A confidential investigation by Los Angeles police and child welfare officials concluded earlier this year that allegations Michael Jackson sexually abused a cancer-stricken boy were “unfounded,” according to an internal government memo obtained by The Smoking Gun.
The probe’s findings were based, in large part, on interviews with the alleged victim, his two siblings, and the boy’s mother. According to the memo, when the child was questioned in February by a social worker assigned to the Sensitive Case Unit of L.A.’s Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS), he “denied any form of sexual abuse” by Jackson and said that he never “slept in the same bed as the entertainer.” While not specifically named in the DCFS memo, the 45-year-old Jackson is referred to repeatedly as “the entertainer.”
The memo notes that the boy, now 14, and his 12-year-old brother–who also denied sexual abuse–expressed “a fondness for the entertainer and stated they enjoyed visiting his home, where they would often ride in the park, play video games, and watch movies.” The pair’s sister, now 17, told a social worker that she accompanied the boys on “sleepovers at the entertainers home,” but had “never seen anything sexually inappropriate between her brothers and the entertainer.”
The children’s mother told investigators that Jackson was “like a father to the children and a part of her family.” While acknowledging that her son “has slept in the same room as the entertainer,” the woman claimed “they did not share a bed. The entertainer would sleep on the floor,” according to the November 26 memo.
The joint probe by DCFS and the Los Angeles Police Department ran from February 14-27 and, the memo states, the “investigation by the Sensitive Case Unit concluded the allegations of neglect and sexual abuse to be unfounded both by the LAPD-Wilshire Division and the Department.”
When an investigation is closed, child welfare officials can summarize their findings in one of three ways. If evidence is found to support abuse charges, the case is marked “substantiated.” A case is termed “not substantiated” when evidence discovered is not sufficient to support allegations (though the charges may, in fact, be true). Finally, a matter is branded “unfounded” when officials determine there is no merit to the allegations.
As with many DCFS investigations, the Jackson abuse case began with a call to the agency’s child abuse hotline. According to the memo, a “Child Abuse Referral” was phoned in on February 14 by a “school official” from the Los Angeles Unified School District, which oversees the city’s sprawling public school system. Citing the prior week’s ABC broadcast of “Living with Michael Jackson,” the controversial Martin Bashir documentary, the school official lodged allegations of “general neglect by mother and sexual abuse by ‘an entertainer,'” according to the summary memo. The school official identified both the cancer patient, then 13, and his younger brother as the “referred children.”
While the school official is not further identified in the DCFS memo, published reports have indicated that the older boy was taunted by classmates after the documentary aired on ABC’s “20/20” newsmagazine. During the February 6 program, the child was seen holding hands with Jackson and resting his head against the singer’s shoulder. Jackson told Bashir that he had slept with many children unrelated to him, but insisted, “It’s not sexual, we’re going to sleep. I tuck them in…It’s very charming, it’s very sweet.”
In a clear reference to fallout from the Bashir documentary, the boy’s mother told investigators that “she believed the media had taken everything out of context,” according to the memo, which summarizes the DCFS child abuse investigation. The “sensitive case” memo was prepared at the direction of Dr. Charles Sophy, a high-ranking DCFS official who joined the department in late-March, a month after the Jackson probe was completed. The memo was authored by Jennifer Hottenroth, a DCFS assistant regional administrator. In a brief telephone interview yesterday morning, Hottenroth declined to speak about her memo, saying, “I can’t talk about it…I can refer you to our public affairs person. I can’t comment on any of this.” Sophy (pictured at right) did not return a message left with his assistant. Louise Grasmehr, a DCFS spokesperson, said that while she had been given a copy of the document by Hottenroth Monday morning, “We cannot comment on anything that is stated in the memo. Because it’s all protected under confidentiality laws in California.”
The boy’s February 2003 interview with child abuse investigators–not to mention those with his family–appears to run counter to allegations he later made to law enforcement officials in Santa Barbara, where Jackson was arrested November 20 and released on $3 million bail. District Attorney Thomas Sneddon has said that he expects to file felony child molestation charges against Jackson next week. In addition to the boy’s original denial of sexual abuse by Jackson, his younger brother’s February 2003 statements also appear to contradict recent published reports claiming that the child has told Santa Barbara investigators that he witnessed his brother being molested by the star.
While it is unclear what, if any, effect the LAPD-DCFS investigation will have on a future Jackson prosecution, the performer’s defense team will surely seize on the February 2003 probe’s findings to question the current veracity and motives of the child and his family–and, of course, further muddy a case that already promises to be a difficult prosecution.
The child abuse investigation was immediately placed with the Sensitive Case Unit since department guidelines dictate that if “one of the clients in the referral is a public figure” or if the case’s allegations “would be certain to generate media interest if they became known outside of DCFS,” the matter requires utmost secrecy.
As with most DCFS abuse cases, a children’s social worker (CSW) was dispatched to interview the boys, as was a LAPD investigator (the memo does not indicate whether the cop and the social worker conducted their interviews in tandem). In either case, it is likely that the children were questioned apart from their mother, since the abuse referral included allegations of neglect on the woman’s part, according to a DCFS source familiar with agency operations.
The allegations examined this year in the LAPD-DCFS probe mirror sex abuse claims that surfaced in 1993, when a 13-year-old California boy claimed that the pop star molested him. Jackson, who was not charged in that case, reportedly made a multimillion dollar payment to settle a civil suit brought by the child and his family.