Jury finds Rose Bowl Aquatic Center at fault in molestation case, awards family millions
By HAYLEY MUNGUIA | June 25, 2018
A jury decided Monday to award $10 million in damages to the family of a boy who was allegedly repeatedly molested at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center when he was 11 years old.
The jury found the Aquatic Center was 70 percent responsible, while the patron who reportedly molested the boy was 30 percent responsible. As such, the center owes the family about $7 million.
The jury found the accused patron, then-57-year-old Leslie Dittert, was also responsible, but charges were never filed against him. While named in the civil lawsuit, Dittert is believed to have fled the country since the accusations were first made.
Stephen Larson, the family’s attorney, said in a phone interview he and his clients “feel relieved” about the verdict.
“We feel grateful to the jury for recognizing what (the boy) has gone through and what he has to get through in the future,” Larson said.
The Rose Bowl Aquatic Center’s President and Executive Director Kurt Knop said in a statement he and the center “respectfully disagree with the jury’s decision and will be reviewing this decision very carefully.
“We continue to believe that the person responsible for this heinous criminal act is Mr. Leslie Adam Dittert who has fled the country,” Knop said. “We are deeply saddened for the plaintiff and his family about this tragic event.”
Sign up for The Localist, our daily email newsletter with handpicked stories relevant to where you live. Subscribe here.
The trial stemmed from a lawsuit filed last May. It alleged that the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center did not meet its legal obligations to protect the boy, whose family requested anonymity for his privacy.
In particular, the lawsuit argued the center’s employees fall under the definition of mandated reporters, meaning RBAC would be required to train them to identify and report potential child abuse. Under California law, anyone who is an “administrator or employee of a public or private youth center, youth recreation program, or youth organization” is a mandated reporter.
Before the case went to trial, the center had argued that because it caters to all ages, it did not meet the definition of a “youth center, youth recreation program, or youth organization.” During the trial, however, RBAC conceded this point.
Prior to knowing about the molestation, employees had noted to each other that Dittert was a “creep” and tried to keep an eye on him when he was at the pool facilities. Larson argued that they had not been properly trained under California law. If they had, he said, the boy’s molestation could have been prevented.
Knop said that because none of his employees suspected a child had already been abused, which is the legal requirement to trigger calling the authorities, the center does not believe its staff could have done anything more to prevent the abuse.
Another factor the lawsuit cited was a lack of adequate security. The molestation occurred in the changing rooms and locker room, where Larson said there were no security measures in place.
Knop said that life guards and maintenance staff rotate through the locker room throughout the day, which is a security measure there, but they were not present at the time.
Throughout the litigation process, the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center maintained that while it sympathized with the boy and his family, it had fulfilled its legal obligations to protect him.
In his Monday statement, Knop reiterated that stance.
“Safety has always been of paramount importance to us and remains so,” he said. “The center in its efforts to continually improve will review its training staffing and physical layout. We firmly believe that the center remains a safe place and we have a zero-tolerance policy for any behavior that causes harm to anyone.”
After Monday’s verdict, Larson said he hopes “the size of this verdict sends a powerful message that they have to take responsibility.”
Larson added, “The truth is, as everyone should readily recognize, when you have programs for children, the people who are responsible for the safety of those children are the people running the programs. … There are people who do bad things, but you don’t get to absolve yourself of responsibility by pointing at those people.
“You’ve got to take care of the children in your custody and control, and that’s what they failed to do.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the center’s stance on mandated reporting during the trial and to clarify the center’s locker room security procedures.