Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that the Thacher School is a private institution.
Decades of alleged abuse at a prestigious private school in Ventura County will not be prosecuted due to the expiration of the statute of limitations, according to a joint release from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office.
The investigation centered around the Thacher School in Ojai, an elite private school located northwest of Los Angeles.
In 2020, the school’s board hired a private law firm to investigate reports of sexual abuse involving alumni from the school and employees entrusted with their care.
The school publicly disclosed dozens of accusations of sexual misconduct made by previous students which it said were mishandled by faculty, including two former headmasters.
Following the findings from the school’s independent investigation, Ventura County authorities began their own investigation to determine if criminal charges could be filed against any of the former staff members.
Between July and December 2021, the law firm delivered more than 1,000 electronic files to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, which detailed its investigation into the school.
With those findings, the Sheriff’s Office was able to identify as many as 100 cases of abuse that were considered criminal and required follow-up investigation. But many of the cases were reported as far back as the 1960s, far beyond the legal limit to prosecute crimes of sexual abuse.
Regardless, the Sheriff’s Office and the DA’s Office worked jointly to investigate as many cases as possible, including contacting each victim. Each victim was able to file a report and was also given resources for survivors of sexual abuse.
As the process continued, investigators were forced to dismiss the vast majority of cases due to them having allegedly occurred decades ago. Still, according to officials, investigators tried to pursue every avenue to find possible crimes that would fall within the statute of limitation.
In the end, only three cases were filed for consideration of criminal charges; the other dozens of cases were dismissed after investigators determined them to be clearly beyond the expiration of the legal limit to pursue charges, the victim decided not to pursue charges or authorities were unable to clearly determine that a crime had been committed.
Ultimately, after review, the DA’s Office opted not to file charges in the three other cases, citing the expiration of the statute of limitations.
A secondary investigation by the DA’s Office Juvenile Unit looked into more than 50 reports of child abuse to determine whether or not administrators committed crimes by failing to report the abuse. Again, it was determined that the cases happened beyond the expiration of the statute of limitations and charges were not filed.
In the joint release, both the Sheriff’s Office and the DA’s Office laid much of the blame at the feet of Thacher School and its private representation, which they claim jumped the gun in announcing its findings and may have scared off any involved parties from openly discussing what happened.
The two agencies conceded that the school and the law firm were cooperative in providing materials related to the investigation, but both investigative bodies felt that the investigation was hampered.
“Thacher’s decision to hire a private law firm to investigate allegations of sexual abuse and then issue a public report prior to a law enforcement notification and investigation posed difficulties for detectives and prosecutors, who routinely seek to obtain incriminating statements from suspects in the course of their sexual assault investigations,” Wednesday’s release reads.
Authorities added that it becomes increasingly difficult to gather statements from those involved in an investigation once “suspects are alerted to potential crimes in a public report.”
Many of the people who law enforcement attempted to contact regarding their investigation either declined to speak with them or directed them to their attorneys. Others avoided law enforcement contact altogether, authorities said.
Ultimately, the biggest factor that led to no charges being filed was the passage of time. Both agencies say schools need to become aware of historical sexual assault allegations and report them as early as possible.
“Doing so allows law enforcement to investigate these crimes in a manner that is most conducive to holding sexual offenders accountable,” authorities added.
Despite no charges being filed, authorities are still urging victims of sexual abuse, no matter how long ago it happened, to report it. The Sheriff’s Office and DA’s Office has a joint unit that investigates sexual assault cold cases.
By reporting those previous instances of abuse, victims can obtain help and resources for recovery, as well as increase the likelihood of criminal charges for cases that are within the statute of limitations.
At least two civil suits have been filed by former students against Thacher School, alleging abuse on the part of a school coach, as well as the school’s headmaster, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Thacher School is a private boarding school in the Ojai Valley. The majority of students live on campus while attending classes and tuition costs nearly $70,000 per year, according to the school’s website.
Victims or loved ones of victims who have been impacted by sexual abuse in Ventura County can contact the Family Justice Center at 805-652-7655, or in person at 3170 Loma Vista Road in Ventura.