually abused by former City employee Eric Uller while participating in the Santa Monica Police Activities League (PAL) program.

The vote comes nearly one and a half years after the Council approved a $42.6 million settlement with another 26 plaintiffs who also claimed they were abused between approximately 1987 and 1999, when Uller was a PAL volunteer.

Most of the alleged victims were Latino boys between the ages of 12 and 15 from the Pico Neighborhood, according to Dave Ring, who represented most of the plaintiffs. The youngest was eight.

“To each of the individuals impacted by these horrific crimes, we are deeply sorry for the pain caused by one of our former employees and hope this settlement supports your journey to healing,” Mayor Sue Himmelrich said in a statement issued after the vote.

Under the settlement, the City will transfer money from its general fund into a qualified settlement fund, City officials said.

The funds will be allocated to the 61 alleged victims as determined by a retired Superior Court Judge retained by the plaintiffs’ counsel as a "third-party neutral to perform this allocation."

Ring -- a pioneer in sexual abuse litigation who has settled a number of high profile cases -- said the total payout is likely the largest child molestation settlement against a city employee in U.S. history.

"A settlement this big for one employee, this is highly, highly unusual," he said. "This is the largest settlement by a city maybe in the U.S."

Ring commended the City for settling, instead of fighting, the cases and "putting these men through years of very difficult litigation.

"The City thought this could have been prevented," he said. "We all wish this wouldn't have happened, but the City treated these men with respect and did the right thing."

Tuesday's vote caps a series of startling charges that mounted after Sheriff's deputies arrested Uller in October 2018 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).

In the wake of the allegations, the City hired Praesidium, Inc., a nationally recognized consultant in child abuse prevention, to review the policies and practices of its youth programs and come up with a list of recommendations to prevent future abuses.

The City also signed a four-year $625,000 contract with the firm 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).

In addition, the City launched an independent investigation of allegations that City officials previously knew, or should have known, of Uller’s alleged criminal conduct. No findings have been released to date.

The 87 cases filed against the City are among the most stemming from child molestation charges against a single municipal employee, Ring said.

Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor, was accused in 2015 of sexually assaulting at least 265 young women and girls dating back to 1992.

Nassar, who admitted to 10 of those accusations, is serving what amounts to life in prison.

In 2019, former University of Southern California gynecologist George Tyndall was accused of sexually abusing hundreds of his patients.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office charged Tyndall with committing 29 criminal felonies while treating student patients from 2009 to 2016.

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