Cutler Crowell, 71, has lived in Fort Bragg for many years where he’s raised a family and enjoys an unblemished reputation. Age has taken its inevitable toll, especially on Crowell’s back. Swimming is the only vigorous exercise left to him. He gets that necessary daily workout at the C.V. Starr Community Center, a large swimming pool and a weight room. The pool is shared by people of all ages and is managed by the Mendocino Parks and Recreation District.
Mr. Crowell’s daily swim regimen had been uneventful for all the years the pool had been open.
A senior citizen out for an early afternoon swim in his community pool? What could possibly go wrong?
Lots, as it turned out.
Almost exactly a year ago, on the sunny, late Fall day of November 7th 2018, Crowell’s life veered from daily predictability into a turbulent year of false accusations and threats against him out of all proportion to the known facts of an episode so minor it barely qualifies as an episode.
Crowell said he “was at the C.V. Starr Center for my usual swim workout at about 1:30pm. I finished about 2:30pm and went into the locker room. After my shower I was at my locker changing into my clothes. A bunch of kids entered the locker room from the pool, and proceeded to crowd around me as I was sitting at my locker. These kids have been coming to the pool regularly as a group, and there has been no adult supervision for them. There were at least 8 or 9 kids in my immediate area. They were loud. I told them, ‘That’s enough now,’ and they had a good laugh about that. I finished dressing and stood up to leave. There were three kids blocking my way past the bench where I had been sitting. I asked them to move and started to leave. As I got past the bench one kid approached me and said ‘something something dirty old man.’ (I couldn’t hear everything because it was very loud in the locker room.) I put my hand out to keep him away from me and left. Halfway to the door I realized that I had left my bag on the bench, and I went back to get it. When I got to the front desk I complained to the staff that there was a bunch of kids in the locker room who were out of control, and that there was no adult supervision.”
An amiable, soft spoken, grandfatherly man who smiles a lot, Crowell is an unlikely villain, but within an hour of his encounter with the diminutive rat pack, Crowell was being advertised all over town as a child beater. The vilified senior later said he’d simply, reflexively, put his hand up to keep a child screaming at him away from him as he tried to make his way out of the locker room.
The child’s mother made it seem as if the old man had, thug-style, slammed her feral son up against a locker, then threatened the boy to do it again.
Historical perspective: Used to be children respected their elders, or at least pretended to. Now, generally speaking, and certainly in this case, the parent simply takes the child’s version as truth, no questions asked, and runs to the police to claim her child has been the victim of a crime.
One adult witnessed the non-occurrence involving Mr. Crowell but was never interviewed. Many other adults, have complained about unruly, unsupervised children in the locker room. One adult later had his pool privileges briefly revoked for complaining, apparently a tad too emphatically for management sensitivities, about unsupervised kids in the locker room.
Moneque Wooden is coordinator of the Kudos after school program overseen the Redwood Elementary School. She took statements from the small boys who witnessed the Crowell incident. Ms. Wooden had, out of necessity, and by her own admission, sent 17 small boys, “supervised” by a 13-year-old, into the men’s locker room. She was short male supervisors and, surrounded by a small herd of energetic little boys, had unleashed them into the locker room all at once.
Post-incident, Ms. Wooden took statements beginning with the alleged victim, who told her, “We were all in the dressing room getting dressed. The man was on the other side, but I was in his way, so the man said, ‘Move,’ but when I moved, I bumped into him because the man didn’t move when I tried to get out of his way. Then the man used both his hands and shoved me on purpose into the lockers. Then the man left and then he came back to grab his bag and he said, ‘Do you want some more?’ After that we all finished getting dressed and lined up in the hallway. Then the lifeguard and a woman from Kudos walked me to the front desk. I told the woman at the front desk what happened and she wrote down what I said.”
Doesn’t sound much like a verbatim statement from a 7-year-old, but that’s what Ms. Wooden wrote.
The Kudos coordinator also interviewed another boy who said, “The man used the F word to us. After that we started talking about him…” And a third boy said the alleged vic “was being a little rude to the man.”
On her part, Ms. Wooden conceded that she usually dispatched the boys in groups of six, tacit recognition that small boys in large groups are synonymous with chaos who always require adult supervision.
Lisa Whiteside is the mother of the 7-year-old boy who claimed Crowell had assaulted him. In her words, circulated 48 hours before the Small Claims Court hearing via Facebook, “He shoved him into a locker and started yelling and swearing at him before exiting the locker room then coming back and getting in his face to ‘see if he wanted more’.” This of course brought out the internet trolls, resulting in doxing Mr. Crowell along with the accompanied threats.
On the evening of the alleged incident, Crowell, a man who had never resorted to corporal punishment with his own children, found himself under suspicion by a Fort Bragg policeman.
“That evening I got a call from a Fort Bragg police officer who asked me about an ‘incident’ at the Starr Center. At first I didn’t know what he was talking about, but then he mentioned that a mother had filed a complaint about me pushing her kid and cursing at him.”
The officer seemed to assume that the complaint against Crowell was true. He reminded Crowell, as if he didn’t know, that “child abuse” is a felony. “His exact words, I believe, were, ‘You know you can be charged with a felony.’ I explained to him what happened. He gave me a lecture about ‘keeping my hands off other people’s kids,’ and that as far as he was concerned that was it.”
Kudos after school program, and Park and Rec’s guidelines, emphasize adult supervision at all times in the pool and locker rooms when children are on the premises, and have since agreed that a 13-year-old boy is not adult supervision. Yet both programs have failed to require adult supervision for activites at the C.V. Starr Center. Both programs have failed to follow their own policies. Staff at the C.V. Starr Center altered a “Pool Rules” sign that said “Children ages 7 and under must be accompanied by an Adult age 18 and over at all times.” The “18” was covered by white tape with a hand written “14” over the top of the 18.
Dan Keyes is Park and Rec’s man in charge at the C.V. Starr Center.
Two days after the incident, November 9th, Keyes notified Crowell that his pool privileges were revoked “pending formal criminal charges.”
Did Ms. Whiteside already have copies of a vague police report as the police report was not signed until November 10?
Did Keyes issue the insulting and embarrassing ban on Crowell on the basis of rumor and hearsay?
Crowell met with Keyes on November 8th, and gave him the report he had given police.
Even more unfair was the quick, informal circulation of the supposedly confidential, not-for-public-circulation of the informal police report, which had not been signed by the police until the 10th. The DA didn’t get it until 13th, and when the DA did get the report he tossed it as so trivial it warranted no attention, let alone prosecution.
But it was already all over town, distributed by people like Keyes who shouldn’t have had it in the first place.
When Keyes, his gossiping staff, and Parks and Rec’s board of directors, led by the unshakably righteous Bob Bushansky, were informed that the non-case against Crowell had been round-filed by the DA, Bushansky and his board not only ignored Crowell’s formal request for reinstatement but demanded he apologize!
Both sides were soon communicating through lawyers, Parks and Rec via coast attorney Jim Jackson, Crowell via inland attorney Jim King.
When Crowell complained that he was being denied a fair hearing by Parks and Rec, the all-knowing Bushansky declared, “I do not believe that due process applies here in anyway [sic] shape or form. Nothing like this has ever happened before. There is nothing in the by-laws pertaining to appeals by a subscriber to the C.V. Starr Center. There will not under any circumstances an attempt to intimidate 7 year old children by an older man that has allegedly assaulted one of the boys. It just won’t happen.”
Bushansky The Infallible assumed the allegation was true. Case closed. Moreover, if Crowell didn’t apologize to the Whiteside family, Bushansky and Co. “would meet in closed session to decide the matter.”
Things dragged on, with Crowell insisting he did nothing wrong, that his side of the episode was still unheard and that he was still being denied a fair hearing or any hearing at all by the Parks and Rec board of directors.
On the 21st of February — roughly four months after the incident — Crowell’s attorney, Jim King, wrote to Park and Rec’s legal rep, Jim Jackson: “My client, Cutler Crowell, will be happy to sign Dist code of conduct but not willing to apologize for something he did not do….Any hearing before the Board on Mr. Crowell’s appeal must be open to the public. My client should be given the opportunity to see, hear and question the witnesses against him, and present his own evidence.”
Basic American democratic request, one would think.
By the time Crowell got back in the pool, he’d spent a small fortune on legal representation.
But that condescending, grudging pool access re-permission was granted by the ineffable Keyes and Parks and Rec with no witnesses interviewed, no due process for Crowell, and serial email violations by Bushansky and Company of the Brown Act as they debated, out of public view, how to handle the Crowell matter.
Crowell’s final, and ignored communication to Parks and Rec was written in August of 2019. This was an offer to settle small claims for the cost ($2,680.50) for his legal fees only. He asked (1) that the decision to suspend Crowell was wrong, (2) to acknowledge there was an unacknowledged witness, (3) that Crowell was denied due process. Crowell also asked for proof that this apology or correction of the record has been distributed to Parks and Rec board members and staff.
The modest request was also ignored.
And, just two weeks ago, almost a year after being harassed in the C.V. Starr locker room by unsupervised children, and having endured a year of social media vilification, Crowell was before judge Jeanine Nadel in Ten Mile Court asking that his legal fees be refunded by Parks and Rec.
The judge is considering Crowell’s claim.