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Imprisoned La Cañada man, former sheriff’s psychologist charged with battery, gender violence in civil suit

A La Cañada resident and former sheriff’s psychologist sentenced in January to life in prison for molesting his stepchildren now faces civil charges of gender violence, assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.

Michael Dane Ward, 46, is the named defendant in an Aug. 3 lawsuit filed with the Los Angeles County Superior Court by the mother on behalf of the minor victims, a boy named in the suit as “E.M.” and a girl referred to as “C.M.”

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The abuse began in 2012 — when E.M. and C.M. were 8 and 7 years old, respectively — and continued throughout the next four years, until the children informed their mother of what was happening in April 2016. Criminal charges were filed that May.

Ward and the victims’ mother, now divorced, were married in 2012, at which time Ward became stepfather to his wife’s biological children from a previous marriage. He maintained a rule in the family’s La Cañada home that “no one was allowed to lock the bathroom door, including while showering,” according to the suit.

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Sometime after the marriage, Ward approached E.M. and required he perform oral sex on him. Later, the suit indicates, he demanded reciprocal oral sex and copulation and would attempt to shower with the 8-year-old boy. Over the next four years, Ward is said to have repeatedly tied up E.M. against his will and raped him.

The lawsuit claims the incidents of abuse took place in various locations throughout the family home.

Also in 2012, the defendant began to engage in “naked wrestling” with female victim C.M., requiring her to get naked with him and shower with him. The suit says neither victim knew what was happening to the other and that the mother was not aware of the illegal sexual acts occurring in the home.

Doug Rochen, an attorney representing the plaintiffs through Los Angeles law firm Abir Cohen Treyzon Salo, L.L.P. says his clients are demanding a jury trial, in part, to seek restitution pertaining to the ongoing trauma the children experience to this day.

The lawsuit claims both victims continue to suffer from mental and physical pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, loss of self-esteem, disgrace, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life and suicidal thoughts and actions as a result of the abuse. E.M. allegedly attempted to take his own life at age 11 and struggles with his sexual identity, the document states.

“The criminal system can only do so much,” Rochen said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It doesn’t often provide the emotional and financial support that helps these children in their healing, which is what a civil suit does.”

According to the suit, Ward served as an active duty psychologist for the U.S. Navy from 2000 to 2011 before taking a position with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as an operation psychologist and industrial organizational consultant.

In August 2017, jurors found the La Cañada man guilty of four counts of lewd acts on a child, two counts of forcible lewd acts on a child under 14, three counts of oral copulation of a child 10 years or younger and one count of sodomy with a child under 10, according to an Aug. 25, 2017 statement issued by the district attorney’s office.

Ward, whose work with the Sheriff’s Department involved advising and training law enforcement officers, was relieved of his duty when he was arrested by the department’s Special Victims Bureau in May 2016, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A final status conference is scheduled for Jan. 17, but Rochen said Tuesday that after the lawsuit is served to Ward in prison the next steps involve conducting an initial discovery of facts and determining what kind of compensation might be sought.

“The mother has depleted much of what she has to live on to help these kids,” he said. “And she’s really done nothing wrong, except bringing the wrong man into her life.”

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