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Pico Activst Calls for Citizens Oversight Committee for Uller City Probe
By Jorge Casuso
October 29, 2018 -- Pico Neighborhood activist Oscar de la Torre is calling for a Citizens Oversight Committee to monitor the City of Santa Monica's internal probe into child molestation charges against City employee Eric Uller.
De la Torre, a school board member who heads the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC), said he has made the request in a private meeting with City officials who have remained "non-committal."
He will again ask for the committee during a public meeting on the arrest of Uller, a top systems analyst for the City, who faces five counts of sexual crimes against four teenage boys in an ongoing investigation.
The meeting will be held this Tuesday at the Thelma Terry Center in Virginia Avenue Park, 2200 Virginia Avenue, between 7 and 9 p.m.
"You can't have an internal investigation without a citizens oversight committee," de la Torre said. "Anything short of that is a sham."
The internal investigation -- which will be conducted by the law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo (AALRR) -- will look into "allegations that the City previously knew, or should have known, of Mr. Uller’s alleged criminal conduct," according to City officials.
Uller had access to hundreds of children between the late 80s and possibly 2010 while serving as a volunteer at Santa Monica’s Police Activities League (PAL) run by the City, authorities said ("Santa Monica City Officials Take Additional Actions as Sexual Assault Crisis Expands," October 25, 2018).
"Who develops the questions that set the parameters for the investigation?" he said. "You can't truly have an independent report when the government controls the funding for the report."
In a statement to The Lookout Monday, the City said government leaders are "committed to the highest levels of transparency and accountability."
City leaders, the statement said, want to know "if City employees either knew or should have known of Mr. Uller’s alleged criminal conduct, and taken action, at an earlier time."
"To ensure that there can be no claim that the investigation has been biased either for or against the City, we have retained respected independent counsel to conduct the investigation."
The internal probe will be conducted by Irma Rodríguez Moises, a labor and employment lawyer, and Gabriel Sandoval, who represents governments and educational institutions.
According to the AALRR's website, Rodríguez Moises is "recognized as one of the top Labor and Employment lawyers in the state for her outstanding results for her clients in their most complex and sensitive matters.
"She has handled matters ranging from discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, FMLA/CFRA, disability discrimination, wrongful termination, and the First Amendment."
Sandoval, the firm's site said, "represents universities, community colleges, school districts, charter school management organizations, and municipalities in a wide range of matters."
Those matters include "all aspects of education and employment law, and compliance with federal and state civil rights laws," according to the site.
De la Torre said he expects the firm has been hired in part to defend the City.
"The City wants to conduct an internal investigation but they are hiring a firm known for defending governments and other entities dealing with similar cases," he said.
De la Torre said Monday's meeting provides an opportunity for the "community to speak" and the City "to respond."
"Very likely there will be people there who will be credible and share information to set the record straight," he said.
City officials said they trust the investigation will not be biased.
"The City will provide that counsel with all the information they request, allow them to interview whomever they determine they should interview, and encourage them to follow wherever the facts lead.
"Our goal is to understand what happened, and to take steps to ensure that we do all we can to prevent it from ever happening again."
If City officials don't create a Citizen's Oversight Committee, they can expect increasing pressure from the community, de la Torre said.
"There are many people that are very upset," he said. "They are upset that there have been two generations of pedophile victims that have been personally scarred because they participated in PAL.
"If they don't form a committee, they can expect an escalation of community activism," de la Torre said.
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