Accuser Praised Jackson, Social Workers Say

Times Staff Writer

Two Los Angeles County social workers testified Tuesday that Michael Jackson’s young accuser and his family had nothing but praise for the entertainer during a 2 1/2 -hour meeting with them in February 2003.

The social workers interviewed the family Feb. 20 -- only hours before Jackson’s first alleged molestation of the 13-year-old cancer survivor may have taken place, prosecutors say.

This was also at a time when the family was allegedly controlled rigidly by Jackson associates who had reportedly issued death threats against them -- a situation that members of the family did not mention to the social workers, according to Tuesday’s testimony in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.


Relying solely on the family’s glowing descriptions of Jackson as a father figure, the Department of Children and Family Services concluded that allegations of neglect against the boy’s mother for letting her son sleep in Jackson’s bedroom were “unfounded.” The department’s report said all three children, including the boy who ultimately accused Jackson, denied that any “inappropriate touching” had occurred.

A 16-year-old cousin of Jackson also testified Tuesday, saying she once saw the accuser and his younger brother snatch two bottles of wine and a wineglass from the kitchen of the singer’s Neverland ranch at 1 a.m. Simone Jackson was the third witness in two days to suggest that the brothers, then 12 and 13, were big drinkers who swilled wine without the pop star’s permission or knowledge.

In addition to child molestation and conspiracy to hold the family captive at his Santa Ynez Valley ranch, Jackson, 46, is charged with attempted molestation and giving wine to a minor in order to seduce him. If convicted of all charges, he could face more than 20 years in prison.

Irene Lavern Peters and Karen Walker testified that they learned about the family when an official at L.A.'s John Burroughs Middle School, which the brothers attended, called the department’s child-abuse hotline Feb. 14, 2003.

The official was concerned, Peters and Walker said, because the older boy had been seen on a British TV documentary holding Jackson’s hand and leaning his head on the singer’s shoulder. In “Living With Michael Jackson,” the star also admitted that he enjoyed nonsexual sleepovers with young boys.

Peters and Walker are members of the department’s Sensitive Case Unit, which deals with child-abuse allegations against police officers, celebrities and other high-profile people.

When they arrived for the interview at a Los Angeles apartment rented by the mother’s boyfriend, she and her three children startled the social workers with big hugs all around, the two women said. Then the mother had everyone watch a video taped at Neverland showing Jackson and her older son watching swans swim, riding the ranch’s train and strolling through the manicured grounds, they testified.

“He’s like a father to my children,” the mother said, according to the two women. The mother was in the midst of a divorce. Her children used much the same words during their interviews that day, the social workers testified.

Peters described the 13-year-old as “playful, articulate and smart.” She said he became upset when asked whether Jackson had molested him, vigorously denying anything happened.

Under cross-examination, Peters acknowledged that it would be “very unusual” for a teenage boy to discuss being molested in a group that included his mother and women he didn’t know. In her 30 years as a social worker, she said, “very few” boys had admitted being victims, especially in a first interview.

The mother, whom defense attorneys have cast as a con artist who targeted Jackson, seemed open and talkative, according to the testimony.

“I got the impression she didn’t have anything to hide,” Walker said.