Memo left out key report on Jackson

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

A private psychologist told Los Angeles County child-welfare officials in June that he believed a 12-year-old boy he was treating had been molested by Michael Jackson, documents show.

But child-welfare officials made no mention of the psychologist's report in a highly publicized memo that described as "unfounded" allegations that Jackson abused the boy.

The county Department of Children and Family Services interviewed the boy, his two siblings and his mother in February 2003, after a TV documentary about Jackson sparked a complaint to the agency's hotline.

On the broadcast, Jackson was seen holding hands with the boy, then 12, and saying that he saw no harm in sharing his bed with children.

Social workers reported finding no evidence of abuse. In November, after Santa Barbara County authorities had arrested Jackson and charged him with molesting the same 12-year-old boy, an official of the child-welfare agency asked a subordinate for a report on the earlier investigation.

In a memo dated Nov. 26, Jennifer Hottenroth, the department's assistant regional administrator, wrote that the boy, when questioned by social workers, had "denied any form of sexual abuse," and that his mother had said Jackson was "like a father" to her children.

The confidential one-page memo appeared in December on a website called thesmoking and was widely reported by media outlets around the world. Jackson's attorneys trumpeted the memo as evidence of the pop star's innocence, and legal experts predicted that it would bolster the entertainer's defense in court.

But documents obtained by The Times show that a child psychologist who had been treating the boy met with David Sanders, the head of the child-welfare department, and two social workers on June 12 and told them that he believed Jackson had molested the child.

Larry R. Feldman, a Century City lawyer who was representing the boy, attended the meeting. In a subsequent letter to Sanders, Feldman wrote: "The child psychologist told your social workers that he believed that my young client had been sexually abused by the same entertainer who allegedly abused a young boy in 1993."

The reference was to a case in which Jackson was accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy. The singer paid more than $15 million to settle those allegations in 1994, and he was never criminally charged. Feldman represented the complainant in that case.

When Sanders wrote back, he did not dispute the lawyer's description of the meeting. Instead, he focused on what he said was the paramount issue for child-welfare authorities: whether Jackson's latest alleged victim was in "imminent danger."

"You and the psychologist ... indicated that the mother was taking action to protect the child from harm and was not allowing him to have any access" to Jackson, Sanders wrote. "Thus, based upon the facts you and the psychologist presented ... there was no basis for the department to intervene."

Sanders wrote that his staff members had explained that if the boy was not in immediate danger, the allegation was a police matter.

Feldman and the psychologist had been told to report the allegation to law enforcement officials in Santa Barbara, Sanders wrote. The psychologist later made such a report.

Sources close to the case said that Hottenroth, author of the Nov. 26 memo, attended the meeting with the psychologist and Feldman. She did not return phone calls seeking a comment.

Sanders and Charles Sophy, a department official to whom Hottenroth's memo was addressed, declined to comment.

A spokesman for the agency issued a statement saying: "As in every case of abuse and neglect that we handle, this matter was taken seriously and investigated with the utmost professionalism and sensitivity."

The leak of the memo sparked an exchange of heated letters between Feldman and Sanders.

"It is extremely hard to understand why the Nov. 26 report was created in the first place, let alone leaked to the press," Feldman wrote on Dec. 11. "Moreover, if someone took the time, in good faith, to write such a report, why did this report not contain the entire reporting history [of the case]?"

Feldman would not comment on the correspondence.

Sanders, in a letter dated Jan. 12, defended Hottenroth's memo as accurate and complete, and said he had ordered an investigation into the leak.

The memo and the correspondence shed light on the origins of the latest child-abuse allegations against Jackson. Last Feb. 6, ABC-TV's "20/20" program aired "Living with Michael Jackson," a British documentary. The show included footage of the 12-year-old boy holding hands with Jackson and leaning against his shoulder. Jackson said on camera that he saw nothing wrong in sharing his bed with children, and described it as "the most loving thing to do."

The memo says that after the show aired, an unnamed Los Angeles school official called a child-abuse hotline to report allegations of abuse against Jackson, described in the memo as "the entertainer."

The investigation began Feb. 14 and was completed Feb. 27, the memo states.

Before interviewing the boy, investigators discovered that the agency had investigated allegations of domestic violence between his parents in 2001. That information was included in the memo.

The memo also said that the boy, his mother, and his brother and sister had told investigators that Jackson never did anything improper during their visits to his Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara County.

Circumstances surrounding the investigation made the family reluctant to speak freely about Jackson at that time, sources close to the family said.

A Jackson employee escorted the boy and his family to their interviews with county investigators, the sources said.

The employee waited outside as the family members were questioned, then chauffeured them back home, the sources said.

In addition, Jackson employees had arranged hotel accommodations for the boy and his family and helped them obtain passports for travel to Brazil, the family sources said.

Jackson had also hired a British attorney so the family could sue the producers of the documentary for invasion of privacy, the sources said.

But by April, the boy's family had distanced themselves from Jackson.

The mother had hired her own attorney to pursue a possible suit against the producers and to force Jackson to return various family belongings from Neverland, the sources said.

In May, the family's lawyer referred the mother to Feldman, who met several times with the boy and the mother and in turn referred them to the psychologist.

In one of his letters, Feldman said he called Sanders to alert him to the latest allegations against Jackson and to remind him that the psychologist, if he determined that the boy had been abused, would be obliged by law to report the allegation to the child-welfare agency.

Feldman wrote that he had warned Sanders to prevent any leak of "sensitive material," which the lawyer said had occurred with the 1993 allegations against Jackson.

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