At Harbor Church in Lomita, Tychicus Yu was a model parishioner, a charismatic young chiropractor so well-respected that a church softball tournament was named after him.
But beneath his genial exterior there was a painful past: a childhood of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of a domineering father, according to court reports. And as is the case with many victims of abuse, Yu ended up victimizing others.
He was imprisoned last month after pleading no contest to sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl and the wife of an assistant pastor, both under the guise of medical treatment.
Although the victims and their families take some satisfaction in Yu’s eight-year sentence, there remains a bitter sense of betrayal. Betrayal by Yu, their trusted friend and doctor who shared holiday meals with them and brought gifts for the children. Betrayal by the leadership of Harbor Church, which dismissed the assistant pastor in a move he believes was related to his defense of his wife.
Betrayal by local Christian business leaders and other Yu supporters, who wrote dozens of letters to the court urging that he be kept out of prison despite his no contest pleas. And betrayal by the state of California, which has allowed Yu to remain a licensed chiropractor even now, as he sits in his cell.
“I don’t feel as if anybody won,” said the 16-year-old’s mother in an interview. “I think everyone was hurt in the end. And I hurt for that.”
Generous. That’s the word almost everyone uses to describe Yu.
As a young chiropractor, Yu became active in the South Bay Christian community. He worked with the Palos Verdes Christian Businessmen’s Committee, where “he was always one of the first to volunteer to address the envelopes and get out the invitations,” one member recalled. And his charity extended to his own chiropractic practice, where he sometimes treated ministers and church workers for free, a friend said.
His magnetic personality made him a popular parishioner at the 1,000-member Harbor Church on Western Avenue after he began attending services there in the late 1980s, said the 31-year-old assistant pastor, named Sky.
“Whenever he was in the room, he was the center of attention. He always appeared to be very kind, giving--to a fault,” Sky said.
Yu, who is single, became close to Sky, his wife Lois, 32, and their four children. He also became close to the Mitchells, longtime church members whose family included 16-year-old daughter Carol. (To protect the identities of the victims, Sky and Lois are identified here only by their first names. The names of the Mitchells have been changed.)
“You always felt so honored,” said Lois, who worked part time for Yu, “because here’s this guy who lives up in Palos Verdes . . . who’d actually come down to Lomita and have dinner or barbecue with us peons. . . . I used to feel so honored that he could lower himself down from that doctor level and be our friend.”
In 1990, Yu celebrated Thanksgiving and then Christmas Eve with the Mitchells. A few days before Christmas, he visited Lois and Sky and brought their children a video of “The Wizard of Oz.”
“I really enjoy helping these two families,” Yu wrote cryptically near the end of an autobiographical statement in his court file. “Unfortunately I wanted to take care of all their problems and solve all their problems.”
Yu’s only brother, describing a troubled family background, would later comment in a court report: “I’ve sometimes thought he was looking for another family, a family which would accept him more.”
It was the day after the softball tournament Yu helped organize, and the Mitchells gave a barbecue.
Their 16-year-old daughter, Carol, felt ill, so Yu and her mother accompanied her to her bedroom, where Yu began treating her back and urged her to relax and to try to sleep. She did, and her mother left the room.
Police reports provide an account of what ensued.
Carol woke up to find herself turned on her back, her blouse pulled up and her bra pulled down. Yu was molesting her with his hand and mouth, Carol would report later.
Afterward, Carol’s mother contacted Sky for help, and he confronted Yu. When questioned, Yu referred to an acupressure technique that he called “sucking out the chi " to remove pain from the body. He produced a red notebook containing diagrams of acupressure points on the body. Those points include the nipples and the vagina, he told Sky and another pastor.
(Jerome McAndrews, vice president for professional affairs at the American Chiropractic Assn. in Arlington, Va., said in an interview he had never heard of such a technique. Nor had a chiropractor and an acupressurist in the South Bay who were contacted by The Times last month.)
Lois said she had suppressed memories of being assaulted by Yu, but they began returning after her husband started investigating the molestation of Carol Mitchell. Lois began telling her story to Sky in bits and pieces.
“I felt, at first, if I just say this, it will prove that (Carol’s) telling the truth,” Lois said. “I won’t have to tell it all. And then, they were believing him, and I went, ‘I’m not going to let them believe him. He’s done this . . .”
Lois told police that Yu first assaulted her during a March, 1990, visit to his chiropractic office where she was seeking treatment for a headache.
According to police reports, Lois fell asleep after Yu gave her a hot liquid and two pills, waking to find her blouse unbuttoned and her pants unzipped. When she told Yu her hands were numb, he began rubbing her hand and then placed his penis in one hand; later he put his penis to her lips, she told police.
Lois remained groggy and slept through the weekend, waking in so much pain that she pushed the assault out of her mind, she said. She continued to suffer from what she describes as constant head pain and nausea.
In mid-April, Yu came to Lois’ house to “adjust” her back and neck in an attempt to ease her headache, police reports said. After treating her, Yu came to her bedroom when she was half-asleep and used her hand to masturbate his penis, according to police reports.
After the Carol Mitchell incident, both patients reported the assaults to police. Yu was arrested in February, 1991, and was arraigned on four charges: penetration with a foreign object, oral copulation by anesthesia or controlled substance, and two counts of assault with intent to commit oral copulation. At first, he pleaded not guilty, but in late November switched his plea to no contest.
Many people who knew Yu through the Harbor Church and other Christian activities found the charges against him hard to believe. Seventy-four people, including some prominent South Bay business leaders, wrote letters to the court in his defense, many praising him as a gentle man and a good Christian.
The divided loyalties were evident at Yu’s crowded April 2 sentencing in Long Beach. Supporters of the two victims converged on the courtroom’s left side, outnumbered by Yu’s sisters, friends and patients who chose seats across the aisle.
The two sides gave impassioned accounts of why Yu did, or didn’t, deserve to go to prison. And a different Yu took shape as his defense attorney and two sisters spoke emotionally of him as a young boy subjected to beatings by a stern father.
Yu’s family, through the office of his attorney, Henry Salcido, declined to be interviewed for this article. But the account of abuse given at the hearing was repeated in Yu’s court file.
The pastor was swift to discipline his younger son, according to Yu’s own autobiographical statement on file in Long Beach Superior Court.
“Nowhere in Webster’s Dictionary does it say under ‘discipline’ to hit me in the face with a fist, repeatedly, to take a sawed-off broomstick and beat me on the head, poke me in the ribs and stomach, kick me into a corner of the bedroom and continually kick and call me ‘stupid,’ ‘ugly,’ and (say), ‘You’ll never amount to anything,’ ” the statement says.
Yet Yu maintained a sweet, gentle nature, his siblings say.
"(He) told us that it was easier to admit he was wrong to our father and be punished,” one sister is quoted in a report to the court. “He would become so panicked that his mind would shut off and he would say, ‘Yes, yes, I did it.’ ”
According to that report, “The origins of Dr. Yu’s wrongdoing are to be found in his own brutal upbringing. . . . As a result, he is insecure and, in many ways, socially immature.”
The report, which recommended that Yu be granted five years’ probation, was written by a San Diego consulting firm hired by Yu’s lawyer. In the same report, Yu acknowledged the assaults, though he did not admit to drugging any victims.
“I won’t even try to excuse my behavior,” Yu said in the report. “There is no excuse, and I want the people I hurt to know that the blame is totally on me, not at all on them.”
Judge Richard F. Charvat was unswayed by the report and the dozens of letters urging probation. As he pronounced the eight-year sentence, a collective shudder ran through the courtroom, and many on both sides of the aisle began to cry.
One of Yu’s attorneys, Thomas H. Greenwald, calls eight years “a horrendous sentence” for a first-time offender. “He’s just not the monster they say he is,” Greenwald said.
Others were critical of Lois, Carol and their supporters.
“They definitely seemed to be putting him in absolutely the worst possible light,” said William H. Gustafson, a newly retired Los Angeles County deputy district attorney and a friend of Yu who had urged the judge at the hearing to grant Yu probation instead of a prison sentence.
Added one of Yu’s former patients: “I still to this day--to my dying day--do not think he’s guilty. . . . You could see he has a relationship with God. I just cannot believe the outcome of this, and I believe it’s unjust.”
But Deputy Dist. Atty. Ken Lamb, who handled the case, counters by saying that in a trial Yu would have been found guilty of all charges. “There were a lot of people who were blinded to the realities. . . . The victims were truly harmed.”
The accusations bred a bitter drama at the Harbor Church. The two victims’ families say the church leadership did not stand behind them as they hoped.
“People wanted to push it back into hiding,” Sky said. “They wanted to say, ‘Well, just let (Yu) say he’s sorry and go back about his business.”
Senior Pastor Robert Pruett says he spoke to Yu soon after hearing of the allegations, telling him: “If this is true, this is wrong. Whatever you did, you need to ask the Lord to forgive you.” Pruett also says he advised Yu to cease attending church until the problem was resolved because his presence was upsetting people.
But Sky and Pruett offer conflicting accounts of how the church dealt with the accusations. Sky says Pruett advised him he could lose his job if he reported the allegations to police; he also says Pruett ordered the church staff not to discuss the case.
Pruett flatly denies threatening Sky’s job, adding, “He couldn’t do anything but report this.” The pastor said he did caution staff members to “be careful about what you talk (about) and what you say.”
In September, Sky says, Pruett told him that it was time for him to find his own church to lead. Sky, who had been an assistant pastor of the church for nine years, said he was later dismissed even though he had not found another job.
Pruett said Sky’s departure was “just a matter that it was time. It had nothing to do with this.” Many assistant pastors move on after three to four years, he said.
Even after Yu had left the church, Pruett continued to see him for chiropractic treatments for a neck injury. Pruett said he saw Yu between five and eight times but stopped after Carol’s mother complained about it.
The Mitchell family left Harbor Church last year after 17 years because the family had not gotten the support she expected, Carol’s mother said. “We did notice that people weren’t talking to us, weren’t calling us as often. . . . I don’t know what they were hearing.”
Lois added, “Everyone pretty much withdrew from us.”
Sky and Lois now live in Torrance, and Sky works as a substitute teacher at local Christian schools. He is also an assistant pastor at a new community church that David Hoffman, another former Harbor Church assistant pastor, helped form, and that the Mitchells attend.
Hoffman said he quit the Harbor Church congregation last fall in part because of how the victims were treated. “It seemed to me that the victims in the situation were being punished for the crime that the victimizer needed to be punished for,” he said.
Even now, 15 months after the charges surfaced, the fallout continues.
Lois and Carol both filed civil lawsuits against Yu last year, seeking millions of dollars in damages for professional negligence, assault and battery, and other complaints. Lois says she continues to struggle with severe migraine headaches that she and Sky blame on the assault, seeing a doctor several times a month.
Carol is 18 now, a high school senior. The girl’s earlier headaches and stomach problems worsened after the assault; her grades slipped. In a Feb. 10 letter to Judge Charvat, she described how her life had changed:
“I grew to trust Yu. . . . He was very close to my family, and I looked up to him because someday I hope to be a doctor myself,” she wrote. “Since it happened in my room, I did not sleep in there for a long time, and when I did, I had my sister or my mom sleep in my room with me.”
For months, the two families have seen Yu only in court. His composure has been civil, even genial, and he would nod as if he were greeting them on a Sunday morning across the pews at the Harbor Church. When he arrived at the sentencing hearing, Lois said, “He looked at us, and smiled.”
Gustafson recently visited Yu in jail and described him as saddened.
“I think he truly liked these people and felt somewhat betrayed,” Gustafson said. “He considered them friends.”