Santa Monica to pay $42.6 million to settle child abuse claims against police volunteer
For decades, Eric Uller served as the Santa Monica Police Department’s technology wizard, overseeing street cameras, creating crime maps and advancing its computers. But many knew him better as an ever-present volunteer in the Police Activities League beginning in the 1980s, helping young boys in the predominately Latino Pico area. He would give kids rides in his unmarked police car.
But two years ago, Los Angeles County Special Victims Unit detectives arrested Uller for lewd acts with teenage boys. Uller died by suicide in November 2018 after being charged with molesting four boys.
Soon the number of victims skyrocketed to 23, with cases dating back to 1989.
On Tuesday, the Santa Monica City Council agreed to pay those victims $42.6 million to resolve the ensuing sexual abuse lawsuits that were filed against the city. The settlement also resolves a claim by a woman that she was abused by another PAL volunteer.
“These are lifelong neighbors and dear friends. To these men, thank you for being brave and coming forward, not only for yourself but for standing up for others,” said Councilwoman Ana Maria Jara after the vote. “Our community and this council walks with you on this journey toward healing and justice. Please know that your community will continue to grow stronger and bind us together with the purpose of ensuring this never happens again.”
Uller’s position with the city and his role as a volunteer with the PAL — a nonprofit operated by the city — gave him access to teenage boys. Authorities allege he molested them in his car, and sometimes under the guise of taking them for medical exams at his father’s medical office. He sexually assaulted one boy for years in the 1980s to 1990s, authorities alleged.
“The police department and city had repeated warnings and reports of his horrendous behavior,” said David Ring, one of several attorneys representing the victims.”Uller as authority figure preyed on the most vulnerable young Latino boys.”
Several former city of Santa Monica employees told Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives investigating the allegations that they reported Uller’s misconduct with minors to their bosses and one even described him being able to use a police car with the knowledge of top officials.
Uller’s former boss, retired Lt. Greg Slaughter, told detectives he witnessed Uller driving young boys “all over town” and reported it to his bosses. Slaughter also told detectives that an investigation launched after child pornography was found on a police department communications center screen “led to Eric Uller,” the report said.
The failure to take action against Uller earlier has spurred outrage in the community. The investigation has also renewed an enduring question over how Santa Monica, a liberal bastion of wealth, treats its less privileged residents.
School board member Oscar De LaTorre, in an opinion piece in the Santa Monica Daily Press, accused the city of ignoring reports and rumors about Uller for years, and that a generation of Latino youth was victimized by sexual predators in the PAL program. De La Torre, who oversees the Pico Youth and Family Center, has said he personally informed high-ranking city cops in early 2000s about Uller.
Another PAL employee was arrested for taking pictures up a girl’s skirt at a Dodgers game. The employee, Donald Condon, was convicted of molesting a minor in 2015 and required to register as a sex offender.
After the revelations involving Uller, the city hired a consulting firm experienced in sexual abuse investigations.
On Tuesday night City Council members approved a Child Protection Resolution to ensure lasting, city-wide measures to detect inappropriate behaviors and prevent abuse.
As for Uller’s alleged victims, a judge will decide how much money each will receive.
“We’re relieved to have reached a just resolution that acknowledges the pain of these community members and their families while protecting the privacy they continue to deserve,” said Mayor Kevin McKeown after the closed session approval of the settlements.
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