No charges filed in California elite school sex abuse probe

No charges filed in California elite school sex abuse probe

OJAI, Calif. — No criminal charges will be filed over decades of sexual misconduct at an elite private high school in Southern California, even though “many” children were victimized, authorities said Wednesday.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and the district attorney’s office announced the conclusion of an 18-month investigation into more than 100 cases of alleged sexual abuse at the Thacher School in Ojai, northwest of Los Angeles.

However, most of the cases were decades old, with some dating back to the 1960s, and the statute of limitations to file charges had expired, the DA’s office and the Sheriff’s Department said in a joint news release.

In 43 cases, the victims could not be contacted or refused to participate, while in another 30, investigators determined no crime had occurred, sheriff’s Sgt. Ryan Clark said, according to the Ventura County Star.

Only three cases were actually brought to the district attorney’s office last year for possible prosecution, but charges could not be filed because the statute of limitations had expired, the press release said.

Other cases were not submitted to the DA’s office because “they were clearly outside the statute of limitations, the victims did not seek prosecution, or no crime could be established,” the release said.

“Our inability to bring charges should not be seen as an endorsement of what happened over the years at Thacher,” Deputy District Attorney Brent Nibecker said, according to the Star. “Many children have been victimized. The adults entrusted with their care have violated that trust.”

Last year, the Thacher School released a 90-page report from a law firm it hired to investigate allegations made in an alumni social media campaign. The report detailed episodes of alleged rape, fondling, unwanted touching and inappropriate comments dating back 40 years, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.

It specified six alleged perpetrators and described alleged efforts by former administrators to cover up complaints and blame victims.

District authorities said Thacher School cooperated — but also said the school’s decision to order an independent investigation and then release the results hindered the criminal investigation.

Some suspects who were publicly identified declined to be interviewed, referred questions to their attorneys or took steps to avoid contact with law enforcement altogether, the press release said.

Daniel W. Yih, Thacher’s board chairman, wrote in a letter accompanying the report that none of the accused were still employed by the school.

“To the survivors of sexual misconduct and their families in our community, we are so sorry,” Yih wrote.

The Board of Trustees acknowledged a “profound” impact on students due to the failure to exercise appropriate oversight.

“Many of them suffered lasting damage not only from the sexual misconduct itself, but also from the school’s handling of the misconduct,” administrators said in a statement.

Despite the lack of prosecutions, the DA’s office “strongly encouraged” victims of Thacher’s unreported sexual assaults to contact law enforcement, the press release said.

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