Santa Monica PD staffer Eric Uller molested children while volunteering at the Police Activities League with underprivileged kids in the 1980s and 1990s. He was arrested in 2018 and killed himself
The City of Santa Monica, California, could face over 100 new payouts for sexual abuse of children under their watch, in what lawyers describe as the biggest compensation for a single predator case in history.
Former Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) staffer Eric Uller molested scores of kids while volunteering at the Police Activities League (PAL), a non-profit for underprivileged youth, in the 1980s and 1990s.
He killed himself after he was arrested in 2018. But the City’s alleged negligence and even cover-up of the abuse has already led to lawsuits and payouts to almost 100 victims totaling over $107million – the cost of the city’s entire police department annual budget.
The City says it has received ‘1,424 claims alleging sexual abuse’ at PAL concerning incidents between 1987 and 1999.
With a December 31, 2022 deadline for claims just days away, one attorney representing alleged victims says there are another 70 payouts currently being negotiated, and she is aware of at least 30 more cases – which could bring the total to at least 200 victims, and tens of millions of dollars more.
Uller worked as an IT technician and dispatcher at SMPD, dressing in police uniform and driving marked and unmarked police cars. Whistleblowers told DailyMail.com they reported the abuse as early as 1993, but were shut down or ignored by senior staff
The City of Santa Monica says it has received ‘1,424 claims alleging sexual abuse’ at PAL concerning incidents between 1987 and 1999. The Santa Monica Police Department is pictured
DailyMail.com spoke to one alleged victim, who told her harrowing story of Uller’s grooming, repeated rape, manipulation and threats that began when she was just seven years old.
Whistleblowers told DailyMail.com they reported the abuse as early as 1993, but were shut down or ignored by senior staff.
Uller worked as an IT technician and dispatcher at SMPD, dressing in police uniform, driving marked and unmarked police cars, and spending lots of time with poor Latino kids who played at PAL after school.
An alleged victim who asked to be named only as JR said she attended PAL with her brother beginning around 1994 when she was seven or eight years old.
‘We would go there all the time, after school, on the weekends,’ she said. ‘I remember meeting him. There was a police car and all the kids were playing in it. They were doing the sirens and playing with the walkie talkie and taking pictures.
‘I remember being so fascinated with the police. I wanted to be a police officer growing up. Now obviously I feel very different.’
JR said Uller’s abuse began with inappropriate touching and quickly progressed to horrific rape.
‘The first time something weird happened, I remember getting in the car, he helped me in and he touched my butt and my vagina from the back,’ she said.
JR said she desperately wanted to be able to play sports with her brother and the older boys at PAL – and Uller used that to his advantage.
‘I remember him telling me he can turn me into a boy and help me play. That’s when everything started happening,’ the 35-year-old said.
‘I would have to masturbate him. He would try to have sex with me. I remember it hurting a lot, a lot. I remember getting blood on my overalls and thinking it was my period.’
JR said the sick predator told her that her hair would stop growing and she would become a boy if he ejaculated on her head.
The despicable abuse continued until she was about 12, she said, and that Uller threatened to throw her and her brother in jail if she told anyone.
So JR bottled it up. She started having panic attacks aged 15. In her 20s she developed a crippling mix of claustrophobia and agoraphobia, then began drinking and committing petty crimes.
‘I was stuck in my room for two years. I could barely shower. I felt like I was suffocating if someone closed the door,’ she said. ‘It consumed me. Every day it was horrific. I was depressed, feeling absolutely nothing, just emptiness and wanting to kill myself.
‘The doctors said it’s just anxiety, nothing’s wrong with you.
‘The best way I can describe it is you feel like you’re drowning but never die.’
She kept it a secret from her family, friends, and even her long-term girlfriend. It wasn’t until last month, when her brother revealed to her that he too had been a victim of the SMPD staffer, that she decided to finally tell her story.
‘More than anything it’s the embarrassment that stopped me,’ she said, adding that she was dreading people dismissing her sexuality as being caused by the abuse.
‘I had almost convinced myself that nothing had ever happened to me,’ JR said. ‘Like, if you don’t think about it, you don’t talk about it, then it never happened.
JR’s lawyer, Catherine Lerer of LA firm McGee, Lerer & Associates, is preparing to file a lawsuit on JR’s behalf and said she has three other male clients who claim they are victims of Uller
‘So many of my friends and family have been molested and I just wanted to be normal.’
But facing her brother’s revelation, she realized she would regret it if she didn’t come forward.
‘I thought, if I don’t say anything, am I just another statistic that gets lost in the dark? This is my one chance to tell what happened to me and get help,’ she said.
JR’s lawyer, Catherine Lerer of LA firm McGee, Lerer & Associates, is preparing to file a lawsuit on JR’s behalf and said she has three other male clients who claim they are victims of Uller.
She has already filed one lawsuit against the SMPD and PAL for one of the men.
‘Uller was given unfettered access to minors. The majority of the minors were underprivileged Latino boys who lived in Santa Monica’s Pico Neighborhood,’ Lerer told DailyMail.com.
‘The purpose of PAL was to build trust between youth and police. These kids thought Uller was a police officer. He took the kids for rides in his unmarked police car. He wore clothing and paraphernalia that identified him as a police officer. The city allowed him to masquerade as a police officer and thereby abuse his position of trust.
‘The city ignored reports and rumors about Uller’s horrific behavior for years. The city had notice beginning in the early 1990’s. Yet Uller wasn’t arrested until October 2018. He had access to these kids for over two decades.
‘The city has already paid off over 100 victims,’ she added. ‘The $107million paid to Uller victims was the highest civic payout to child abuse victims in the US. And there are another 70-100 claims still pending.
‘There are still victims out there, who are now in their mid 30’s to early 50’s, who have never told a soul about what happened to them because they were so traumatized and are ashamed.’
One former staffer at PAL, Michelle Cardiel, told DailyMail.com she reported Uller to the program’s director, Patty Loggins, in 1993 after a boy came to her office and alleged Uller had made sexually inappropriate comments to him
Cardiel, 58, said Uller somehow found out about her report, and visited her the next day, pleading his innocence. She told him to leave
Santa Monica City Councilman Oscar de la Torre also tried to blow the whistle on Uller starting in the early 2000s, but says no action was taken, and the council even retaliated by defunding the youth center he helped run
One former staffer at PAL, Michelle Cardiel, told DailyMail.com she reported Uller to the program’s director, Patty Loggins, in 1993 after a boy came to her office and alleged Uller had made sexually inappropriate comments to him.
‘She said ”do not repeat what you said or I’ll write you up for gossiping.”’ Cardiel said. ‘She came back to the office and spoke to the two police officers that were assigned at that time. They questioned the kid. They said that he took it out of context, that Eric meant no harm by what he said.
‘I was like, are you kidding me? You guys are law enforcement and you’re going to sweep this under the rug?
‘Again I was told by my direct supervisor, Patty Loggins, that if I was to say anything to anybody I would be fired or written up.’
Cardiel reported inappropriate behavior by another staffer, Donald Condon, 64, who turned out to be a pedophile
Cardiel, 58, said Uller somehow found out about her report, and visited her the next day, pleading his innocence. She told him to leave.
‘He was just very condescending to me all the time – up until the kid told on him, then he wanted to be my best friend.
‘It was only because he knew that I knew the truth about him. And he knew I couldn’t discuss it because I would be fired.’
Cardiel left the organization in 1998 – but not before she reported inappropriate behavior by another staffer, Donald Condon, 64, who turned out to be a pedophile.
‘I often complained about him. He was in his early 40s back then.
‘There was a PAL recreation area where kids would always watch movies. This girl, about 14 with shorts on, had her leg entwined over Don’s.
‘I go ‘Don, she’s a little girl, she can’t sit in your lap like that.’ He’s like ‘You’re just jealous it’s not you.’
‘I mentioned it to Patty. She blew it off again saying I shouldn’t have been in the rec room, I should have been at my desk answering phones.’
In 2014 Condon was caught taking upskirt photos of young girls he had taken to a Dodgers game for PAL, and was convicted of a sex offense. He got three years’ probation with no jail time.
The city says it has received claims that a third PAL associate, Fernando Ortega, molested children there.
Santa Monica City Councilman Oscar de la Torre also tried to blow the whistle on Uller starting in the early 2000s, but says no action was taken, and the council even retaliated by defunding the youth center he helped run.
‘Immediately after hearing there was a victim I came forward and talked to the city communications director,’ he said.
‘The Santa Monica City Council de-funded $190,000 from Pico Youth & Family Center and at the same time funded PAL $1.6 million public dollars, while its program director was under investigation for five counts of child molestation,’ he said.
‘The people in power in Santa Monica have a problem with residents speaking out against injustice and to avoid public scrutiny on their own City-run programs they looked the other way as our children were being permanently injured.’
De la Torre (left) said the public has been kept in the dark by the city hiding the results of an internal investigation and settling with every victim out of court. He is pictured with US Rep Ted Lieu
He said it was suspicious that SMPD took over from LAPD the 2014 investigation of their own staffer, Condon, despite the offense occurring in LAPD jurisdiction.
‘Why would SMPD usurp that investigation? You’re not supposed to investigate yourself.
‘If there were adults that knew this was going on and covered it up, to protect themselves from bad publicity or protect the accused who they have a relationship with, I think that would be criminal.
‘There are staff in the city government that are guilty as sin. Not one has lost a job over this.’
De la Torre said the public has been kept in the dark by the city hiding the results of an internal investigation and settling with every victim out of court.
Attorneys Irma Rodríguez Moisa and Gabriel Sandoval of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, hired by Santa Monica to conduct the internal probe, did not respond to DailyMail.com’s request for comment.
‘I don’t know the extent of the cover up, but I think there has been a cover up,’ Lerer said.
‘I have to believe that the results of the investigation were suppressed because they put the city in a very bad light, that government officials knew or should have known that Uller was abusing children, and ignored it.’
A 2019 California law extended the deadline for filing lawsuits over historic child abuse claims that would otherwise be barred due to the statute of limitations.
Lawyers say victims now have until December 31 to file claims against the City, PAL or other entities.
The city says it has paid out a total $107.3million so far, including $38million to 19 victims, and between $850,000 and $1,050,000 individually to five others.