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An American Tragedy : One Spur Posse mother struggles to understand.

March 22, 1996|Janet Wiscombe | Special to the Times

In the years since the Spur Posse sex scandal propelled her family into the headlines, Dottie Belman has gone from feeling like a total failure as a mother to feeling pretty good about her life.

With an ebullient grin, she gestures at the view from her $67,000 Lakewood condo: a garden of connecting ponds and gurgling brooks. "Look at this place," she effuses, "I feel like I live in Disneyland."

The exuberance is short-lived. The smile fades. The face tightens as she recalls the horrors that have befallen her family since her youngest son was arrested for sexual misconduct during his senior year at Lakewood High: the visits to another son in jail, the end of the 25-year marriage, the diagnosis of breast cancer.

"I pretend to be happy," she confides, her eyes suddenly flooding with tears. "But I can't be happy. I left home after the Spur Posse thing and never went back and the rubble keeps piling up.

"All the kids are still out doing what they got their names in the paper for. It's been shocking and terrible."

Three years ago this week, a wrecking ball crashed through the Belmans' three-bedroom beige stucco home in Lakewood and the all-American family crumbled. On March 18, 1993, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies arrested nine Lakewood High School boys on a range of allegations including lewd conduct and rape.

The young men belonged to the Spur Posse, a clique whose members racked up points each time one had an orgasm with a different girl. Several Spurs, including Kristopher Belman and his big brother, Dana, were star athletes, powerful young men worshiped by peers and parents. Dana Belman, one year out of school, was not targeted in the sweep.

All but one of those initially arrested, a 16-year-old charged with lewd and lascivious behavior with a child of 10, were released after a few days in custody. The district attorney's office declined to prosecute in those cases. Greeted with a hero's welcome at Lakewood High staged by some of their classmates--hugs and cheers and T-shirt slogans ("Free Our Spurs: Can't We All Just Get Along?")--several swaggering Spur members soon appeared on national TV to boast of their sexual conquests.

On one talk show, Spur member Billy Shehan revealed that his parents bought him condoms by the box load, and he bragged that he was the high scorer with 66 points, three more than Posse founder Dana Belman.

Dana's dad, Donald, told a reporter at the time, "Nothing my boy did was anything any red-blooded American boy wouldn't do at his age."

Dottie observed then, "Those girls are trash."

Under the glare of public scrutiny, the mostly white, middle-class city of 76,000 became identified with rampant promiscuity and familial dysfunction. The Spur story served to harness fears about teenage values, to give form to a shapeless anxiety about life on Main Street.

In the wake of the scandal, the Rev. Ginny Wagener, executive director of the South Coast Ecumenical Council, helped organize a series of interfaith meetings to discuss community values. She still sees the Spur Posse arrests as much more than an isolated incident involving a few kids with trashy values and criminal minds.

"The society promotes male dominance and sexual promiscuity," Wagener says. "It's part of the culture."

Speaking for the city mothers and fathers, Lakewood spokesman Donald Waldie strongly disagrees. The scandal did not signal the breakdown of Western civilization or the collapse of suburbia, he says.

"At its core, the Spur Posse problem was about a series of extraordinarily immoral choices by a few young men, and the power and destructiveness of one charismatic man--Dana Belman. You have to recognize that the Belman family was and is a deeply troubled family."

*

No one would agree more than Dottie Belman. Or less.

It's easy to point fingers, she says. "There aren't a lot of healthy parents raising kids. Everyone is working. Everyone is busy surviving. Everyone is in it for themselves. Children get lost in the shuffle.

"The kids' friends become their family. They watch TV and want more and more. They aren't content with just living. They drink too much. They think everything is supposed to be fun. They are fun hogs.

"They haven't changed. Now they're shooting hoops with one hand and holding babies in the other."

Back when she was holding babies, Dottie took it for granted that she and Don, both Lakewood High graduates, would stay together forever. When the Spur Posse exploded in the news, they were known in the community for their generosity and dedication to kids. Don coached T-ball, Park League, Little League, Pony League, Colt League, Pop Warner. Dottie was team mother, snack chairman and one of the prettiest and most energetic sports fans in town.

"Our kids were superstars," Dottie told a reporter shortly after the arrests. "We became stars too. We'd walk into Little League and we were hot stuff. I'd go to Vons and people would come up to me and say, 'Your kids are great.' "

Now she says flatly, "My kids are a mess."

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