Molested Children Sue Optimist Group, Saying Backgroung Check Did Not Flag Pediphile
Sep. 26–A simple Google search could have saved two 11-year-old Broward boys from the pedophile who molested them while serving as their baseball coach, a lawsuit filed Tuesday against youth service organization Optimist International on the boys’ behalf asserts.
The former Cooper City Optimist Club coach, David Solomon, pleaded guilty in 2017 to sexually abusing the two boys and is currently serving a sentence of 12 years behind bars and 10 years on probation.
The children and their parents are seeking damages for the “incomprehensible harm” of the abuse — likely millions of dollars, according to Scott Mager, lead attorney on the lawsuit for the Broward County-based firm Mager Parúas.
The suit states that Optimist International had a “flawed” background check policy that only disqualified candidates who had prior convictions, allowing people like Solomon — who had a history of alleged sexual misconduct against children — to still be hired.
There were warning signs with Solomon. While working at Miami Shores Recreation Center, he had been arrested and charged with three felony counts of “lewd and lascivious” molestation. The charges were later dropped.
But in a 2001 pretrial diversion agreement connected to one of the molestation charges, Solomon signed a statement admitting: “I was wrestling with …(a minor), and in doing so, I may have touched him inappropriately.”
The pretrial diversion agreement forced Solomon to relinquish his teaching license and barred him from future employment as a teacher in Florida. He was required to spend a minimum of 18 months in counseling and participate in 250 hours of community service. Until he completed the conditions of the agreement, Solomon was prohibited from coaching, supervising or having any position that placed him in contact with minors.
Solomon and his employer later faced a civil lawsuit in 2003 from one of the alleged victims in the molestation charges.
None of this later disqualified Solomon to work unsupervised with Cooper City children as their baseball coach. Optimist International’s background check policy only limits people with criminal convictions from becoming volunteers, according to the new lawsuit against Optimist International.
There are over 2,500 Optimist clubs across the world, all under the authority of Optimist International which stipulates the rules and guidelines for member organizations — including background check policies, the lawsuit alleges.
Optimist International describes its mission as seeking to “aid and encourage the development of youth.” Member organizations offer youth sports clubs like flag football, soccer and softball.
The Cooper City Optimist Club which hired Solomon stated that he “passed comprehensive background checks.” The Cooper City club could not be reached for comment.
“A rudimentary background check of Solomon would have revealed the allegations regarding Solomon and disqualified him from a position where he could prey on children,” the lawsuit claims.
The Optimist Club of Cooper City website says that its background check policy is “under review,” but that applicants will only be disqualified if they have been found guilty of sex offenses, felonies or misdemeanors, or defendants in pending cases. The background check policy for Optimist International’s board of directors and leadership establishes a similar framework.
The parents of the two boys sexually abused by Solomon completed a pre-suit mediation with the Cooper City Optimist club in January, 2018, according to Mager, the families’ attorney. Optimist International refused to acknowledge liability or participate in the mediation process, Mager said.
Optimist International has not changed its background check policies after Solomon’s abuse came to light, Mager added.
“We gave them the opportunity to try and resolve this and put better protections in place and they chose to thumb their nose at us,” Mager said. “The right thing to do would have been to accept responsibility and immediately install remedial measures to prevent this from ever happening again.”
Optimist International did not respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit states that as far back as 2013, the Optimist International leadership had warned the board of directors that its background check policies were insufficient and made clubs “vulnerable” to “infiltration” by sexual predators.
A 2013 presentation to the Optimist International board of directors explained that the majority of sex offenders do not have criminal records, according to the meeting minutes published on Optimist International’s website and referenced in the lawsuit.
The summary of the presentation stated: “Optimist Clubs consequently need to go beyond criminal record checks and take additional steps to ensure the safety of children in their care by implementing effective risk management policies and programs.”
One of the two presenters, then East Ontario Optimist Governor Robert Doyle, confirmed the presentation Tuesday. The other presenter, then Past Vice President Claire Labrèche, could not be reached for comment.
The board did not take any actions to change the company’s background check policies or implement the presentation’s suggestions, the lawsuit says.
Parents of boys on the baseball team had not been notified of Solomon’s previous molestation charges, the lawsuit notes. They had “no idea they were sending their children into such an extraordinarily dangerous environment.”
Solomon abused the trust of the children and their families and will “leave them scarred for life” the lawsuit states. The families will likely seek millions in damages, Mager said.
“We need policies and procedures in organizations that demand their leaders, their coaches, their facilitators, are not people who are predators, or can wrongfully influence our kids,” Mager said. “And that’s the bottom line with this.”