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Ventura County to review handling of child abuse complaints

Supervisors raise concerns after a local school district board member pleads guilty to sexually molesting a young girl over a five-year period and fathering her child.

April 22, 2010|By Steve Chawkins

The young girl told classmates, who told school employees, who told county social workers.

But her sexual abuse by a school board member continued for years and some of the school officials who worked with him want to know why.

Last week, Brian E. Martin, 49, a member of Ventura County's Rio School District board since 2006, pleaded guilty to continuous sexual molestation of a girl under age 15 and inflicting "great bodily harm" — by impregnating her.

The girl, now 15, is among four children who Martin and his wife, Cristina Carreño Martin, took in after a relative of hers with drug problems abandoned them six years ago. The girl's baby boy, born in December, has been placed with an adoptive family.

In the wake of Martin's guilty plea, Ventura County supervisors have ordered a review of the county's procedures for dealing with child abuse complaints.

Officials with the Rio district, which covers parts of the Oxnard area, say county social workers did not investigate thoroughly even after receiving reports at least six times over two years.

"We're pushing for higher standards by Child Protective Services," said Tim Blaylock, the board's president. "There are steps they could have taken to validate our concerns."

Barry Zimmerman, head of the county's Human Services Agency, declined to comment on the case or his department's procedures, citing legal requirements for confidentiality.

Martin entered his plea in a brief, somber court appearance last week. At times, his wife held his hand and quietly sobbed. Under his plea agreement, he faces 17 years in prison.

A special election will be set for November to replace him on the district's board.

Blaylock said the abuse emerged after the girl "confided to some of her classmates."

"They were very concerned and wanted to help her," he said. "These kids don't just make up this stuff. Most of the time, it's true."

In interviews with social workers, the girl denied any sexual relationship with Martin, Blaylock said.

But, he said, the investigators should have anticipated that she would be fearful and asked a judge to order a physical exam. They also failed, he said, to interview district Supt. Sherianne Cotterell, who contacted the child protection agency after Martin's wife shared her suspicions with her.

Reached by The Times on Wednesday, Cristina Carreño Martin, who said she is planning to file for divorce, was not quite as critical of county social workers.

"They didn't have anything concrete to go on, just like I didn't," she said. "What more could they have done to glean this information from her? She wasn't willing to talk."

Carreño Martin said she didn't buy the girl's "elaborate story" about the identity of her baby's father.

Brian Martin at first denied any involvement — but he lost his wife's trust, she said, when he refused to give social workers the DNA sample they requested.

"I saw things, I was suspicious and I've been beating myself up quite a bit," she said. "What more could I have done?"

The Martins have been active in many civic causes. He volunteered with Little League. She ran for the state Assembly in 2006 and is president of Ventura Marina Rotary International. Because they were unable to have children, the unexpected arrival of the four "was really a blessed opportunity," she said.

On Tuesday, Ventura County supervisors asked the Human Services Agency to prepare a briefing on how child abuse complaints are investigated. The supervisors were careful not to suggest any negligence but raised the possibility of greater coordination with other local agencies.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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