From the looks of it, Harald Martin just doesn't know how to keep his mouth shut.
In case you've forgotten, Martin is the 20-year veteran patrol officer with the Anaheim Police Department who also serves as board president of the Anaheim Union High School District. Two months ago, he caused a major controversy when he formally urged the school board to bill Mexico $50 million for the cost of educating undocumented schoolchildren. Martin also demanded that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) begin investigating school databases to see how many children lack proper documentation. So far, the controversial proposals have gone nowhere, thanks in large measure to the fact that INS policy strictly prohibits the agency from carrying out raids or other enforcement actions at or near a school.
But now Martin is on the hot seat thanks to an entirely different controversy, one stemming from comments he made in an Aug. 28 article in the Times Orange County. Under the headline “Teacher's Victim Awarded $2.5 Million,” the story deals with the case of Desiree Fritz, a 19-year-old who was allegedly molested over six years by one of her teachers, 57-year-old Clifford Scofield. Scofield pleaded guilty to 19 counts of child molestation in the case and has served 13 months in state prison. He was arrested in June 1997 after the victim's mother discovered love letters that Scofield had written to her daughter.
After Scofield's conviction, a county jury found that while the teacher was “primarily liable” for the abuse, the Anaheim school district was also negligent by failing to prevent the molestation, which reportedly began when Fritz was a 13-year-old high school student.
In his interview with the Times, Martin expressed amazement at the damage award, insisting that the school district knew nothing of the abuse and therefore could not possibly have prevented it. He told Times reporters Richard Marosi and Kate Folmar that it “was one of those cases that nobody knew about until years later.”
And then Martin reportedly uttered the words for which he has become most recently infamous: “If both parties kept it secret . . . I think there's some culpability on the victim's part.”
That was enough for Bernadette Medrano, a Santa Ana-based community activist who has wrangled with various school districts over the years. She told the Weekly that she sent more than a dozen letters detailing Martin's statements to numerous agencies that investigate wrongdoing by public officials, among them the California Department of Education's complaint department, the U.S. Justice Department, the Orange County District Attorney and the California Attorney General.
None of those agencies has responded so far, but Medrano isn't ready to give up yet. She has also e-mailed 152 copies of her letter to groups and officials around the country—everyone from the mayor of Anaheim to the League of Women Voters.
“I find it unfathomable that the leader of a school district believes that a girl is to blame or [is] even in a small part at fault for keeping silent about being molested by an instructor that started when she was 13 and lasted for years,” Medrano stated in her heavily circulated letter. “This representative of the school board does the community a disservice and should be removed forthwith either by public pressure or any other lawful means.”
In an interview with the Weekly, Medrano said she is motivated by her personal disgust with the remarks Martin made—not because of his previous, well-known efforts on behalf of the anti-immigration cause. “This crosses color lines,” said Medrano, pointing out that the victim isn't Latino. “This is about our kids, our babies. The reason I am involved is because other parents are afraid to publicly complain for fear of retaliation against them, their families, or their high-school-age children by Harald Martin.”
Medrano said she plans to address the Anaheim school board at its Oct. 7 meeting. That's when she'll demand that Martin apologize to the victim, her parents and the rest of the school district's children. “What I'm requesting is that the school board publicly repudiate Harald Martin,” Medrano explained.
Martin was unavailable for comment by press time, but in a Sept. 20 letter to Medrano, he asserted that he had no reason to apologize to anyone.
“As a police officer, I know intimately what the word 'culpable' means,” Martin wrote. “I know how it should be applied and when it should be used. I know exactly the context in which I said that a victim of a crime was also 'culpable' in her situation.
“I have over 20 years of blood, sweat and tears of experience with which to back it up,” Martin continued. “I stand by my words, and no amount of your unsubstantiated vitriolic rhetoric will change it. Your actions are nothing less than those of a politically correct terrorist with a mailing list.”
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).