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Sex abuse report was well-known

Despite being told of allegations against an administrator, L.A. Unified officials sent him to another school.

May 06, 2008|Richard Winton and Howard Blume | Times Staff Writers

Senior Los Angeles school officials, including the district's police chief and its former chief operating officer, knew of sex allegations against a school administrator months before he was transferred to a Watts middle school, where he allegedly molested two students, officials said Monday.

District officials have been heavily criticized for allowing former Assistant Principal Steve Thomas Rooney back into a school after he had been accused of sexual contact with a student. Until now, however, it was unclear how much school officials knew about the original allegations, how early they knew about them or how broadly that knowledge spread through the district's bureaucracy.

Statements on Monday by Dan Isaacs, who retired last year as the district's chief operating officer, and Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Charlie Beck make clear that the knowledge reached the highest echelons of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Beck said top district officials were told as far back as the spring of 2007 that Rooney was suspected of having had sex with a student at Foshay Learning Center, starting when she was 15 years old.

Police told district officials of the allegations after Rooney was arrested for waving a gun at the girl's stepfather, Beck said. School officials initially placed Rooney in a desk position in the local district office, then transferred him to Markham Middle School in Watts in August. He allegedly molested two students at Markham and now faces criminal charges involving all three students.

Isaacs confirmed that police had notified the district about the molestation case involving the Foshay student and said he had quickly alerted all responsible parties in the chain of command.

Below him, Isaacs said, that included the local district superintendent, Carol Truscott, and the principal at Fremont High, where Rooney was working at the time of his arrest (he was immediately removed from his position there).

Isaacs said he communicated the information to superiors through a memo addressed to Supt. David L. Brewer and the school board.

It remains unclear why the district allowed Rooney to work at Markham when several top officials knew about the molestation investigation. Assignment to a desk job is standard procedure for an employee who is suspected of improper activity but has not been determined to be guilty of an offense for which he could be fired. Isaacs said he didn't know what happened to Rooney's case after Isaacs' retirement in June.

LAPD investigators became suspicious of Rooney's involvement with the Foshay student when they served a warrant in February 2007 on Rooney's downtown loft and found items that suggested he had an intimate relationship with the girl.

While police did not tell the public about the molestation investigation, Beck said, they alerted school officials.

"The school district was fully informed about the nature of the crimes -- that is, sex with a minor," Beck said. "The conversation was very clear. Our detectives believed this man was having sex with a minor -- a student."

District officials are investigating why Rooney was assigned to Markham. Truscott, the regional administrator, is ultimately responsible for administrative assignments in her area.

"We're still conducting our investigation, and I'm not at liberty to comment," Truscott said Monday. In an earlier interview, she insisted she would never knowingly do anything that would endanger students.

According to district policy, both Truscott's office and the central administration would have responsibility for clearing Rooney before allowing him to return to a school site. No such investigation appears to have occurred before Rooney was sent to Markham.

An administrator at Truscott's office, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she assumed Rooney had been cleared of the gun charge and knew nothing about the molestation investigation.

District police chief Lawrence Manion confirmed Monday that he, too, was aware of the molestation investigation in the spring of 2007.

"As far as getting into the specifics, I cannot do that," Manion said. "It is under internal investigation and subject of ongoing criminal investigation."

It's clear based on interviews Monday that senior district officials were tracking the Rooney molestation investigation early on.

Isaacs' memo is one part of the district's current confidential investigation into what happened. District sources, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because they are not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly, said the memo under review might be a draft, and it isn't clear to whom it was distributed.

The former Foshay student initially told detectives that she had sex with Rooney, but later denied it to prosecutors, who did not file charges at the time.

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