The estranged wife of Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts has accused him of molesting and physically abusing their daughter, who is now 6 years old.
An attorney for the chief disclosed in Los Angeles family law court on Friday that the district attorney's office is conducting a criminal investigation of the allegations.
In an interview Friday, Butts said the charges are "patently untrue. This all came out because I filed for divorce and asked for temporary custody."
Butts' attorney, George Stanbury, told Superior Court Judge Richard Denner he was confident that when the district attorney's investigation is complete, it would help his client in his bid for visitation rights.
Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Sandra Buttitta said she could not comment on whether prosecutors were reviewing the case.
The case was brought to prosecutors by investigators from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the agency to which Minnie Butts reported the alleged molestation Oct. 1, 1992.
Denner postponed a decision on visitation rights until after a Feb. 23 hearing. The judge also declined a request from the mother's attorney to interview the child in chambers to see for himself what she had to say about her father, who has been police chief for 1 1/2 years.
Minnie Butts, an Inglewood police sergeant, said in police reports and interviews that her daughter reported that her father touched and penetrated her vagina with his finger.
Minnie Butts contended that the abuse occurred at the family's Ladera Heights residence about two years ago, but she said she initially discounted her daughter's report after her husband's denials. When the girl repeated the complaint last fall, Minnie Butts said she went to the Marina del Rey sheriff's station and filed a complaint.
According to the written report, the girl repeated her earlier complaint to her mother while getting dressed for school Sept. 16, saying that her father had hurt her. Sheriff's Deputy Stephanie Foss, identified by Minnie Butts as the investigator of the allegations, declined to comment on any aspect of the case. The mother's attorney, Karen Freitas, said in court that the child was examined recently by a doctor who specializes in sexual abuse and that the doctor found no sign of penetration or physical damage.
Minnie Butts said her daughter was treated for vaginal infections during the time she believes the abuse took place, while she was working nights and her husband was caring for the child.
Sexual-abuse experts say that molestation often cannot be detected by later physical examination. Moreover, vaginal irritation in young girls can indicate anything from poor hygiene to sexual activity or even the taking of bubble baths.
After the inconclusive medical exam, a doctor recommended that Minnie Butts have her daughter see a psychologist at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance.
In a written report, the psychologist, Dr. Kathleen E. Gilbride, said it is unclear whether the young girl was sexually molested. "It appears she has been interviewed several times so that many of her responses are rote," Gilbride said.
The psychologist said she found greater significance in the girl's reports that her father had hit her with a belt, which he told her he kept for "bad girls like you."
The child also reported to the psychologist that she witnessed her father choke her mother.
In an interview, Minnie Butts said her husband choked her to unconsciousness in 1991 in their daughter's presence, prompting the frightened girl to summon sheriff's deputies by dialing 911. But Santa Monica City Manager John Jalili said that before the chief was hired, "we had a very thorough investigation of that issue and found no basis for it."
James Butts said he was confident the sheriff's report would show his wife as a "manipulative liar" who trumped up all the charges after he filed for divorce last fall.