A longtime Los Angeles County Park employee was arrested on suspicion of improperly touching at least four children, all under age 14. Donald Lee Johnson had worked at the park for 40 years, and police are concerned about what had been going on the previous decades he worked there. Anyone with more information is urged to call the LA Sheriff's Department. Patrick Healy reports from Whittier for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on June 6, 2013.
At age 62, Donald Lee Johnson has served 40 years as a Los Angeles County park employee, and was still running recreational programs for children at Ted Watkins Memorial Park.
Johnson was arrested this week for alleged inappropriate touching of four children at the park.
As the Sheriff's Special Victims Bureau prepares to bring the case to the District Attorney for filing, investigators are pursuing the suspicion there may be decades worth of victimization that never came to light.
"He was a recreational leader for the park, so he had access to kids," said Sheriff's Sgt. Richard Ruiz.
Unspecified evidence came to the attention of other park employees, Ruiz said, and investigators were contacted Wednesday. Hours later, they arrested Johnson and booked him at the South Los Angeles Sheriff's station. He's being held in lieu of $250,000 bail.
Ruiz said the four victims – all under the age of 15 – were victimized in an office near the park's computer lab.
Investigators have pinned down the time period during which the alleged lewd conduct occurred, Ruiz said, but at this point in the investigation are not prepared to make that information public.
At a news briefing Thursday afternoon at the Sheriff's Star Center in Whittier, Ruiz urged anyone with information about the current case or additional incidents involving Johnson to come forward.
"That's the reason for this press conference," Ruiz said.
Thursday afternoon the park's playground was busy with children and parents watching them. Two mothers spoke of how much their toddlers enjoy playing at the park, and expressed surprise on hearing of the arrest.
"It makes me want to hold my children tighter," Cristina Contreras said.
"I am shocked and deeply disturbed that one of our employees has been accused of this crime," said Russ Guiney, director of Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation.
He said the department stands ready "to provide all possible victims with any assistance, services, and resources they need."
Guiney and Ruiz both declined to reveal whether any previous complaints had been made against Johnson during his decades with county parks.
Security cameras are in place at Watkins Park, and NBC4 was informed by an LA County employee with knowledge of the investigation that video implicating Johnson has been recovered. Ruiz declined to discuss any evidence gathered so far.
Investigators were expected to present a case to the District Attorney for filing Friday morning, with arraignment in the afternoon.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Special Victims Bureau at 877-710-5271, or email SpecialVictims@lasd.org. LA Crime Stoppers will accept and forward information from those who wish to remain anonymous.