Credit: Xland99 / Wikimedia Commons

Dozens of sexual abuse allegations spanning four decades at The Thacher School in Ojai spurred a year-long criminal investigation by local authorities. But it concluded with no charges filed.

Detectives and prosecutors from the Ventura County Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s offices looked into the allegations on an individual, case-by-case basis, but a number of factors hampered their investigation, the Sheriff’s and DA’s offices said in a joint statement on December 28. 

The allegations were detailed in a 90-page, 2021 report commissioned by the elite boarding school. The report includes numerous alleged accounts of rape, groping, and unwanted touching at the school. It also names six alleged perpetrators, including a former Thacher headmaster, multiple teachers, and a soccer coach. In addition, the report details alleged efforts by former school administrators to cover up complaints and blame teenage victims. 

In an interview with the Independent late last year, Detective Sergeant Ryan Clark said that many of the victims were surprised when the Sheriff’s Office followed up with them on the allegations, as they had assumed the investigation ended with the school’s report. He said some survivors expressed hope that legal action could be taken. 

However, Clark also relayed the difficulty in prosecuting these cases. Since the allegations date back to the 1960s, a majority of cases were past the statute of limitations for potential criminal charges to be filed. Many of the victims are now in their forties and fifties. 

The passage of time, along with the school’s decision to hire a private law firm to investigate the allegations and issue a public report prior to notifying law enforcement, “posed difficulties for detectives and prosecutors,” according to the December statement. 

Authorities said that when suspects are alerted to potential crimes before law enforcement involvement, “the likelihood of gathering statements from those suspects to corroborate or negate allegations becomes exceedingly difficult.”

Suspects can decline to be interviewed, refer law enforcement inquiries to retained lawyers, or “take steps to avoid law enforcement notification and contact altogether,” all of which are scenarios that occurred in the course of the Thacher investigation, authorities said.

Thacher School hired the Los Angeles law firm Munger, Tolles, and Olson (MTO) in August 2020 to investigate the allegations related to former students and faculty at the school, many of which were initially brought to light by a social media campaign that provided a platform for students’ stories and was spearheaded by the Instagram account @rpecultureatthacher

The Ventura Sheriff’s Office was first notified of the then-ongoing investigation by MTO in June 2021, according to authorities. One week later, MTO released an initial public report detailing many of the allegations being made against former administrators and students of Thacher. 

Despite the difficulties that arose from the report being made public, Thacher School and MTO “were cooperative in providing materials” to assist in the criminal investigation, authorities said. 

Between July and December 2021, MTO delivered more than one thousand electronic files to the Sheriff’s Office, which included reports by the law firm and other supporting documents that detectives could then organize into individual case files. 

Approximately 100 criminal cases were identified, dating all the way back to the 1960s and including a few that “became known during the 2021 school year.” The Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney investigated the cases jointly, and “endeavored to uncover facts triggering the longest statute of limitations available by conducting a thorough and comprehensive evaluation of each and every case,” according to their December statement. 

Detectives investigated each potential crime and reached out to all of the affected students to give them the opportunity to discuss and report their abuse, as well as receive survivor benefits and resources to help with follow-up and recovery, authorities said. 

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Meanwhile, the District Attorney investigated potential crimes committed by school employees who failed to report suspected child abuse to law enforcement.

Investigators examined more than 50 incidents for potential failure to report child abuse crimes  by reviewing materials provided by MTO and conducting interviews with victims and school employees, authorities said. 

However, in each case, authorities said charges could not be filed due to the “expiration of the statute of limitations, a lack of knowledge of the underlying crime by school employees, or the lack of the commission of a crime triggering mandated reporting requirements.” In some instances, they said, “prosecutors determined timely reports were properly made to law enforcement.”

Of the 100 total criminal cases identified, only three cases were submitted to the District Attorney’s Office for filing consideration in 2022. Prosecutors ultimately declined to file charges in those three cases because they were also determined to fall outside the statute of limitations. 

The other cases were not submitted for filing consideration “because they fell clearly outside the statute of limitations, the victims sought no prosecution, or no crime could be established,” authorities said. 

During the course of the investigation, the District Attorney’s Juvenile Unit filed a separate criminal case that occurred on Thacher’s campus in juvenile court, but it was unrelated to the ongoing investigation and was not discussed in the MTO report.

In a statement from Thacher, the school said it is “grateful to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department and Office of the District Attorney for the significant time and resources devoted to investigating allegations of sexual misconduct at Thacher, including those uncovered during an investigation conducted by Munger Tolles & Olson (MTO). 

“Throughout the investigation, MTO and Thacher have continued to cooperate and share information with law enforcement,” the statement said. “This has been done to support law enforcement’s efforts while working toward the release of public reports that provide transparency and accountability for what has occurred at the School. Doing so has allowed Thacher to learn from its past, provide better support for survivors, and implement safety enhancements to keep students safe. MTO and Thacher continue to work with law enforcement toward the release of a supplemental report that furthers these goals. Thacher expects to make the supplemental report public once law enforcement’s review is complete. In the meantime, Thacher again expresses its sincere thanks to law enforcement for their work.”

While the criminal investigation has hit a dead end, a couple of survivors of child sexual abuse at Thacher have sought recompense through filing civil lawsuits against the school

Despite the lack of charges in the recent case, local authorities are encouraging victims of previously unreported sexual assault crimes at Thacher or elsewhere to report these crimes to law enforcement. 

“The challenges inherent in the cases discussed here are not necessarily present in every unreported sexual assault case,” authorities said. “In fact, the District Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office recently created a cold case sexual assault unit aimed at bringing justice to victims of unsolved sexual assault cases.”

Victims wishing to make a report of sexual assault may contact the law enforcement agency either where the event occurred or where the victim resides. A sexual assault victim may receive support from the Ventura County Family Justice Center regardless of whether they wish to report a crime to law enforcement. 

If you or someone you know has been impacted, contact the Ventura County Family Justice Center for assistance. The Family Justice Center is located at 3170 Loma Vista Road in Ventura. During business hours, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., requests for services and information are available in person, by telephone (805) 652-7655, by email at, or by text at (805) 947-7981.

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