WALNUT CREEK -- Several city employees could face charges that they knew about suspected child sex abuse by a former employee at the Lesher Center and failed to tell police.
Jason Pedroza, 27, turned himself into police in February after Contra Costa prosecutors filed four felony and misdemeanor charges that he sexually assaulted two underage girls last fall, according to police and prosecutors.
On Thursday, Walnut Creek police sent criminal investigation reports to the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office. Those reports investigated a "handful" of employees and their possible failure to report the abuse allegations against Pedroza to police, said City Manager Ken Nordhoff.
A high-ranking city official, who wished to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak to the media on the matter, said police are "recommending" charges.
Nordhoff declined to name the employees under investigation but said he is not one of them.
"The District Attorney's Office is reviewing the Walnut Creek reports," said Nancy Georgiou, senior deputy district attorney and head of the sex crimes unit. She declined to comment further on report details.
State law lists 44 types of "mandated reporters," public and private employees who deal with children through their work and are required to report any suspicion of abuse or neglect. While some reporters, like teachers, are obvious, it is less clear which city employees qualify.
Neither city nor law enforcement officials would say why it is suspected that some city employees were aware of possible child abuse by Pedroza. However, in November, Lesher Center Manager Scott Denison fired Pedroza, a well-known actor and teacher in the area, Nordhoff said. Pedroza worked for the Lesher Center in downtown Walnut Creek and for Young REP, a summer theater workshop for children operated by the city-owned theater company Center REPertory. He was a part-time city employee making $3,600 last year.
The reasons for Pedroza's firing have not been disclosed.
Pleasant Hill police began investigating allegations against Pedroza last fall after a parent of a suspected victim contacted them, said Pleasant Hill police Sgt. Gary Brown. Pleasant Hill began working with Walnut Creek police after their investigation led them to the Lesher Center, where officers interviewed employees.
Walnut Creek police began their own investigation of certain city employees to determine whether they knew of the abuse allegations before the Pleasant Hill department contacted them.
"Walnut Creek was looking into who knew what when," Brown said.
Walnut Creek police Chief Joel Bryden would not comment, citing the ongoing investigation, other than to say they are taking the matter seriously.
Denison did not return a call for comment. Barry Gordon, director of arts, recreation and community services, would not comment.
Danville police opened a separate investigation into Pedroza on Nov. 12. That case started as a suspicious circumstance and remains classified as that, said Chief Steve Simpkins, who would not comment further.
Pedroza was charged in February with two felonies -- using a minor for a sex act and contacting a minor for the purpose of engaging in lewd and lascivious behavior -- and misdemeanor sexual battery and child molestation.
Aside from the criminal investigation, Walnut Creek this week hired outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation into what happened and to examine the city's procedures and policies concerning child abuse reporting, Nordhoff said. That investigator will have "carte blanche" to interview witnesses and examine documents, he said.
In the meantime, Nordhoff said this is the city's biggest priority, and he has reached out to the county's Child Abuse Council for assistance.
The City Hall chief plans to propose a new policy that goes beyond state law. It would require all city employees to consider themselves a "mandated reporter," he said. The city will provide training, and has offered training in the past for those who work directly with children, Nordhoff said.
"I believe all of us have a moral or ethical responsibility that goes beyond the law that if we sense something that is going on, especially with children, we have the duty to report it to the local authorities," he said. "That would be my course of action. I believe that individually as a human being."
This isn't the first time the Lesher Center has run into legal troubles.
In 2004, Denison pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor conflict-of-interest charge filed by the District Attorney's Office related to contracts he signed with family members for Lesher Center business. He was sentenced to three years' informal probation, 60 hours of community service and a $120 fine.
The city in 2005 paid a $1.1 million settlement to six former Lesher Center employees who alleged harassment and retaliation by Denison after they blew the whistle on his mismanagement at the center.
At that time, an independent forensic accountant found indications of waste, abuse and fraud at the center, and the city reprimanded Denison with a four-week unpaid suspension. He served two weeks and was docked two weeks' vacation pay but was allowed to keep his job.
Staff writer Malaika Fraley contributed to this report. Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10. Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.