The city of Santa Monica retained the consultant shortly after the October 2018 arrest of Eric Uller, at the time an employee in the city’s Information Services Department, on charges that he abused at least 14 boys in the late 1980s to early 1990s while volunteering at the Santa Monica Police Activities League (PAL), a youth program operated by the city.
Uller’s alleged victims said he groomed them by taking them out for meals and driving them home before taking them to his father’s medical offices and molesting them under the pretense of performing physicals. Uller died by suicide in his apartment last November shortly before he was scheduled to appear in court on multiple child molestation charges.
The consultant the city hired, Praesidium, specializes in crafting best practices for organizations to prevent and detect sexual abuse of minors. The city tasked Praesidium with reviewing the policies and practices of the city’s youth programs and developing recommendations to prevent future abuse.
The city also retained Irma Rodriguez Moises and Gabriel Sandoval of the law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo to conduct an independent investigation of allegations that the city previously knew, or should have known, of Uller’s alleged criminal conduct. That investigation remains ongoing.
“The city is committed to responding to the horrific and heartbreaking allegations of abuse with transparency and accountability,” a city spokesperson said.
Multiple lawsuits against PAL and the city allege that the organizations knew that Uller was abusing children and failed to act on the information. 14 alleged victims of Uller and one alleged victim of Fernando Ortega, a PAL employee in the early 1990s, are pursuing legal action.
Anthony DeMarco, an attorney representing four of the alleged victims, said his clients complained to PAL staff that they were uncomfortable with Uller’s behavior but staff did not prevent Uller from interacting with them.
Brian Claypool, an attorney representing another four alleged victims, said a boy enrolled in PAL called Uller a child molester in front of PAL employees and was subsequently kicked out of the program.
Both attorneys say PAL allowing employees or staff to spend time with children unsupervised amounts to criminal negligence.
Praesidium’s review has included two site visits to observe City youth programs in action, one in early March 2019 to observe programs active during the school year, and a second in late July 2019 to observe programs active during the summer break, according to a city press release.
It will present its recommendations to the City Council at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at City Hall, 1685 Main St.
City staff anticipates returning to the council with a resolution resulting from Praesidium’s recommendations at a future council meeting.