An independent investigation of how Walnut Creek officials handled a child sexual abuse case reveals dysfunction in City Hall and a failure to adequately educate employees about their legal responsibilities to report such cases to authorities.
But, significantly, it also shows that city workers properly handled the situation when they first learned that Jason Pedroza, 27, a part-time usher coordinator at the city's Lesher Center for the Arts, sent a 13-year-old inappropriate Facebook and text messages.
State law requires that administrators and employees involved with children's programs report suspected child abuse to authorities. In this case, Walnut Creek police claimed that employees failed to fulfill their legal duty.
The independent investigation shows otherwise. When city administrators learned of Pedroza's actions, he was quickly fired. As for reporting to authorities, it was clear from the onset that the information about Pedroza had come from the teen's parents, the parents had notified Danville police, and that agency was already investigating.
This, unlike some of the school abuse cases highlighted in this newspaper over the past year, was not a situation where employees withheld information from authorities to cover up internal problems or to buy time for their own investigation. This was not a situation where the suspect was kept on staff pending the outcome of the investigation.
Quite the contrary, city officials moved quickly and appropriately.
That said, the subsequent investigation reveals a city failure to systematically educate staff members about their legal reporting obligations. The case also exposed a culture of distrust and poor relations between city departments. It seems that years of tension over police compensation has gotten in the way of essential professional communication.
For example, when Walnut Creek police inquired after later learning of the Danville and subsequent Pleasant Hill police investigations of Pedroza, a key city official inexcusably withheld information. Conversely, an internal police memo leaked to the press falsely suggested that city officials had broken the law by not notifying Walnut Creek police at the onset.
Prosecutors eventually charged Pedroza 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.
While the case works its way through the legal system, Walnut Creek officials would do well to get their house in order.
That must start with the establishment of city policy that ensures thorough training of all employees with legal responsibilities to report suspected child abuse. Next, the city manager and the new police chief must find a way to eliminate the dysfunction and open the lines of communication within City Hall.
For the sake of the city, everyone must get on board and start working together.