A prominent Bay Area civil rights attorney is alleging that a 5-year-old child was sexually molested by other minors multiple times at a Travis Air Force Base child care center.
Oakland attorney John Burris said Tuesday he is filing a federal claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, on behalf of the young girl and her family as soon as Wednesday.
“The question really is what is the level of supervision at this place,” Burris said. “For us, this is a first step and a window into this conduct. The issue of protecting children is paramount.”
Burris said in a statement that command staff at the base failed to report the abuse to police or Child Protective Services after being informed of the incidents by the girl’s parents. Child care providers are mandated by law to report allegations of abuse.
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“It’s unbelievable that military officials failed to perform their obligations to report and attempted to blame the 5-year-old child for being victimized,” Burris said in the statement.
Capt. Lyndsey Horn, the base’s chief of public affairs, disputed Burris’ characterization of the Air Force’s response to the alleged abuse. She said the base learned about the alleged abuse late on July 9 and reported the incident to Child Protective Services on July 10.
“We made the right calls. We’re mandatory reporters, we did what is expected of us by the law,” Horn said. “We’re making sure we’re taking care of the families involved in the incident,” including offering counseling services to them.
Burris also is charging that base staff attempted to pressure the family into remaining quiet about the incidents during a meeting held on July 12.
The base posted a response to the allegations on Facebook on July 14, two days after officials met with parents, Tanisha Porter and Marcus Robinson. Porter is a civilian employee at the base.
“Our leaders are aware of the serious allegation concerning the Travis Youth Center. Upon notification, immediate action was taken to inform affected families and engage appropriate agencies to both thoroughly investigate the incident and review procedures. Providing our families a safe environment to live and work is paramount. We take every child safety and welfare concern seriously and will continue to work transparently and cooperatively with our families and relevant agencies to ensure quality care,” the post read.
Fairfield police confirmed they had been contacted by Robinson on July 9 and were investigating, according to Fairfield police Lt. Greg Hurlbut.
Melissa Nold, an attorney working with Burris, said the child allegedly was molested the first time after being unsupervised for about an hour. Nold said that when staff found her, the child was naked in a restroom with another naked child who was “fondling” her.
In a separate incident a few days later, Nold claims the girl was sexually accosted by another female child at the center while she was using the bathroom.
Command staff held a town hall meeting for concerned parents Monday night. Horn said about 150 people attended. The Air Force announced new procedures to monitor children in hallways and during bathroom breaks. “The biggest thing that came out of the town hall was communication to parents from the youth center all the way up to the wing leadership,” she said.
Parents with children at the facility expressed frustration with the base’s handling of the alleged incidents. One person who identified herself as a mom wrote on the base’s Facebook page on July 14: “The youth center has handled this situation poorly. I have two children that attend the youth center. I received an email four days ago stating the staff ‘discussed the correct way to use the restroom’ with the kindergartners. There was no mention of this incident to parents. It is unacceptable that I had to find this out from the alleged victim’s mother via (Facebook).”