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Junior Theatre reformer sues city

Accuses city attorney's chief of staff Gerry Braun of cover-up

Matt Valenti's lawsuit claims the City of San Diego has refused to release records that show a history of sexual assault at San Diego Junior Theatre.
Matt Valenti's lawsuit claims the City of San Diego has refused to release records that show a history of sexual assault at San Diego Junior Theatre.

Matt Valenti, who has been battling San Diego Junior Theatre board over laxity in sex-with-minors incidents, filed suit in Superior Court this month to force the city to turn over documents he requested long ago.

"The City of San Diego has refused to release public records that show a history and pattern of sexual assault and other physical abuse committed by adults employed by the San Diego Junior Theatre against children entrusted to them," charges the suit. Despite providing copious information, Valenti has not gotten San Diego authorities to recognize the problem.

Even after Eric von Metzke, a longtime teacher at the children's theater, was sentenced in June to three years in prison for having sex with an underaged girl, city agencies have done nothing about the matter, and the board of the theater remains the same.

Valenti notes that two deputy city attorneys, Catherine Morrison and Joan Dawson, are on the Junior Theatre board. At a meeting in August of last year, the board discussed the allegations against Von Metzke and one other teacher.

Under penal code section 11165.7, Morrison and Dawson were "mandated reporters" who were required to report the alleged events to law enforcement, says the suit. Instead, the board was asked to consider an amendment to San Diego Junior Theatre's bylaws that required boardmembers to maintain confidentiality about the organization's information and records, according to the suit. The amendment was proposed by Dawson.

In response to Valenti's concerns, Gerry Braun, chief of staff of the city attorney's office, wrote that Morrison's and Dawson's "professionalism and integrity [are] beyond question."

"It appears that Mr. Braun is attempting to cover up criminal activity," says the suit. Among the documents the city has not provided is an email between Dawson and Braun, with two pages redacted.

Braun says he will defend himself in court and the office has no comment on other charges in the suit.

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Matt Valenti's lawsuit claims the City of San Diego has refused to release records that show a history of sexual assault at San Diego Junior Theatre.
Matt Valenti's lawsuit claims the City of San Diego has refused to release records that show a history of sexual assault at San Diego Junior Theatre.

Matt Valenti, who has been battling San Diego Junior Theatre board over laxity in sex-with-minors incidents, filed suit in Superior Court this month to force the city to turn over documents he requested long ago.

"The City of San Diego has refused to release public records that show a history and pattern of sexual assault and other physical abuse committed by adults employed by the San Diego Junior Theatre against children entrusted to them," charges the suit. Despite providing copious information, Valenti has not gotten San Diego authorities to recognize the problem.

Even after Eric von Metzke, a longtime teacher at the children's theater, was sentenced in June to three years in prison for having sex with an underaged girl, city agencies have done nothing about the matter, and the board of the theater remains the same.

Valenti notes that two deputy city attorneys, Catherine Morrison and Joan Dawson, are on the Junior Theatre board. At a meeting in August of last year, the board discussed the allegations against Von Metzke and one other teacher.

Under penal code section 11165.7, Morrison and Dawson were "mandated reporters" who were required to report the alleged events to law enforcement, says the suit. Instead, the board was asked to consider an amendment to San Diego Junior Theatre's bylaws that required boardmembers to maintain confidentiality about the organization's information and records, according to the suit. The amendment was proposed by Dawson.

In response to Valenti's concerns, Gerry Braun, chief of staff of the city attorney's office, wrote that Morrison's and Dawson's "professionalism and integrity [are] beyond question."

"It appears that Mr. Braun is attempting to cover up criminal activity," says the suit. Among the documents the city has not provided is an email between Dawson and Braun, with two pages redacted.

Braun says he will defend himself in court and the office has no comment on other charges in the suit.

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24

Everyone should thank and assist Matt Valenti. Subjugation by dirtbags shows deliberate cover-up, perpetuation of child sex abuse. Criminal by definition. Hide your kids or lock them up.

Dec. 2, 2017

shirleyberan: Having covered this story for some time, I agree that the San Diego Junior Theatre board has been remiss in overlooking the teachers' sexual abuse of young people. Valenti has gone to various government entities within the city to complain, and gotten nowhere, even after one of the theater teachers was sentenced to prison for having sex with an underaged student. Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 2, 2017

Gerry Braun attesting to anyone's "professionalism and integrity" is up there with having a whore vouch for someone's chastity. Nothing illustrates his sleaziness better than the fact that these two deputy city attorneys rewrote the bylaws of a private corporation specifically to commit criminal conspiracy:

"A person who fails to make a required report is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in county jail and/or up to a $1000 fine (P.C. 11166[c]). He or she may also be found civilly liable for damages, especially if the child-victim or another child is further victimized because of the failure to report (Landeros vs. Flood (1976) 17C.3d399). Furthermore PC 11166.01[b] states that “any mandated reporter who willfully fails to report abuse or neglect, or any person who impedes or inhibits a report of abuse or neglect... where that abuse or neglect results in death or great bodily in jury, shall be punished by not more than one year in a county jail, by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.”

These people are absolutely disgusting, and should all lose their jobs at a minimum for their malfeasance. But of course the biggest crooks in San Diego rarely get punished—they get promoted.

Dec. 2, 2017

Cassander, your citation of the Penal Code is absolutely correct.

Unfortunately, what local agency has jurisdiction to prosecute misdemeanor offenses such as this one? The City Attorney's office.

And clearly the City Attorney's office has a conflict of interest when two of its own deputies are the very ones who should be investigated and prosecuted for failing to report child abuse and conspiracy to cover it up. Thus Mara Elliott should refer the case to the District Attorney's office for prosecution, and there is no indication that has happened.

But there's yet another problem: the interim DA Summer Stephan, who is running for election in 2018, has been endorsed by Mara Elliott--in addition to receiving an endorsement from Gil Cabrera, the vice-chair of the Convention Center, who played a major role in covering up the child abuse at Junior Theatre. See: https://www.summerstephanforsandiegoda.com/endorsements/

Therefore Summer Stephan is likewise compromised by a conflict of interest.

For all these reasons, I have been in touch with state Attorney General Xavier Becerra and have urgently requested his office to intervene.

Dec. 2, 2017

Outstanding! Thank you for keeping on this, Matt. It's only the efforts of concerned citizens and activist attorneys (and those reporting about them and these assorted misdeeds) that work to stop San Diego from being a sunny place for shady people.

Dec. 2, 2017

Cassander; San Diego has long been a sunny place for shady people, but at least some residents are fighting it. Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 2, 2017

Matt Valenti: At the outset, some people were skeptical of Valenti's assertions. But the conviction of von Metzke should have convinced many that this was not just an isolated incident. There is more than the von Metzke matter. Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 2, 2017

Matt Valenti: Wow. Apparent conflicts of interest all over San Diego. But don't you worry that Xavier Becerra has a conflict, too? Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 3, 2017

I believe Becerra is an honorable man who is genuinely concerned about child abuse, and I have no reason to believe he has a conflict here. He expressed shock and disgust at the allegations in my complaint, and asked his staffer to contact me for follow-up information, so I do believe he is quite serious about the matter.

If members of the community would like to help encourage him to take action, they can easily reach his office at [email protected]

Dec. 4, 2017

Cassander: Much will depend on the definition of "mandated reporter." Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 2, 2017

11165.7. (a) As used in this article, “mandated reporter” is defined as any of the following: (7) An administrator or employee of a public or private youth center, youth recreation program, or youth organization. (8) An administrator, board member, or employee of a public or private organization whose duties require direct contact and supervision of children, including a foster family agency.

Don't see the law giving the accused any wiggle room. Certainly the attorneys didn't, or else they wouldn't have rigged the bylaws in response to the accusations to try to cover their backsides. Think betting they're toast is about as safe a wager one can make.

Dec. 2, 2017

Cassander: The board members can always say they did not witness any misbehavior -- only heard about allegations, which they dismissed after looking into them. But the von Metzke conviction should tell them, and San Diego officials, that the situation is real -- and dangerous. Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 2, 2017

"Gerry Braun attesting to anyone's "professionalism and integrity" is up there with having a whore vouch for someone's chastity."

Amen to that

Dec. 2, 2017

Bob_Hudson: Wasn't Gerry Braun in charge of the planned celebration of the Balboa Park centennial? The one that flopped completely? Or was it somebody else? Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 2, 2017

If anyone were expecting a better and more open and honest city attorney when Goldy termed out, forget that. This one now seems cut of the same cloth. She's been telling the city council and mayor to stay away from some of their proposals designed to fix city problems, and that is good. But how she can allow two of her deputies to sit on that board when it has recently experienced so much wrongdoing is mind-boggling.

Now that Elliott and Stephan are so neatly intertwined, there's no reason to think the DA will take up the matter. That leaves the AG, and who knows about him?

Dec. 3, 2017

In addition to sending Attorney General Xavier Becerra my 115-page, 55-exhibit complaint, I have spoken in person to him, and he expressed grave concern over the situation at Junior Theatre. He promised to take a serious look at it, and I take him at his word.

Becerra also told me that he strongly supports the work of the new Bureau of Children's Justice (founded by his predecessor Kamala Harris), which I believe would be the appropriate office to handle this investigation. The most important thing, as I have said since the beginning, is to protect the safety and well-being of the children.

The AG's Office of Charitable Trusts has oversight over Junior Theatre as a non-profit, but clearly the issues are bigger than just the blatant self-dealing and misappropriation engaged in by certain members of Junior Theatre's current board--including the board's president, who, I'll add, has a criminal record for contracting without a license in a declared emergency area and defrauding East County wildfire victims.

Dec. 3, 2017

MattValenti: Yes, the AG wing handling charities is quite weak. I don't know if it is understaffed. Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 3, 2017

There are about 12 attorneys in that office tasked with overseeing approximately 150,000 nonprofits in California. So understaffed is an understatement.

The squeaky wheel gets the oil, of course, and whether it's the AG's charitable trusts section or the Bureau of Children's Justice which eventually intervenes in the management of Junior Theatre, I won't stop squeaking until they do.

Dec. 4, 2017

Visduh: But recall that the AG sat on all the evidence of Peevey/CPUC/Edison wrongdoing until the statute ran out. The AG that permitted this is now a U.S. senator. I think she protected Peevey because he was a close friend of Gov. Brown. She needed Brown.Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 3, 2017

I'll once again bring up the issue of having a functioning two-party system that can provide alternatives when political offices are to be filled. There was no reason, other than dysfunctional California politics, why the GOP candidate, whoever it might have been, could not have been a real challenger for that senate seat. The corruption of Peavey, Brown, Harris and the rest of the CPUC was in large part due to the lack of political accountability that came with one party dominance. Until that dominance is eroded or gone, get used to this sort of thing over and over.

Dec. 3, 2017

Visduh: I'm not sure you can blame CPUC corruption on the one-party system in California. Yes, Peevey, Brown, and Harris are all Democrats. But would Republicans have been any better? Generally, in California and elsewhere, Republican regulators are the ones who tear down the consumer protections to bloat corporate profits. What's going on in Washington now is a disgrace perpetrated by Republicans. It just happens that Peevey was a Democrat in name only. Harris let him off the hook because she needed Brown's help for her senate run. Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 3, 2017

Mike Murphy: Yes, the behavior of the Junior Theatre teachers toward young people, and the rush to cover up everything by the board are disgusting. Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 3, 2017

meet out the same punishment for all involved

Dec. 4, 2017

Smells a bit like some good old fashioned money grubbing to me.

Feb. 21, 2019

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