LAPD detectives investigate newly disclosed priest abuse files
Los Angeles Police Department detectives who specialize in child sexual abuse cases have begun examining a trove of newly disclosed priest abuse files to determine whether there are cases that can be prosecuted.
Capt. Fabian Lizarraga said detectives "are currently reviewing the [files], to see exactly what we have.... Then we'll have to see what, if any, laws apply and if they're within statute," he said.
Detectives are limited by a law that only allows the prosecution of incidents since 1988. Many of the files appear to pre-date that year.
Lizarraga said the LAPD will be focusing specifically Los Angeles-based priests.
The LAPD decided to launch the review after the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese last week posted on its website tens of thousands of pages of previously secret personnel files for 122 priests accused of molesting children.
"I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil," Archbishop Jose Gomez wrote in a letter announcing the release of the records.
Allegations against some of the priests contained in the records have been known for some time. And it remains unclear whether detectives will be able to build additional criminal cases in the long-running scandal.
On Jan. 21, The Times obtained files involving 14 clerics accused of abuse. Last week, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles posted on its website tens of thousands of pages of the previously secret personnel files of 122 additional priests accused of molesting children
They laid out in the words of Cardinal Roger Mahony and Bishop Thomas Curry how the church hierarchy had plotted to keep law enforcement from learning that children had been molested at the hands of priests.
To stave off investigations, Mahony and Curry gave priests who they knew had abused children out-of-state assignments and kept them from seeing therapists who might alert authorities. Mahony and Curry both issued apologies, with the cardinal saying he had not realized the extent of harm done to children until he met with victims during civil litigation. "I am sorry," he said.
Victims called for new criminal investigations and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said it was reviewing the newly released files.
On Monday, Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy also said that the school system would cross-reference its employment records with documents made public by both the archdiocese and the Boy Scouts, another organization accused of concealing molestation allegations.
“We are in the business of insuring that schools are safe and that students are free from predators,” Deasy said.
An ex-priest who allegedly admitted a sexual relationship with a minor remained employed by the LAUSD for more than a decade despite several warning flags about his background.
Joseph Pina is also said in internal church documents to have admitted to repeated “boundary issues” with women throughout his career in the clergy. An internal 1993 psychological evaluation by the L.A. archdiocese concluded that Pina “remains a serious risk for acting out.”
Nine years later, L.A. Unified hired him as a community outreach coordinator for its $19.5-billion school construction effort. In that position, Pina came in frequent contact with families at community events but did not work directly with children in schools.
No allegations of impropriety have emerged during Pina's employment with L.A. Unified. But Deasy said the district has severed ties with Pina, adding that the district never should have hired him given his background.
A church spokesman said Monday that it did warn the school district in the form of a questionnaire that L.A. Unified sent to the archdiocese in August 2001.
"In response to the question: 'Should the Los Angeles Unified School District consider anything else regarding this candidate's employment suitability?' the archdiocese checked the box 'yes,' adding that we would 'not recommend him for a position in the schools,' " Tod Tamberg, director of media relations, said in a statement.
"In response to the next question on the form, 'Would you hire this person again?' the archdiocese checked the box 'no,' " Tamberg said.
"There is no indication in our files of any follow-up from LAUSD once the form was returned to the LAUSD," he said in the statement.
Deasy said the district was researching any past contact with the archdiocese as part of a larger investigation into how Pina was hired.
The district could find no record of the questionnaire, Deasy said. At that time, the facilities division handled its own hiring to insulate the building program from potential political influence over billions of dollars in contracts.
The church waited years to report Pina's alleged sexual misconduct to police. And Deasy questioned why the church wouldn't do more to warn school officials about molestation allegations.
"Why wouldn't someone pick up the phone and notify us if there was something as egregious as is now being alleged?" he said.
But there were other red flags that were not acted on.
The allegations against Pina were included in two front-page Times stories about the priest scandal in 2002 and 2006.
A district internal review has determined that a staffer noticed Pina's name in published accounts, Deasy said. The employee passed the information to senior officials in the facilities division, Deasy said.
The employee recalled that officials decided to take no action because Pina had not been convicted of a crime, according to Deasy.
-- Richard Winton and Howard Blume