WALNUT CREEK -- For the first time, two city employees are speaking out through their lawyers to say they did not know about allegations of suspected child sex abuse at the Lesher Center and were never told they were required by law to report such abuse to police.

The attorneys for Lesher Center Manager Scott Denison, and Barry Gordon, arts, recreation and community services director, say there is no reason their clients cannot return to work now that the district attorney's office has decided not to press criminal charges. Denison and Gordon, along with Gordon's deputy Kevin Safine and Human Resources Director Sally Rice, have been on paid leave since March 22.

"It's hard for me to see the justification to keep (Gordon) on leave -- it makes no sense," said Dirk L. Manoukian, who represents Gordon.

But the saga may not be over yet. City officials say an internal investigation continues and there is no time frame for when it may end.

"The internal investigation that we commenced is ongoing," said Walnut Creek City Attorney Bryan Wenter. "It would be premature to speculate on any outcomes until the internal investigation is complete and the city has the opportunity to thoroughly review the findings."

The investigation is taking longer because the independent investigators have discovered that other city employees were notified about Pedroza and did not tell police, said a city official who requested anonymity because the person is not authorized to speak on the issue.


Advertisement

As of Friday no other city employees had been placed on administrative leave, according to Wenter.

Denison, Gordon and Safine were central to a criminal investigation about whether or not they violated state mandated child abuse reporting laws by failing to contact Walnut Creek Police about alleged child sexual abuse by a former city employee.

The district attorney's office decided last week not to file charges against the three.

Prosecutors in February charged former Walnut Creek Lesher Center employee Jason Pedroza, 27, with two felonies -- using a minor for a sex act and contacting a minor for the purpose of engaging in lewd and lascivious behavior -- and misdemeanor sexual battery and child molestation. The two victims were from Danville and Pleasant Hill.

Pedroza, an actor and theater teacher, turned himself in to police in February, three months after being fired by Denison.

Denison fired Pedroza in November after viewing inappropriate text messages the employee sent to minors, and after being told Danville Police were investigating the first reported abuse, according to authorities. Denison told his bosses, Safine and Gordon, and agreed Pedroza should be fired. Safine told Rice about the Pedroza situation, but Rice said she forgot about the conversation and was not aware who was or was not a mandated reporter in the city, according to a police memo obtained by this newspaper.

That same memo states that "clear evidence" of sexual abuse was shared with city employees who didn't report it to police. But Denison's attorney William Gagen, said the inappropriate text messages did not rise to the level of abuse. And even if they did, none of the employees were trained or told they were mandated reporters as defined by state law.

The law requires those who work with or have access to children through their work report any suspicion of abuse or neglect.

"It's obvious from any reasonable set of facts, that the city of Walnut Creek was asleep at the switch in not having a reporting policy in effect," Gagen said.

He also argued that Denison should not be held responsible for texts an employee sends, or all that goes on at the Lesher, which is rented out to various theater companies. Because Denison, and the other employees, already believed Danville Police officers were investigating, it made no sense to re-report it to Walnut Creek Police, Gagen said.

"To have a duty to report, you have to first know you have a duty and then you have to know something," he said.

Walnut Creek police learned about the alleged abuse from Pleasant Hill police in December only after a second victim came forward.

Pedroza had worked with children on CenterREP productions -- the city owned theater company -- and with YoungREP, a summer theater workshop for children.

He also had a personal relationship with the Denison family and he dated Denison's daughter. This ordeal has devastated them, Gagen said.

Manoukian said his client acted decisively by firing Pedroza after he learned of the in appropriate texts.

"One of the ironies is they felt like they acted with an abundance of caution and did the right thing to avoid any future harm," he said. "We are confident (city officials) will come to the same conclusion."

Both Manoukian and Gagen want the city to release the police memo obtained by this newspaper. They also say the city should investigate who leaked the memo.

An attorney for Safine did not respond to requests for comment.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.