A 28-year-old former Saddleback Valley Unified School District childcare worker molested two boys in the program and sexually assaulted another he was hired to baby-sit, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
Scott Andrew Christensen of Rancho Santa Margarita, who worked in the after-school program for about six years, is being tried on three felony counts of lewd acts on a child younger than 14, with sentence-enhancing allegations of substantial sexual conduct with a child and committing sex acts against multiple victims.
Christensen was previously convicted in April 2008 of two felony counts of lewd acts on a 6-year-old boy; a mistrial was declared on charges which involved a second alleged victim when jurors could not reach verdicts.
Christensen is being retried on the charges on which the first jury deadlocked and a third alleged victim who stepped forward after the first trial, according to Deputy District Attorney Nagy Morcos.
One boy, also about 6 years old, told his father that “Scott touches me,” Morcos told jurors in his opening statement. “Why didn’t you tell me before?” his father asked the boy, according to Morcos. “But, Dad, you said to tell you when it hurts, but it didn’t. It tickled, it felt good,” the boy told his father, according to the prosecutor.
Christensen’s attorney, Gary Pohlson, told jurors that his client does not contest that he sexually assaulted the boy he was baby-sitting in 2006, but denied that the defendant molested the other two boys during “movie time” in The Learning Connection program at Melinda Heights Elementary School in Rancho Santa Margarita.
One of the boys allegedly molested during “movie time,” when the lights were dimmed, ran to the bathroom to wash his hands and sat away from his teacher when he returned, Morcos said.
The molestation happened sometime between May 2000 and August 2004, Morcos said. The boy did not tell anyone until he was 14 and his sister asked him if he was a virgin, the prosecutor said.
“He didn’t know how to answer that,” so he told his sister about the alleged molestation, the prosecutor said. The alleged victim, who is now 17, traveled from Ohio, where his family now lives, to testify.
The second alleged victim will not testify in the trial, Morcos said before opening statements were given. That boy’s parents don’t want him to go back on the stand, because it would be too emotionally traumatic, so Orange County Superior Court Judge Gary Paer ruled last week that jurors could instead hear a reading of his testimony in the first trial, Morcos said.
The child Christensen was convicted of sexually assaulting told his mother that the defendant performed oral sex on him and then had him do the same to Christensen, Morcos said.
“He told me this would give me magic powers,” the prosecution quotes the boy as telling his mother. When the mother told police, investigators had her make a “covert call” to Christensen, Pohlson said. “He admits it immediately,” the defense attorney said. “We do not contest that happened … but it’s different in regard to the others.”
Pohlson said it’s unlikely that Christensen would have seen much of the one boy since his shift ended just about the time the youngster was starting his time in the program. There was about a 30 to 45-minute overlap, Pohlson said. Also, the boy has said he was sure it was a sunny day when he was molested, but the teachers did not typically have movie day unless it was a rainy or gloomy day, Pohlson said.
Christensen could face up to 45 years to life in prison, if convicted.
This incident is one of many molestation cases that have been brought to light since the accusations against Mark Berndt, the former Miramonte Elementary School teacher who is being tried on 23 counts of lewd acts on minors, which included blindfolding the students and feeding them his semen.
In response to the outbreak of charges against teachers, the LAUSD has now banned blindfolds in schools even for the learning purposes for which they originally served.
Blindfolding is part of a fourth-grade reading program designed to teach students sensory details. In pairs, one student is blindfolded and handed an object, and the blindfolded child answers the partner’s questions about the object.
In a memo to principals, Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Jaime Aquino suggested that students could explore objects placed in an opaque bag instead. Some teachers are worried whether the district is going overboard in its response to the actions of one teacher.
South Pasadena attorney Luis Carrillo has filed 33 legal claims against the district claiming that administrators ignored warning signs that Berndt was engaging in improper conduct with children. Carrillo filed 20 claims on behalf of children who were allegedly victimized by 61-year-old Berndt. Another 13 claims were filed on behalf of parents who say they were traumatized when they found out the teacher had been arrested.
Carrillo claims that several complaints about Berndt were made as far back as 1990, but action was never taken and that the district ignored blatant warning signs for years.