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Tipsheet

Documented Sexual Abuse at California Prep School Will Not Be Prosecuted: Report

Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Late last month, a lengthy criminal investigation into a private school over years of allegations of sexual misconduct concluded in zero criminal charges being filed due to “several factors” that hindered authorities from holding potential predators accountable, according to a report from The New York Times.

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Last year, the Thatcher School in Ojai, California released a report through a law firm that detailed sexual abuse and harassment on its campus going back as far as the 1980s. The report included disturbing details that a teacher raped a 16-year-old students and that a college counselor groped a student, among other incidents, the Times noted. 

The Los Angeles-based law firm, Munger, Tolles & Olson, interviewed more than 100 people for its report, including students, parents and members of the school’s faculty. The Times noted that this move made detectives’ and prosecutors' jobs “more difficult” because “possible suspects declined to be interviewed.”

“When suspects are alerted to potential crimes in a public report before law enforcement involvement, the likelihood of gathering statements from those suspects to corroborate or negate allegations becomes exceedingly difficult,” the authorities said in a statement.

The Los Angeles Times noted that suspects can not only decline interviews, they can take steps “to avoid law enforcement notification and contact altogether,” which occurred during the investigation.

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Reportedly, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office examined around 100 cases of possible sexual abuse at The Thatcher School. In most of the cases, the statute of limitations and the school’s decision to hire a private law firm to investigate sexual abuse instead of immediately filing reports to the sheriff's office prevented them from pursuing criminal charges. 

The Ventura County Star noted that 43 cases ended in an incident report when victims could not be reached or they declined to participate. In 30 other cases, investigators determined that no crime occurred. Eleven cases were deemed too old to prosecute, and two happened outside the sheriff’s jurisdiction. In one incident, the suspect passed away. The victims of eight incidents declined to press charges. 

On Friday, the school released a statement claiming that it cooperated and shared information with law enforcement. 

"Our inability to bring charges should not be seen as endorsing what happened over the years at Thacher," Deputy District Attorney Brent Nibecker told the Ventura County Star. "Numerous children were victimized. Adults entrusted with their care violated that trust."

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“I just can’t even believe that there’s no way to hold them criminally accountable for what happened,” Christiansen Vurno, 44, told the Times. Vurno was reportedly sexually assaulted several times by a former Thatcher coach and counselor.

“I know a lot of survivors, myself as well, it was really difficult to go through it again,” she said of taking part in the investigation.

“Despite the lack of charges in this case, victims of previously unreported sexual assault crimes at Thacher or elsewhere are strongly encouraged to report these crimes to law enforcement,” the Ventura County Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s Offices said in the joint statement. 

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