The City of Santa Monica will award $122.5 million in damages to 124 adults who claim that as children they were molested by a civilian employee of the police department.
Eric Uller sexually abused teen boys from the late 1980s until 2010, recruiting victims out of the pool of children attending a free after-school program at the Police Activities League of Santa Monica. Over the last two and a half years, the city of Santa Monica, which runs the nonprofit youth center, has paid close to $230 million to 229 alleged victims of Uller.
Uller committed suicide in 2018 while awaiting trial for lewd acts with children. He was 50 years old.
Despite a 1991 background check that revealed he was arrested as a teen for molesting a toddler he baby-sat, Santa Monica police allowed him to volunteer at the youth program, the Los Angeles Times reported.
For decades Uller, a former IT professional whom the police department named an employee of the year in the 1990s, groomed boys for sexual abuse under the noses of officers. He volunteered to work with boys and girls at the PAL program, a youth program for children between the ages of 6 and seventeen years old. The alleged victims say he used the nonprofit at 14th Street and Olympic Boulevard as his hunting ground.
Although he was not a sworn officer, Uller had a police badge, a police-style SUV, even a K-9 police dog, all of which he allegedly used to gain the trust of children by passing himself off as a cop. Most but not all of his alleged victims were male. Many children served by the PAL program come from low-income Hispanic families.
Santa Monica has vowed to better screen volunteers and city employees and to improve supervision and training for staff to spot red flags for child abuse.
Attorney Brian Claypool, who represents 82 of the alleged victims, referred to the decades of deceit by Uller as “a catastrophic failure of leadership within the city of Santa Monica.”
Claypool is urging the city to launch an anonymous hotline to report suspected abuse and support a new law holding managers criminally liable for child endangerment when ignoring obvious abuse.
The timeframe of the allegations against Uller spans from the late 1980s to 2010. A California law that allowed the adult victims to file lawsuits based on decades-old allegations of child abuse against Uller expired at the end of last year, signaling that further civil actions against him are unlikely.
After the city council voted on the latest settlement Tuesday, Mayor Gleam Davis referred to it as the city’s “best effort to address the suffering of the victims in a responsible way, while also acknowledging that the harm done to the victims cannot be undone.”