Now slowly winding its way to trial, the alleged child molestation case against Robert Adams and Creative Frontiers School first made the news in July 2011, when the school was closed and Adams was declared a suspected child molester based on uncorroborated allegations alone: allegations made by a 65-year-old school volunteer who’d been passed over for a paid position; allegations that were released in prosecution press-packets and that made national and international news within 24 hours; allegations that, in the two years since, have been loudly and repeatedly denied by actual children at the school; allegations that were confounded by the six months of school video surveillance seized by police; allegations that prosecutors would eventual drop from the case altogether in favor of allegations from two families who owe money to the school, three disciplined and fired teachers, and their friends; allegations that stand in marked contrast to the experiences of five-thousand-plus students and employees over thirty years who have enjoyed the private school’s predominately female faculty with its cottage-style classrooms and bucolic seven-acre campus complete with horses and goats, all of which once thrived like hope itself among the sprawl of Citrus Heights in Sacramento County, California.
Unlike any number of molestation cases ably handled by competent law enforcement and child protection services daily, across the U.S., the nature and context of the allegations against Robert Adams and Creative Frontiers School, as well as the conduct of Citrus Heights and Sacramento County authorities, are suspicious at best, and the case exhibits numerous red flags of a false case, most notably that allegations of abuse are being made by prosecutors and by other adults, while actual students at the time of the school’s closure tell investigators that no abuse occurred.
The State’s lack of any case against Adams comes as no surprise to those who know him. Since the school’s closure in July, the actual students of Creative Frontiers, along with their parents, have held rallies to support Adams and the school [see Students, Parents, and Teachers Rally to Support Robert Adams and Creative Frontiers School]. They have held bake sales, tag sales, and movie nights to raise funds. They even delivered a 280-signature petition to the Mayor Jeannie Bruins and Citrus Heights City Council to help re-open Creative Frontiers [see Children, Parents, and Teachers Testify Before Mayor and Citrus Heights City Council, in Support of Robert Adams and Creative Frontiers School].
I. The “Old” Case
Although it is unlikely that we will ever again see entire staffs of accused nursery school teachers paraded before TV cameras, prosecutions based on contrived testimony still take place regularly in quiet corners of the nation. . . .
— Pulitzer Prize-winner Dorothy Rabinowitz, in No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times6
The burden of proof, that some piece of an otherwise impossible account might be true, must be great indeed. Those who pick and choose plausible facts from fantastic accounts must tell us why we should consider some detail as possibly true if most of the story is obviously inspired by fantasy.
— Ethan Watters and Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Ofshe, in Making Monsters7
They have no evidence, but they came in and tore his school down, tore 35 years of his life down.
— Robert Adams’s daughter, Tarah Campbell, in an interview with CBS News.8
Prosecutors’ decision to build a case against Adams even in the wake of the public implosion of their original star witness (and, by her own account, their “only witness“),1 Irma Mertens, has only solidified public doubt about the veracity of the State’s case.
Mertens, a volunteer at Creative Frontiers, who was passed over for paid employment prior to making her felony allegations against Adams in July 2011,2 went on to embarrass social services and police by giving a string of newspaper and television interviews in which she embellished and contradicted previous statements released to the media, providing sudden new “details” such as watching Adams stick his thumb in a child’s rectum,3 all within 48 hours of authorities having released her original allegations in a press packet that was unblinkingly trumpeted by local papers and recycled by major media across the US and into the UK, destroying the names of the prestigious 35-year-old school and branding its founder, for the rest of his life, an accused child molester.
Although Mertens’s uncorroborated allegations successfully shuttered Creative Frontiers, the two alleged child victims in Mertens’s stories have told authorities that they were not abused.4 Even Mertens’s “eyewitness” account, perhaps unsurprisingly, was not corroborated by the alleged victim. After making national and international headlines within 24 hours, from ABC to CBS to FOX to the UK’s Daily Mail, Mertens’ “rectum” story, among other things, would be dropped altogether by the prosecution in the eventual arrest warrant — served two months later — for Robert Adams.5
“I’m their only witness.”
According to social service documents, “Between June and August” of the prior year, “the exact dates and times being unknown to the Complainant,” Mertens stated that Adams “engaged in inappropriate physical and sexual contact” with a female child student. Mertens specified that Adams allegedly “rubbed” the child “on her back, legs, arms, and buttocks and then touched her buttocks after inserting his hand under her swim suit while she was laying on her stomach.” Mertens also told social services that she had heard, from a teacher, that parents of a Creative Frontiers students had removed their child after the child said that Adams had “touched her ‘pee pee.'”9
According early versions of Mertens’s stories, the molestation of the first girl occurred in the middle of the principal’s office, during summer school sessions. Although other school staff say they were in the office during the time of Mertens’s alleged eyewitness account, in an interview with the Sacramento Bee Mertens further explained that she “surprised” Adams when she discovered him with the “7- or 8-year-old girl in a swim suit.”10 Mertens told the Sacramento Bee that “Adams did not hear her enter” and that although abuse was allegedly taking place in front of her, she “did not confront Adams at the time.”11 Mertens also clarified that she did not report the incident to authorities herself, but told a school administrator “because, as administrator, it was her job” to report what Mertens claims to have witnessed.12
Mertens also lamented to the Sacramento Bee that authorities had “promised,”13 but had failed, to keep anonymous her felony allegations against Adams.
Mertens further discussed her lack of anonymity with KCRA-TV 3. Visibly distraught, told reporters that even neighborhood kids now recognized her from the TV:
You know, I wanted to stay anonymous, and, and nobody cared. You know, so, and now, now, everybody knows who I am. The kids even know who I am. Oh, I saw you on TV [they say]. You know, it’s ridiculous. You know?14
By the time Mertens was being interviewed by KCRA-TV 3, newspapers as far away as the UK’s Daily Mail had already reported Mertens’s first “shocking allegations.”15 National and international newspapers had also widely reported the Citrus Heights police press release stating they had “identified multiple victims,” as well as later statements by police spokesman Jon Kempf, that they had “identified at least 10 victims,” all “current and former students,” with allegations dating back 15 years.16
False allegations are far more likely to be made by adults than by children, or are made by children who have pressured by adults (Faller, 2007; Bottoms, et al, 2009; Bottoms & Davis, 1997; Butler, Fukarai, Dimitrius, & Krooth, 2001; de Young, 2004; Jenkins, 1998; La Fontaine, 1998; Victor, 1998).
Varieties of psychiatric disturbances cause certain adults to believe a child has been sexually abused. Faller (2007) notes that clinically psychotic adults may also have “delusions that children are being sexually abused” (Faller, 2007, citing Goodwin et al. (1979), Klajner-Diamond et al. (1987), and Faller (1988)).
Mertens, however, must not have read the press release. “I’m their only witness,” Mertens told KCRA-TV 3.17 [Watch the interview.]
As the camera continued to roll, Mertens followed her admission with sounded like dialogue from a mafia movie: “You think they’d do something to protect me.”18 She regretted that her felony allegations had not been kept secret. She likened bearing false witness to patriotic duty:
You know, I did what I did. I saw what I saw and I reported it, like I’m supposed to. I’m a citizen of the United States and I did what I was supposed to do.19
News 10’s Nick Monacelli was on the receiving end of Mertens’ first public announcement of the rectum story. Mertens told the reporter that Adams had inserted his thumb into the child’s rectum as Mertens stood watching.
“He was touching her buttocks,” Mertens began, echoing earlier versions of her alleged eyewitness account. “Then all of the sudden, his thumb went in her rectum.”20
In a later interview with ABC News, Mertens went on to explain that her story echoed the details of the sexual abuse that she herself had suffered as a child.
“I had that done to me when I was five years old, all the way until I was thirteen years old, and I know what it’s done to me, and I didn’t want to see that happen to all the little kids,” Mertens told reporter Laura Riparbelli.21
Indeed, though the actual alleged victims in Mertens’s stories would tell authorities that no abuse occurred, Mertens assured The Sacramento Bee, “These children’s heads are going to be ruined forever.”22
One can only hope that Mertens’s words are not prophetic. If authorities now decide to continue to press the children to make allegations–a tactic that has been well documented in many false cases, with disastrous results [see Believe the Children] — the children may be truly abused in the process, if not “ruined forever.”
The evidentiary uselessness of Mertens’s allegations, however embarrassing to the prosecution, not only successfully destroyed the names of Robert Adams and Creative Frontiers School, but also shut down Adams’s only source of income at the same time that he would require the best attorneys for nothing less than the fight of his life — even the school’s most ardent and vocal supporters had no choice, of course, but to enroll elsewhere. [ Children, Parents, and Teachers Petition, Testify Before Citrus Heights City Council (July 29) ]
Nor were Mertens’s “eye-witness” accounts the end of the social services complaint of July 18th. Social services also provided a sort of fill-in-the-blanks list of potential felony allegations without names, dates, or even victims (see Figure 1), which, even if the blanks were not filled out by prosecutors at a later time, certainly affected public perception of the accused. [See crimen magiae.]
Others readers, however — those with even a passing understanding of the concepts of evidence or due process, for example, but who are unfamiliar with the social services / child protective services — may see the above allegations as flatly absurd, little more than a game of MadLibs™. While the Law can be confusing even to those who practice it, most people are aware that certain types of crimes must involve victims, and that those victims must actually exist.
Burden(s) of proof
For social services, however, as evidenced in Figure 1, the burden of proof is substantially lower23 than it is for law enforcement, which itself is a lower burden than faced by prosecutors in a court of law. As Dan Sexton, the former Director of the National Child Abuse Hotline famously exclaimed:
I’m not a law enforcement person, thank God! I’m a psychology person, so I don’t need the evidence, I come from a very different place, I don’t need to see evidence to believe.24
What the courts define as “hearsay” is sufficient for social services to temporarily suspend a daycare license while it investigates allegations.
Few would argue, however, that the system should be otherwise. Child sexual abuse is difficult to prove in a court of law, even when true, and due process is slow. If daycare centers or schools were allowed to operate with a suspected child molester on staff until such time as prosecutors could build enough of a case to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, then children would run a grave risk indeed.
Beginning in the 1970s, governmental investigation of child maltreatment no longer fell to police and prosecutors alone, but began to be handled conjointly with newly established state-level departments of Child Protective Services. Today, in all U.S. states, suspected child abuse cases are the purview of both CPS and law enforcement, and, in most states, a joint-investigative model, also called the multidisciplinary team model, is coordinated in cases deemed serious enough to warrant the allocation of all resources. “A number of agencies around the country conduct investigations without the benefit of the multidisciplinary team (MDT) process,” writes John E.B. Myers, in the APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment, “Yet, the emerging consensus among experts on investigation is that the ‘best practice’ for most cases is an MDT that uses an investigative protocol that sets out the roles and responsibilities of involved.”25
It is the “special experiences and perspectives” of multidisciplinary team members that “give the team concept its strength,” write Donna Pence and Charles Wilson, in Team Investigation of Child Sexual Abuse, who also make clear:
We do not propose to blend the disciplines into a homogenous mix in which law enforcement officers are indistinguishable from CPS workers or the mental health perspective is identical to that of the prosecutor.26
Kathleen Coulborn Faller, in Interviewing Children About Sexual Abuse: Controversies and Best Practice, further clarifies:
An assumption of the joint investigation model is that the most positive case outcome is successful criminal prosecution. When evidence will not support criminal prosecution, which, as a rule, requires child testimony and evidence to meet the standard of proof, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” law enforcement usually closes its case. [Emphasis mine.]27
Indeed problems arise not only when social services’ low burden of proof is confused with the higher burdens of police and prosecutors, but also when weak social service allegations (or completely empty allegations such as those in Figure 1) are provided to media far and wide, before such time as police and prosecutors have anything approaching an actual case.
“Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”
To be clear: The problem in Citrus Heights (or, rather, one problem of dozens), was not that social services investigated rumors — again, who would want the department to do otherwise? — or that the city of Citrus Heights couldn’t figure out how to make arrangements for Creative Frontiers co-owner Robert Adams to take a leave of absence while under investigation, but that authorities created a media spectacle and ruined the reputation of a legally innocent man and his well respected business, based solely on uncorroborated statements alone, including statements from angry ex-staffer who would go on to impeach those same statements in less than 24 hours.
Another problem — and the enduring problem — is that authorities refused, then, as they refuse now, to admit anything so terrible as having made a mistake in being led astray by Mertens.
Quite to the contrary, the prosecution set about building its new case. It’s anyone’s guess, whether they were counting on, or were oblivious to, the mathematical likelihood that they would find willing accusers. Even though Creative Frontiers, in business for 35 years, boasts thousands of alumni who have only kind words for Adams or the school, it is nonetheless likely, of course, that at least a handful of people, over those three and a half decades, for whatever personal reasons, are displeased with the school, its founder, the Adams family, and their relative success and happiness.
Nor is it difficult to find among any 35-year-old institution the uncommon employee (or volunteer, in Mertens’s case), who just didn’t work out. Indeed one such teacher, “S.B.,” laid off for poor performance, was unambiguous in her parting words. “I’ll bury you,” she told Adams.28
For Creative Frontiers, as with any private school, there also exists a veritable pool of parents sued for non-payment of tuition. Finding willing “complainants” in such a scenario, especially when actively encouraged by authorities to “come forward,” is little more than a numbers game. [UPDATE: Here I once had a link to the Sacramento court records showing who had been sued — names which, unsurprisingly, were among Adams’s accusers. The .gov link was made inaccessible within days of my posting it.]
The question becomes, of course, why should the public, let alone a jury, accept the prosecution’s case, that a handful of motivated accusers are more credible than 35 years worth of children who were not abused?
Allegation echo-chambers & “unspecified damages”
Although it would take another seven weeks after prosecutors announced the name of Robert Adams and Creative Frontiers, only to watch their case promptly collapse around Mertens, Citrus Heights Police and the DA’s office would, eventually, transform the fill-in-the-blank felony allegations, the numbers game, into a new roster of complainants and alleged witnesses.
Even less surprising, the private law firm of Joseph C. George immediately inserted itself into the fray as well — announcing a civil suit, via TV cameras on the courthouse steps the day after Adams’s arrest29 — seeking, of course, “unspecified damages” from the “high-profile man”30 [read Attorney George’s press release here].
Exemplifying how these sorts of allegations multiply as if in an echo-chamber, the lawsuit actually cites the social services allegations in Figure 1 as other “examples of Defendant Adams’ inappropriate conduct.” The lawsuit then goes on to allege that Adams, in October of the previous year, inappropriately touched a 8-year-old girl on multiple occasions, though the suit acknowledges that the child’s parents claim to have had “reasonable suspicion of sexual abuse” at the time, and that “notwithstanding such suspicion” the child’s parents “never filed a child protective services report.”31
The stated motivation of the alleged victim’s mother is also telling. News 10 reports that, according to Attorney George, the child’s mother “wanted to file this lawsuit now” (as opposed to the prior year, one supposes, when she alleges the incidents occurred) not only “to encourage other victims to come forward” but “to help restore the reputation of the so-called whistleblower,” Irma Mertens.32
II. Pausing for a word from our sponsor.
Local media, for their part, have not only avoided asking a single question about the veracity of the State’s case (whether the old case or the new), but some papers have gone out of their way to defend both the case’s legitimacy and their coverage of the story. Joyce Terhaar’s Sacramento Bee, for example, published three such articles within the first week of the school’s closure.
McMartin gets internet access
Immediately after Creative Frontiers was shut down and Mertens’s allegations were broadcast, the public began expressing their concern that the Creative Frontiers case looked an awful lot like California’s infamous McMartin Preschool trial. The quintessential 1980s Daycare Scare, McMartin was not only the longest trial in U.S. history, but one that cost California taxpayers an estimated $15 million. The end result of which was zero convictions; hundreds of children abused not by McMartin teachers but by the social and legal systems designed to protect them; and, of course the destruction of a thriving private business, its teachers, and its founding family, some of whom waited years in jail for the trial process to come to its fruitless, bitter end.33
Just three days after Creative Frontiers was closed, an article at the Sacramento Bee, as if written by the prosecution itself, sought to reassure the public that city and county authorities, despite appearances, weren’t repeating the same mistakes. Declared the headline: “McMartin Preschool abuse-case fiasco led to new child interview techniques.”34
“In [the Mcmartin Preschool] case,” write reporters Hubert and Stanton, “following an initial accusation from one mother, police sent form letters to more than 200 parents at the preschool, urging them to question their children about possible sexual abuse.”35 The difference, however, between these troubling aspects of McMartin and those of Creative Frontiers, is scarcely any difference at all. Instead of Judy Johnson making false allegations in 1983, we have Irma Mertens making false allegations in 2011. Instead of a telephone-tree panic between parents, we have online comments at the Sacramento Bee and other digital newspapers.
Likewise only updated technology separates the ill-advised tactics of the police departments in each case. In 1983 police in Manhattan Beach mailed parents 200 form letters. In 2011, Citrus Heights police set up an online form, making the reporting of allegations as easy as clicking of a mouse:
“Beyond the allegations”
Just two days after the McMartin assurances, while hundreds of current Creative Frontiers students, parents, and teachers continued to express their outrage and heartbreak at the conduct of Citrus Heights Police during the shutdown of the school [see Children, Parents, and Teachers Petition, Testify Before Citrus Heights City Council], another article appeared at the Sacramento Bee. As if to answer (if not to rebuff, or to outright dismiss) the concerns of those children, teachers, and parents, as well as to answer any other Sacramento Bee readers who may have questioned the actions of social services and police, the new headline boldly affirmed: “Citrus Heights school lockdown was appropriate amid abuse allegations, experts say.”36
The Sacramento Bee failed to mention that authorities could have closed the school over the weekend, without traumatizing several dozen elementary and preschool children, even if it meant sacrificing Monday’s top-of-the-news slot. [See Lessons from Creative Frontiers School: Social Services and Police Timing of Arrests, Press Releases, Parental Notification.]
Following the Sacramento Bee‘s “lockdown was appropriate” article, indeed on the eve of the first-week anniversary of the Creative Frontiers debacle, Terhaar herself penned an apologia for the Sacramento Bee and its reporters: “From the Executive Editor,” read the headline, “Lessons of the past factor into coverage of molestation allegations.” Terhaar praised her paper for its coverage and offered, “strong media attention is warranted when such serious allegations arise in our community, with potential to affect many families. The Bee will continue to bring context and perspective to this story,” promised Terhaaar, “even as we report pieces that go beyond the allegations.”37
Indeed, articles that went beyond Mertens’ false accusations included articles in which the Sacramento Bee investigated the teaching credentials of the accused, discussed building code issues at the campus, and pondered whether Adams, whose personal and business computers were seized and have yet to be returned, should begin repaying any pre-paid tuition.
Meanwhile, questions remain.
Questions that do not even include the State’s new thin case built upon an old case that collapsed.
Questions about the media-friendly timing and staging of a search warrant that could have, and should have, been served days before. [See Lessons from Creative Frontiers School: Social Services and Police Timing ]
Questions about the misconduct of certain officers during the execution of the warrant, as expressed in the statements of parents and children testifying before Citrus Heights Mayor Jeannie Bruins [see City Council].
The question of why respected veteran detective, and original lead detective for the case, Joe Rangel, seems either to have bowed out or to have been replaced, mid-investigation, by relative newcomer detective Jason Baldwin, without comment by CHPD.
The question of why, given that video cameras and computers were seized from the school two months prior to Robert Adams arrest, the arrest warrant makes no reference to any illicit computer files, and no reference to surveillance videos in or near the principal’s office, where all of the molestations are alleged to have occurred.
By contrast, a recent article penned by the Sacramento Bee‘s Sam Stanton instead directed readers to an anonymous blog that publishes new anonymous grievances and allegations against Adams and Creative Frontiers while comparing the legally innocent Adams to child molesters found legally guilty elsewhere around the country (and offering novel and heady bon mots such as comparing Adams’s supporters to Hitler’s, etc).
From the beginning of the Creative Frontiers disaster, in fact, articles at the Sacramento Bee have served as a platform for a small but dedicated group of anonymous accusers, about four of whom account for well over several thousand reader-comments at Terhaar’s paper (far more words than her reporters have dedicated to covering the case, to be sure). While the intelligence and liability of most comments at the Sacramento Bee rarely surpass the expected — such as exulting that Adams may be “‘Bubba’s wife’ in Hotel Greybars!!!!,” etc — others are more surprising, such as actual criminal allegations, including those from past litigants against Creative Frontiers.
“My child was physically abused at the school as well as neglected (left in soaking wet diapers all day) and on and on,” alleges Kelly McBride, posting as “kelmac284,” with the apparent blessing of SacBee’s reporter-moderators — although social service documents released early in the investigation make clear that McBride’s claims were leveled at staff other than Adams himself, and that McBride’s claims were not substantiated by social services.38
“Imagine what the parents of the children went through when they realized their kids had been molested by Adams,” writes one pseudonym, who goes on to make new criminal allegations online on the Sacramento Bee:
I actually spoke with one parent whose child was physically abused by a teacher in a “before class” room. The mother witnessed it and so did another teacher. Mr Bob was notified after failed attempts to get anything done through the regular channels (i.e.) contacting the office administrator. The teacher may have been reprimanded, but she should have been arrested and fired! I am not sure of any further actions that were taken, but in most schools, she would have been removed immediatly [sic] and not allowed to have any dealings with children.39
The rare accuser to give her name, Brandy Silva, employing the same popular and faulty reasoning as her anonymous friends, laments that anyone at CFS would support “a person who put himself in a position of trust like every single pedophile does.”40
Given the apparent willingness of people to make baseless accusations, with the full support of local media, it is almost surprising that Citrus Heights Police and the DA’s office required a full seven weeks to find their new set of complainants and alleged witnesses.
After September 7, however, when Adams was finally arrested at his Folsom home, it was clear that the prosecution had left no stone unturned.
After seven weeks of police interviews with fired teachers and past litigants against Creative Frontiers, to the delight of at least four anonymous posters on The Sacramento Bee, the County District Attorney’s office unveiled the “new” case.
III. The New Case Against Robert Adams
Four anonymous women in their early twenties
Four anonymous women in their early twenties, who, according to their statements to authorities, have known each other since attending CFS as children, say they were molested by Adams, on “numerous” occasions, sometime between thirteen and fifteen years ago. According to one of the anonymous four women, Adams molested three of them at the same time in the busy, open office Adams’ shares with co-workers. 41
According to the arrest warrant, the other two anonymous women did not corroborate this alleged three-victim, simultaneous molestation. They claim to remember incidents of being molested individually, however. According to all four of the anonymous women, all of the above incidents occurred in the principal’s office during the middle of the school day.42
In addition to the inherent implausibility of their stories’ setting, and the fact that the alleged victims’ stories not only failed to corroborate each other, but contradicted each other, the stories by the anonymous young women also run counter to the public testimony of the Creative Frontiers receptionist who worked in Adams’s office during the time that the anonymous women say they were abused.
Standing before Citrus Heights City Council on July 28th — months prior to the announcement of the claims by the anonymous women — former receptionist Katrina K____ proudly stated her full name for the Mayor and the Council before testifying: “I’m here as a character witness, a former employee, a parent, and also a very concerned community member.” She has known Bob since 1995, Katrina told the packed room, and not only did she send her own children to the school, but she “worked side-by-side, in the office, with Bob, for five years.” [See Children, Parents, and Teachers Testify Before Mayor and Citrus Heights City Council, in Support of Robert Adams and Creative Frontiers School for more.]
Two adult witnesses, one Unknown Victim, and a child who says she was never abused
In the absence of Mertens, the State has two other adult witness, both former employees. The first, Bethany Solomon, is a teacher who was fired from CFS in 2007, who now declares that she also saw Adams molest a child right in front of her — though she did not report anything to authorities at the time.
Solomon says she can’t actually remember the identity of the alleged child victim, however, nor the year of the alleged abuse of Unknown Child, and yet Solomon, like Mertens before her, also claims she “remembers” a very specific, lurid detail. As Solomon looked on, she alleges, Adams had his “entire hand” up skirt of the Unknown Child, “except for his pinky finger.”43
Despite the fact that the alleged victim in this incident does not exist — except as an image in Soloman’s mind, timeless, with no name or earthly physical form — the District Attorney’s office has seen fit to charge Adams with a felony for this spectral and literally victimless incident.
A second teacher, April Thompson, was co-teacher and friends with S.B., the teacher who said she would “bury” Adams after she was laid off. Thompson herself worked at CFS until the day it closed, but now says that Adams, one day, during her preschoolers’ naptime, walked into her classroom while she was out. When she returned, she says, she found Adams lying in full view on the floor in the middle of her classroom, surrounded by children, molesting one of them.44
According to the arrest warrant, however, the child in question, “A.P.,” has told forensic interviewers not once, but twice, that she was not abused45 — a point which the Sacramento Bee, to date, has steadfastly refused to report when detailing the allegations against Adams.
Regardless, although A.P. herself says she was not abused, the District Attorney’s office has seen fit to charge Adams for this “crime” as well, based on the teacher’s implausible story, and based on the idea, it would appear, that the child is a liar because she says she was not abused.
Nor should the DA’s decision come as a surprise, given that both social services and police knew prior to their closing of Creative Frontiers, that A.P. and the child in Mertens’s report said they were never abused.46
“B.R.”: twice abused
The only child to ostensibly corroborate with the state’s new case, “B.R.,” is an eight-year-old girl, and her involvement in the case is one of its more tragic and disturbing elements.
B.R.’s actual statements to authorities are notably absent from the arrest warrant, but were purportedly summarized by prosecutors, who allege that on several occasions between July 2010 and July 2011, Adams molested the child while she sat on his lap in his office.47
Sources close to the investigation, however, are stunned and deeply saddened by B.R.’s involvement in the State’s case. In emails to the author, they have no doubt that B.R. was abused — but not by Robert Adams. They say that B.R.’s mother stated on more than one occasion, and to several different people, that her boyfriend had molested B.R.48
If the prosecution is knowingly “using” B.R. to make a case against someone other than her abuser — such a gambit is unconscionable. One shudders to think how such a scenario might injure the child’s mental health — to say nothing of the State’s culpability for legal malpractice.
Compounding the tragedy, according to my sources, B.R.’s mother is none other than the woman seeking “unspecified damages” in the widely-announced civil suit against Adams.49 [Update: The civil attorney for B.R.’s mother has since dropped the suit. The DA’s Office has not issued any statement.]
IV. “So Much Agony for So Little”
On January 19, 1990, the Los Angeles Times published an in-depth article examining media complicity in the McMartin Preschool fiasco. Even the title of the article was in-depth: “Where Was Skepticism in Media? : Pack journalism and hysteria marked early coverage of the McMartin case. Few journalists stopped to question the believability of the prosecution’s charges.”
Oddly, the spirit of the article seems merely a “given,” today. The late David Shaw says that McMartin:
exposed basic flaws in the way the contemporary news organizations function. Pack journalism. Laziness. Superficiality. Cozy relationships with prosecutors. A competitive zeal that sends reporters off in a frantic search to be first with the latest shocking allegation, responsible journalism be damned. A tradition that often discourages reporters from raising key questions . . .50
It’s almost difficult to believe there was a time when at least one journalist thought it might not be the height of professionalism that legally innocent persons were “identified by name and had their photographs printed and broadcast simply because the prosecution said they were ‘uncharged suspects’ or because their homes were searched in a sweeping and fruitless quest for evidence.”51
On January 24, 1990, The New York Times also published an article on the aftermath of the McMartin Preschool trials. Titled “The Longest Trial — A Post-Mortem,” Robert Reinhold’s article was subtitled, “Collapse of Child-Abuse Case: So Much Agony for So Little.” Aside from the suffering of the falsely accused and widely libeled Buckey, McMartins, et al, as well as the suffering of the children who were manipulated and used by prosecutors more concerned with their conviction records than with the little treasures whom they loudly proclaimed needed saving, Reinhold notes that the McMartin trials were
something of an embarrassment not only for the prosecution but also for some in the news media, particularly KABC-TV, the local ABC station, which first reported the accusations; 20/20, the national ABC News program, as well as The Los Angeles Times and other newspapers that gave full credibility to the police in trumpeting the charges in 1984.52
Reinhold also questions “how such a case could have gone so far, costing the taxpayers an estimated $15 million, and produced so little.”53
It’s an important question–sadly, still relevant today–even though answers were provided as early as 1986 by Debbie Nathan, who would come to work closely with attorney Michael Snedeker to provide, a decade later, the first comprehensive examination of these cases: Satan’s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt. Answers would also come from authors Kathryn Lyon (author of The Wenatchee Report, for the US Justice Department, and Witch Hunt) and Dorothy Rabinowitz (No Crueler Tyrannies), et al, along with dozens of psychologists, medical doctors, scholars, and various specialists, too numerous to list.54
Thanks in large part to these kind folk — many of whom risked professional ruin for so much as discussing, early on, still-controversial ideas such as “questionable allegations” and “defendants’ rights” in child sexual abuse cases — Reinhold’s 1990 Times “Post-Mortem” strikes a very different tone than the seeming deathknell struck for the preschool when the allegations first took root in Manhattan Beach55. Back then, a very different AP/ Times article on McMartin read as if written by the prosecution themselves:
To the children at the Virginia McMartin Preschool, it was “The Hollywood Game” or “Naked Movie Star.” Adults use more sophisticated terms to describe the sexual games the children were reported to have played with trusted teachers, such as pedophilia, felony child abuse, child pornography. Despite stricter laws against the sexual abuse of children, three cases pending in Los Angeles alone indicate that trafficking in children for pleasure or profit has not disappeared.56 [Emphasis mine.]
In addition to the Times‘ jaw-dropping declaration of the guilt of the defendants in these pending cases, the article also fails to mention that the ambiguous “adults” who are describing “pedophilia” and “felony child abuse” and “child pornography” are representatives for the prosecution. Note, too, that at no point in the seven years of McMartin trials would the prosecution produce a single pornographic photograph as evidence of their horrific allegations, or any physical evidence whatsoever, linking Raymond Buckey or anyone in the McMartin family to abuse of children.57 Note, too, that Buckey and the McMartins and a host of other teachers waited in jail while California caught its breath and came to its senses. Ray Bucky sat no less than five years in jail before a prosecutor finally admitted California had no case against him at all.
“Facts of the case were simply irrelevant”
It is also important to remember that McMartin was neither the first nor the last of false cases of child sexual abuse. As John Demos writes, in The Enemy Within: 2000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World:
Some cases [in the 1980s] were small and quickly resolved; others developed the same lethal spiral evidenced at Bakersfield and McMartin. Among the larger ones—for example, Jordan, Minnesota (1983), Chicago (1984), Memphis (1984), El Paso, (1984), the Bronx (1985), and Malden, Massachusetts (1986)—nearly all fell into either the sex-ring or the day-care abuse category. There were some distinctions between the two. Sex-ring prosecutions, those without linkage to day-care or school settings, most often appeared in lower-middle- and working-class communities. The majority of day-care abuse cases, by contrast, involved white-collar and professional folk…. Yet cases of both kinds showed a core of similar elements: parents taking the lead; children asked (or urged, or coaxed, or cajoled) to produce the crucial accusations; zealous prosecutors and child-abuse “experts” eager to push matters into the courts. And through it all coursed such strong emotional currents that families, friendships, even whole communities, could be bitterly riven apart. 58
Few lives in these communities were as “riven” as those of the accused. In New Jersey’s “Wee Care” daycare case, for example, it was only after being publicly humiliated — only after being accused of sexually abusing 20 children at her daycare—only after seeing in the newspapers that she had “raped them with spoons, forks, and Lego blocks and compelled them to swallow her urine and feces”—only after being sentenced to 47 years in prison and serving five of those years—that daycare worker Kelly Michaels finally saw her conviction overturned by a New Jersey court. 59
Nor are 1980s and ‘90s cases the last of false cases of child sexual abuse. As I note in another post:
In 2010, one of the few nationally publicized, child-sex abuse fiascoes of the new millennium, The State of Georgia vs. Tonya Craft60 resulted in an acquittal for a gradeschool teacher falsely charged with more than twenty counts of child molestation, aggravated sexual battery, and aggravated child molestation. But the acquittal came only after Craft, family, friends, and supporters raised enough money for an adequate defense–in this case, $500,000, which included an inheritance, a refinanced home, and Craft’s own wedding ring.61 Statistically rare enough to make it one for the record books (even aside from a still-pending $25-million lawsuit against her accusers as well as the city and county officials who prosecuted her) the Craft trial is also a rare bright spot in the murky case law surrounding trials of its type.
Given that prosecutors’ case against Adams, today, is not only weaker, but more disturbing than it was two months ago, it is unfortunate that local media–who have already spent untold hours “investigating” Adams’s teaching credentials, and “investigating” whether building code violations might somehow cast light on molestation allegations–have yet to ask a single probing question about any aspect of the prosecution’s dubious case, or about the actions of authorities involved.
Although it is understandable that the very nature of the allegations in a child molestation case is enough to inhibit otherwise intrepid journalists, it is also crucial to remember that allegations must be examined on a case-by-case basis. Child molestation cases have a tendency to foreground a false dichotomy: to be “for” a valid prosecution is to be “against” protecting children. As Dorothy Rabinowitz writes, in No Crueler Tyrannies:
In the late 1980s, as today, there was . . . the view that to take up for those falsely accused of sex abuse charges was to undermine the battle against child abuse; it was to betray children and all other victims of sexual predators. To succeed in reversing the convictions in such cases was to send a discouraging message to the victims and to encourage predators.
Where advanced reasoning of this sort prevailed, the facts of the case were simply irrelevant. . . . 62
Particularly in cases as anomalous as the one against Adams—a case in which a jury will have to believe that Adams raised three daughters who grew up to be his biggest defenders against charges that he molests little girls; a case in which we find children who say that they were not abused, and only adults who say they were—it is important, too, to remember the words of experts writing in Children as Victims, Witnesses, and Offenders: Psychological Science and the Law:
Investigators should carefully consider an important question: How strong is the evidence that supports the initial allegation of abuse? In cases that later turn into disasters, the initial allegation is typically very weak. For example, the allegation may have come from . . . an overanxious or even delusional adult. Before launching a wide-reaching investigation that risks setting off a community panic, decision makers need to examine the available evidence with a critical eye and ask themselves whether it is strong enough to justify such a risk.63
If local media refuses to report this story, then it is time for reporters who are not within arm’s reach of prosecution, who are not beholden to them for the next big scoop, to begin asking just what exactly is happening in Citrus Heights, under the guidance of the Sacramento County DA’s office, under the pretense of “protecting children”–children who said they didn’t need any protection, children who held rallies to re-open the school, children who have said, very clearly, they were not abused.
1 “I’m their only witness,” Mertens told KCRA TV reporters, “You think they’d do something to protect me.” See the following KCRA TV video footage archived at YouTube: “Citrus Heights School Volunteer: ‘I Saw What I Saw'” KCRATV http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otCzwmA-oT8
2 “I find it interesting, the timing on it,” Robert Adams’s attorney, Linda Parisi, told KCRA TV.
In response to questions about the timing of her allegations, Mertens flatly lied, again, telling KCRA reporters, “When I started finding out about that stuff, I don’t [sic] want to work for this guy.” According to DSS reports and Mertens other public statements, however, Mertens had already claimed to have witnessed abuse first-hand over a year before the July 2011 shut down of the school.
“Accused Principal: ‘I’m Innocent.’ Citrus Heights School Leader Denies Molesting Students” KCRA TV. July 20, 2011. http://www.kcra.com/r/28611879/detail.html
3 Also of note, in Monacelli’s article, are the statements of Mr. McBride, who claimed that he pulled his own daughter out of the school after a suspicious bruise on her leg. What McBride failed to mention, and what none in the media bothered to investigate, is that what is most “suspicious” about McBride’s bruise story is that it follows directly on the heels of McBride’s history of waging unsuccessful legal actions (according to court documents here and here) against the school.
Monacelli, Nick. “Father: State was told principal was suspected of molesting students” News 10 Jul 19, 2011
4 cf. Arrest warrant for Robert Adams. 6 September 2011. One child told forensic interviewers, in two different interviews, that she was not abused. The omission of the other alleged child victim from the arrest warrant, the child whose abuse Mertens claimed to have witnessed, makes it clear that the child’s account did not corroborate Mertens’s fantasies of abuse.
6 Dorothy Rabinowitz. No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times. New York, NY: Free Press, 2004.
7 Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters. Making Monsters. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996.
8 “Calif. school closed in molestation probe, principal has defenders.” CBS News. July 19, 2011 http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-20080809-504083.html
9 California Department of Social Services documents CDSS 7011182101, CDSS 7011182101B, CDSS 7011182101C, dated 18 July 2011, authors Jennifer Brekke, Maria Gross, Jeanne Smith.
10 Sam Stanton. “Sacto 9-1-1: Former receptionist details abuse allegations against school principal.” The Sacramento Bee. 19 July 2011. http://www.sacbee.com/2011/07/19/v-mobile/3780117/sacto-9-1-1-former-receptionist.html
14 “Citrus Heights School Volunteer: ‘I Saw What I Saw’” KCRA-TV 3. July 20, 2011 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otCzwmA-oT8
15 “Elementary school principal ‘molested at least 10 students over 15 year period.’” Daily Mail. July 19, 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2016546/California-school-principal-Robert-Adams-molested-10-students-15-years.html?ito=feeds-newsxml
16 Citrus Heights Police press release dated 18 July 2011, at 13330 hours. Also, statement by Citrus Heights Police spokesman Jon Kempf, as reported in the following of articles, which are four of several dozen in both national and international news:
“Accused Principal: ‘I’m Innocent.’ Citrus Heights School Leader Denies Molesting Students.” KCRA-TV 3. July 20, 2011 http://www.kcra.com/r/28611879/detail.html
Camille Mann. “Calif. school closed in molestation probe, principal has defenders.” CBS News. July 19, 2011 http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-20080809-504083.html
“Elementary school principal ‘molested at least 10 students over 15 year period.’” Daily Mail. July 19, 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2016546/California-school-principal-Robert-Adams-molested-10-students-15-years.html?ito=feeds-newsxml
Laura Riparbelli. “California Sexual Abuse Allegations Against Principal Prompt Calls to Tip Line. Principal Accused of Molestation, School Shut Down.” ABC News. July 20, 2011. http://abcnews.go.com/US/california-sexual-abuse-allegations-principal-prompt-calls-tip/story?id=14117131
17 “Citrus Heights School Volunteer: ‘I Saw What I Saw’” KCRA-TV 3. July 20, 2011 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otCzwmA-oT8
20 Accused Principal: ‘I’m Innocent.’ Citrus Heights School Leader Denies Molesting Students.” KCRA-TV 3. July 20, 2011 http://www.kcra.com/r/28611879/detail.html
21 Laura Riparbelli. “California Sexual Abuse Allegations Against Principal Prompt Calls to Tip Line. Principal Accused of Molestation, School Shut Down.” ABC News. July 20, 2011. http://abcnews.go.com/US/california-sexual-abuse-allegations-principal-prompt-calls-tip/story?id=14117131
22 Sam Stanton and Melody Gutierrez. “Citrus Heights police review evidence against school principal suspected of molestation.” Sacramento Bee. 20 July 2011
23 “’Reasonable cause to suspect maltreatment’ or ‘reasonable cause to believe’ the child has been maltreated.” In Kathleen Coulborn Faller, Ed. Interviewing Children About Sexual Abuse: Controversies and Best Practice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007. 192
24 Quoted in Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters. Making Monsters. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996.
25 John E.B. Myers. The APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment. 3rd Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2010.
26 Donna Pence and Charles Wilson. Team Investigation of Child Sexual Abuse: The Uneasy Alliance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc, 1994.
27 Kathleen Coulborn Faller, “Models for Assessing Child Sexual Abuse.” [37-38] In Interviewing Children About Sexual Abuse: Controversies and Best Practice, Kathleen Coulborn Faller, Ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007.
28 [Personal communication with the author.] Readers will be unsurprised to learn that this teacher, “S.B.,” was co-teacher and friend with none other than accuser April Thompson. According to another former employee at the school, Thompson and S.B. “were constantly trying to stir up drama between staff and create negativity. When April first started she did not appear to be like this but over time, working with [S.B.], they became two peas in a pod” and “always had something to complain about.”
29 Maneeza Iqbal. “Lawsuit filed against principal accused of molesting kids.” News 10. Sep 8, 2011 http://www.news10.net/news/article/153861/2/Lawsuit-filed-against-principal-accused-of-molesting-kids-
30 Press release from Law Offices of Attorney Joseph C. George, Ph.D., dated 8 September 2011 at 2:30 pm.
31 Joseph C. George and Joseph C. George, Jr., Law Offices of Attorney Joseph C. George, Ph.D. Civil suit for “Jane Doe 45, by and through her Guardian ad Litem, Stephanie Doe” v. Creative Frontiers, Inc. and Robert Adams.
32 Maneeza Iqbal. “Lawsuit filed against principal accused of molesting kids.” News 10. Sep 8, 2011 http://www.news10.net/news/article/153861/2/Lawsuit-filed-against-principal-accused-of-molesting-kids-
33 Numerous books have been written about this grim historical period, during which several hundred McMartin-style prosecutions took place not only in the U.S. but in England and Europe as well, laying the foundations for similar prosecutions in years since. By far the most comprehensive text on this period, commonly referred to as the “Satanic Panic” and roughly dated to the 1980s (though it continued well into the 1990s — and, I would argue, never really went away, just took a nap for a short while) is Satan’s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt, co-authored by award-winning investigative journalist Debbie Nathan and the man who helped free so many of California’s wrongly convicted, Attorney Michael Snedeker. (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1996.) For those who are more inclined to film documentaries, I suggest Witch Hunt (Don Hardy Jr. and Dana Nachman, KTF Films, 2008), narrated by Sean Penn, detailing Kern County, CA, District Attorney Ed Jagels’ crusade against imagined child sex crimes, which resulted in needless foster placement for children, and the wrongful convictions and long-term, maximum-security imprisonment of over two-dozen innocent parents.
34 Cynthia Hubert and Sam Stanton. “McMartin Preschool abuse-case fiasco led to new child interview techniques” The Sacramento Bee. Jul. 21, 2011 http://www.sacbee.com/2011/07/21/3783838/mcmartin-preschool-fiasco-led.html
36 Melody Gutierrez, Sam Stanton and Cynthia Hubert. “Citrus Heights school lockdown was appropriate amid abuse allegations, experts say.” The Sacramento Bee. Jul. 23, 2011 http://www.sacbee.com/2011/07/23/3788813/citrus-heights-school-lockdown.html
37 Joyce Terhaar “From the Executive Editor: Lessons of the past factor into coverage of molestation allegations.” The Sacramento Bee. Jul. 24, 2011 http://www.sacbee.com/2011/07/24/3788353/lessons-of-the-past-factor-into.html
38 DSS documents on Creative Frontiers, dated 26 November 2002. See also, the statements of Mr. McBride in the footnote above.
39 Yes, I understand that I should not bother reading the comments, but it’s addicting, like a terrible soap opera. Elsewhere on the SacBee, the same pseudonym attacks Adams’ defense attorney, Linda Parisi, alleging a head-scratching criminal conspiracy between Parisi the office of District Attorney Jan Scully:
Has anyone taken a good look at the criminals Parisi has defended? She claims to have an “IN” with the D.A.’s office. I wonder if conspiring with them has anything to do with her delaying a plea in this case? . . . I doubt the parents of the children who were molested will allow for many “special considerations.”
At other times, this same pseudonym makes it clear her resentment extends to the very idea of the prestigious private school itself:
The school is still closed and it appears that all efforts to reopen were halted the moment the bracelets were placed on Mr. A’s wrists. Hopefully, those children willfully withheld from classes for 3+ weeks are now enrolled in “REAL” schools.. with “REAL” teachers and all can move on. The Creative Frontiers Fairy Tale is over.
40 Though labeling a legally innocent man a “pedophile” on the Sacramento Bee hardly qualifies for amusing, Brandy Silva’s Facebook profile, amusingly enough, lists Gossip Girl as one of her three face TV shows. According to IMDB, the pilot episode of Gossip Girl centers revolves around “the Internet blog of the all-knowing, albeit, ultra-secretive ‘Gossip Girl’. No one knows Gossip Girl’s identity, but everyone in this exclusive and complicated vicious circle relies on her website and text messages for the latest scoop.” Go figure.
41 Arrest warrant for Robert Adams. 6 September 2011.
46 In other words: authorities knew that the actual children involved denied any molestation, but authorities continued to use Mertens’s claims as grounds for closing the school, along with sudden, all-important building and fire code violations, which happened to be assessed on the same day that the school was shuttered by social services and police. [City documents dated 18 July 2011.]
47 Arrest warrant for Robert Adams. 6 September 2011.
48 Personal communication with author.
49 [Personal communication with author.] It’s also worth noting that he civil suit was filed in August, but has yet to be served.
50 “Where Was Skepticism in Media? : Pack journalism and hysteria marked early coverage of the McMartin case. Few journalists stopped to question the believability of the prosecution’s charges.” The Los Angeles Times. January 19, 1990 http://articles.latimes.com/print/1990-01-19/news/mn-226_1_media-coverage
52 Reinhold, Robert. “The Longest Trial — A Post-Mortem: Collapse of Child-Abuse Case: So Much Agony for So Little.” The New York Times. January 24, 1990.
54 The contributions of Maggie Bruck and Stephen J. Ceci (Jeopardy in the Courtroom) also stand out, in those early days, along with the contributions of Elizabeth Loftus (The Myth of Repressed Memory), Richard Ofshe and Ethans Watters (Making Monsters), and Jeffrey Victor (The Satanic Panic), in addition to FBI agent Kenneth Lanning, among many others. [See bibliography.]
55 Thanks to a single accuser, Judy Johnson, who, as the prosecution failed to inform the defense, was a mentally-ill alcoholic with a history of making false accusations of child sexual abuse. (Source: anything written on McMartin, post-1990).
56 “Los Angeles Pressing Inquiry into Sexual Abuse of Children.” AP, The New York Times; National Desk. Late City Final Edition, Section 1, Page 24. April 1, 1984
57 Which is precisely why the case cost $15 million and “produced so little” other than needless suffering.
58 John Demos. The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World. New York, NY: Viking/Penguin, 2008 [274-281]
59 James M. Wood, Debbie Nathan, M. Teresa Nezworski, and Elizabeth Uhl, “Child Sexual Abuse Investigations: Lessons Learned from the McMartin and Other Daycare Cases.”  In Bette Bottoms, Cynthia Najdowski, and Gail Goodman, Children as Victims, Witnesses, and Offenders: Psychological Science and the Law. New York, NY: The Guilford Press, 2009.
60 Actually Georgia vs. Tonya Renee Craft, as cited in Craft’s attorneys’ subsequent $25 million Federal Court lawsuit against Catoosa County investigator Tim Deal, Sheriff Phil Summers, and the Catoosa County Sheriff’s Department; Suzie Thorne, Stacy Long, Laurie Evans, and the Greenhouse Counseling Center; Lookout Mountain Judicial District Children’s Advocacy Center; and Craft’s accusers, Sandra Lamb, Sheri Wilson, Dewayne Wilson, Joal Henke, Sara Henke, and Kelli McDonald. [Norwood, Dennis. “Tonya Craft Attorneys File Second Amended Complaint In Federal Court.” The Chattanoogan. October 1, 2010 http://www.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_185355.asp ]
61 Dennis Norwood. “Tonya Craft Defense Costing Over Half Million Dollars: Defense Rests In Child Molestation Trial At Ringgold.” The Chattanoogan. May 7, 2010 http://www.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_175191.asp and Norwood, Dennis. “Tonya Craft Found Not Guilty Of All Charges: Supporters Of Former Kindergarten Teacher Shout For Joy.” The Chattanoogan. May 11, 2010. http://www.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_175323.asp
62 Dorothy Rabinowitz. No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times. New York, NY: Free Press, 2004.
63 Children as Victims, Witnesses, and Offenders, 96.