The City of Santa Monica places the highest value on the health, safety, and wellbeing of our youth. We are deeply disturbed by the heartbreaking allegations that Eric Uller, a former City employee, committed crimes against children in connection with the City’s Police Activities League (PAL) program in the 1980s and 1990s. Since receiving these allegations, the City has taken, and will continue to take, steps to share information with the community and ensure the safety of all of our youth across all City programs. Here we share background on the allegations, the City’s response, youth programs, and legal claims.
Background on the Arrest of and Charges Against Eric Uller
In late spring 2018, the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) received an anonymous tip about an alleged crime involving Eric Uller. Following identification of the victim, SMPD reported the information to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) for investigation.
As a result of its investigation, LASD arrested Uller on October 18, 2018 on charges of Lewd Acts with a Minor, 288(c)(1)PC. On October 22, 2018, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office charged Uller with five counts of sexual crimes against four minors. The charges included three counts of Lewd Acts Upon a Child, two counts of Oral Copulation of a Person Under 18, and one count of Continuous Sexual Abuse. The charges related to alleged incidents dating back to the 1980s and 1990s while Uller was volunteering with the City’s Police Activities League (PAL) program.
On November 15, 2018, the City was notified that Uller was found dead in his apartment, in an apparent suicide. As a result of Uller’s death, proceedings on the criminal charges against him were halted.
Although the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department closed this first investigation upon Eric Uller’s death, the Santa Monica Police Department received an additional allegation that individuals at the time were on notice of Uller’s activities and failed to meet their obligations as mandatory reporters under the Child Abuse Neglect and Reporting Act. The Santa Monica Police Department again referred that matter to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and that investigation remains outstanding.
The City has cooperated fully with the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office throughout the criminal investigations and prosecution.
Following Uller’s arrest, the City worked swiftly and proactively to reach out to all of those potentially impacted by these horrifying allegations. The City:
- Held in-person community meetings with community members and PAL parents to provide information about the allegations and the City’s response, and to hear and respond to community concerns;
- Notified SMMUSD’s Mental Health Coordinator to ensure that school-based mental health providers were attentive and responsive to reactions from students, parents, caregivers, or staff;
- Activated local mental health providers to ensure that therapeutic services were available onsite for PAL,Virginia Avenue Park, and other city youth programparticipants and their families;
- Provided trainings at local libraries for parents on how to identify risk factors for and seek to prevent child sexual abuse;
- Retained Irma Rodríguez Moisa and Gabriel Sandoval at 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 criminal conduct by Eric Uller(this investigation remains outstanding); and
- Retained an outside consultant, Praesidium, Inc., a nationally-recognized expert in preventing abuse, to review the policies and practices of all City youth programs to provide guidance on best practices for preventing future incidents of abuse.
City Youth Programs
The City requires all employees to be fingerprinted and have State and Federal background checks. PAL volunteers working directly with minors are also subject to an annual screening that includes a fingerprint check with the California Department of Justice. In accordance with State law, no employee or volunteer may hold a position in which they supervise minors if they have been convicted of child molestation, narcotics offenses, or violent crimes.
After Uller’s arrest, the City retained an outside consultant, Praesidium, Inc., to review the policies and practices of City youth programs and provide guidance on best practices for preventing any future incidents of abuse. Praesidium has more than two decades of experience working with organizations to mitigate risk of sexual abuse and regularly works with organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the YMCA, and the University of California.
Praesidium reviewed the City’s policies and procedures relating to City youth programs, visited several of those programs, observed their operations, interviewed staff members and spoke with youth participants and their families, and inspected program facilities and locations. Based on their review, in October 2019, Praesidium’s CEO attended a City Council meeting where he provided an interim report or Praesidium’s recommendations.
Based on Praesidium’s their guidance, we havethe City has expanded existing standards to include:
- Creation of a Child Protection Committee, and the position of Child Protection Officer, to oversee implementation of child abuse prevention measures across City programs;
- A new City-wide code of conduct for providing services to youth;
- Updated, standardized screening of volunteers, including a standard application form, reference checks, and a “Live Scan Fingerprint” criminal background check;
- Expanded requirements for Child Abuse Mandated Reporter Training for all employees, volunteers, and contractors for any City-managed youth program; and
- Hiring of a new volunteer coordinator to monitor and oversee the recruitment and training of volunteers across City programs.
On March 10, 2020, the Santa Monica City Council adopted a Child Protection Resolution to affirm the City’s commitment to preventing abuse of any kind.
Between November 2018 and the present, 24 individuals filed claims and lawsuits againt the City has received 1424 claims alleging sexual abuse while they were participating in from former PAL between approximately 1987 and 1999. AB 218, which was signed into law by the Governor on October 13, 2019, removed the otherwise applicable statute of limitations and revived certain claims relating to childhood sexual abuse and assault for a period of three years, beginning on January 1, 2020.
Settlement of Tthese claims and lawsuits settlements was approved ere resolved on March 10, 2020 as follows:
The first settlement resolved all claims and lawsuits brought by 18 individuals who alleged that Uller sexually abused or attempted to sexually abuse them between approximately 1989 and 1999 when they were youth participating in the Police Activities League (“PAL”) program,, as well as all claims and a lawsuit by one additional individual who alleges harm during the same time period by Fernando Ortega, an individual who was not employed by the City but was associated with the PAL program at the time. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, the City will pay $38 million into a qualified settlement fund, and the funds will be allocated to the 19 individuals as determined by a retired Superior Court Judge, whom plaintiffs’ counsel retained as a third-party neutral to perform this allocation.
Five additional settlements resolved all claims and lawsuits brought by five other individuals who allege sexual abuse by Uller during the same time period. These settlement agreements are in the respective amounts of $1,050,000; $900,000; $900,000; $900,000; and $850,000.
Pursuant to the six settlement agreements, the City will pay a total of $42.6 million to resolve all of the pending claims and lawsuits brought by these 24 individuals.
The City will use liability self-insurance funds as well as general fund savings set aside from prior years to fund the settlements. Contributions from ACCEL, the consortium of cities to which the City belongs to cover excess liability, and additional excess insurers, are expected ultimately to cover some but not all of the cost.
Sheriff’s Department Investigation: Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Special Victims Bureau – toll free tip line at 877-710-5273 or email@example.com.
Updated March 10, 2020