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State Failed to Heed Abuse Warnings

6 Mar 2005

By Michelle Roberts

Summary: A family raised concerns about Michael Boyles long before the probation officer was accused of molesting boys he supervised

Aaron Munoz was born addicted to heroin and died in a prison cell.

On Jan. 28, at age 21, he hanged himself with a bed sheet at the Oregon State Penitentiary. He was despondent, he told his family, because his youth probation officer had sexually abused him for years. After Munoz's suicide, his family said they had complained repeatedly to state juvenile department supervisors about the probation officer, Michael Lee Boyles.

They were not alone.

The Oregonian has discovered that 10 years ago -- more than a year before Boyles allegedly began to abuse Munoz -- state officials received repeated and detailed warnings from a family raising concerns about Boyles and his behavior with another boy on his caseload. The warnings, received and responded to at a high level within the juvenile department, were earlier and more detailed than previously known.

Top juvenile department officials promised to investigate Boyles, according to a letter sent to the family, and to remove the child in question from his caseload. But documents show neither happened.

The Oregon Department of Human Resources' juvenile probation and parole division -- later reorganized into the Oregon Youth Authority -- also failed to report the suspected sexual abuse to police and child welfare workers, as required by state law.

Boyles continued to supervise children for eight more years. During that time, prosecutors say, he molested other young boys, including Munoz.

"If (the state) received those letters and brushed them off, they are absolutely as responsible as Michael Boyles for what happened to these kids," said Amy T. Elkanich, a Portland attorney who represented Munoz before his death and now represents his family. "You would never imagine that a system that's set up to protect kids would allow something like this to happen. I think it speaks to the lack of supervision, lack of attention and a general neglect on their part. I find it totally and absolutely disgusting."

Boyles, 49, was arrested Feb. 15, 2004, and eventually charged with 91 counts of sodomy, abuse and misconduct.

According to police, Boyles frequently placed the young boys under his supervision in the foster home of Jim Lyman, 67, so they would be available for sexual abuse. Lyman and two other men who frequented the home were charged in September with numerous counts of sodomy and sexual abuse involving Munoz. Last week, prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss 20 counts against Boyles and all counts against Lyman and the other two men because of Munoz's suicide.

Boyles has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer declined to comment for this story. Boyles remains charged with 71 counts involving sex crimes with minors he supervised. Five young men, including Munoz, were named as victims in the original indictment against Boyles.

Law enforcement officials say they think at least seven additional victims -- including the boy whose family complained in 1995 -- are either unwilling or too emotionally unstable to testify.

The Oregonian typically does not name alleged victims of sex crimes but is naming Munoz with the permission of his family.

After a police investigation began in 2002, the Oregon Youth Authority kept Boyles, a former union steward, on the payroll -- but away from children -- for two more years, until a month after he was jailed on sex abuse charges.

"I was appalled by the time they took to get rid of this guy," said Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Norm Frink. "My personal opinion is that OYA had a lackadaisical attitude, both before and after his arrest."

Robert Jester, director of Oregon Youth Authority, refused to respond to written questions from The Oregonian about the agency's handling of the 1995 allegation against Boyles, including whether the agency investigated the complaint internally and why it failed to report the suspected abuse to police.

He also declined to discuss a search warrant affidavit filed last year in Multnomah County Circuit Court that said Boyles had a reputation among co-workers for preferring "clean-cut 13- to-17-year-old boys." A former supervisor of Boyles told detectives "there were rampant office rumors and jokes about Michael Boyles surrounding the type of probationers that he liked to spend time with."

The agency refused to release public documents, including Boyles' disciplinary records, as requested by the newspaper.

"The Oregon Youth Authority is very concerned about the serious allegations against Michael Boyles," Jester wrote in a statement. "Our first priority with regard to this case is to continue to work closely and cooperatively with the Multnomah County district attorney's office, Oregon State Police and Oregon Department of Justice to ensure that Mr. Boyles is held accountable for any criminal acts he might have committed."

Karen Brazeau, OYA director from 2000 to 2004, said shortly after Boyles' arrest that she had no reason to be concerned about his job performance until the fall of 2002, when foster parents made offhand remarks to her about what they viewed as his inappropriate behavior with youths.

At that point, she said, she placed Boyles in an administrative role and reported the concerns to Oregon State Police, which launched an investigation.

Promises of best treatment

Margaret Holland of Northeast Portland took in her grandson when the boy was 4. He showed signs of fetal alcohol syndrome and attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder. He also had a low IQ. She spent much of her time trying to get him help.

In spring 1994, the boy, then 14, was arrested in Holland's front yard. He had fired a cap gun and frightened a passing motorist. After spending eight days in juvenile detention, he was placed under the supervision of Boyles, who had been hired by the state in January 1993.

As a probation officer, Boyles had the responsibility to ensure that the boy received services that not only would help keep him out of trouble, but also would help deal with his mental problems.

Holland, then 67, said she reluctantly gave up custody of her grandson after Boyles promised that the boy would receive the best treatment the state had to offer.

Her faith in Boyles quickly evaporated.

Records provided by the family show that Boyles sent the boy to Lakeside Shelter in Corvallis, which conducts mental health evaluations.

At a group meeting to plan treatment, Holland said, Boyles began to rub her grandson's back, neck and shoulders "erotically."

"He fondled him in a meeting when we were sitting around in a circle," she said. "He went behind him and massaged his shoulders and back and made it very uncomfortable for all of us watching (him) groom (my grandson)."

Holland said the boy "couldn't shower enough" when he came home for visits. One time, he brought home a book on homosexuality he said Boyles had given him.

Holland said she was relieved when Lakeside staff recommended that her grandson be placed in a secure facility. But Boyles intercepted the transfer, she said and records show, and instead sent the boy to Lyman's Portland foster home.

Not long after, Holland said, her grandson confessed that Boyles had checked him out of Lakeside several times and driven him to his home near Salem, where they had been alone for hours at a time.

Holland hired an attorney, and both wrote repeatedly to top juvenile department officials, expressing concerns about the boy's placement and Boyles' behavior.

In one of more than a dozen letters obtained by The Oregonian, Holland wrote to Gary Lawhead, acting superintendent of juvenile parole and probation, that she was fearful that her grandson was being molested.

In the April 1995 letter, Holland wrote: "(My grandson) reported that Mike Boyles took (him) to his trailer alone. I don't know how many times."

She also wrote: "Mike Boyles is constantly rubbing (my grandson's) neck, shoulders and back. He has displayed this behavior at Lakeside when we had a staff meeting, at (my daughter's) home and at my house.

"I asked (one of the foster parents) if he noticed anything unusual -- his impression was that Mike was too enmeshed personally to be effective. . . . Mike has made the statement that he thought about being a foster parent to (my grandson). . . . I want (the boy) to be tested for sexual molestation. I do not want Mike Boyles to take him. In fact, I would like Mike Boyles taken off the case."

Shortly after, Holland received a letter from an assistant Human Resources administrator, promising an investigation. Five days later, she received a letter from Lawhead, who offered to remove her grandson from Boyles' caseload.

Yet, according to Holland and state documents, that didn't happen. Records show the grandson continued living for almost a year in Lyman's foster home, where a police affidavit later said Boyles was a frequent visitor.

Family cut off

As Holland fought unsuccessfully to extricate her grandson from Boyles' caseload, Aaron Munoz was placed on it.

Munoz, like Holland's grandson, showed evidence of fetal alcohol syndrome. From the beginning, he had been a challenge for his aunt, Kelly Ann Mills, who raised her sister's child from infancy.

"Aaron was very needy and suffered a lot in his life," Mills said. "When he was 12 and 13, he had some real abandonment issues he didn't know how to deal with."

Mills said she called state children's services after Munoz began to get in trouble with the law.

She, too, had early concerns about Boyles.

Her nephew never described sexually inappropriate behavior, she said, but she became concerned when he spent nights at Boyles' home and when Boyles tried to cut her off from him.

"For a year, I wasn't allowed any contact at all," Mills said. "Aaron would have to sneak to call me. I called Mike's supervisors and told them, 'You're supposed to be helping me put my family back together, not tear it apart.' They said I was being overly sensitive, that Mike was a good caseworker and that, given time, things would work out."

In 1998, Mills said, she learned that Boyles had placed Munoz in Lyman's foster home. When she stopped by unannounced, she said she was shocked by what she saw -- photos of naked men on the walls and two statues depicting aroused male anatomy in plain view.

"I called (Boyles) and said, 'What the hell is going on?' " Mills said recently. She didn't get a satisfactory response, she said, "so I called his supervisor. I said, 'Is this really the place for Aaron?' (The supervisor) said, 'Mike knows what he's doing, and we really don't have another place for Aaron.' "

According to police records, other former foster children also told detectives about the items in Lyman's home. Lyman's lawyer, Raymond Tindell, said his client "denies all the charges against him including having any inappropriate artwork in his home."

Munoz stayed under Boyles' supervision for four years until 2001, when he committed a third-degree assault and was sent to prison at age 18.

Separated from children

In November 2002, a foster parent made offhand remarks to Brazeau about having observed inappropriate behavior by Boyles with young boys.

Brazeau, the former Oregon Youth Authority director, told The Oregonian in February 2004 that she immediately placed Boyles in an administrative job away from children and called the Oregon State Police.

Two weeks into the investigation, a 19-year-old Portland man who had been one of Boyles' probationers told detectives that Boyles got him high on marijuana and molested him. He also told detectives that there were "possibly other victims."

According to court records, the young man was reluctant to discuss abuse specifically and the investigation came to a halt.

Police notified OYA officials in early 2003 that they believed Boyles, at the very least, had violated the law by giving drugs and alcohol to teens but had possibly sexually abused his young clients. Boyles, however, was allowed to remain in his state-paid position.

In November 2003, the young man contacted police again, records show, saying he wanted to tell detectives "what really happened" with Boyles.

In three interviews, the young man told detectives that Boyles had sexually abused him dozens of times between January 1998 and December 2002, starting when he was 14. Once, the young man said, he woke in bed to find Boyles engaging him in sexual activity that he tried to get away from. Afterward, he told detectives that Boyles had taken him to a bank, opened an account for him and transferred $1,000 into it.

In February 2004, shortly after the young man reported that Boyles had given him $1,500 to retract his allegations of abuse, Boyles was arrested on six preliminary felony charges, including sexual abuse, sodomy and tampering with a witness. All of the charges related to the single alleged victim.

During a search warrant of Boyles' Southeast Portland home, police found more than 700 pornographic images, including boys as young as 8. Search of a storage facility rented by Boyles in Kitsap County, Wash., turned up another 75 pictures of naked boys ages 8 to 14.

Despite the highly publicized arrest, Boyles was not fired until a month after he was sent to jail. Youth authority officials declined to explain the delay.

Holland, who complained in 1995, said she read about Boyles' arrest in the newspaper.

"I was so angry, I didn't know what to do with myself," she said. "I tried to do something about him 10 years ago."

Mills, Aaron Munoz's aunt, said she also read about Boyles' arrest and wrote a letter to her nephew in prison. "I don't know if anything did happen to you," she wrote. "I think it did. If so, now is the time to talk," Mills said.

"He denied it at first, but then the floodgates opened," she said. "Everything you can imagine happening to a child happened to him."

In the months after Boyles' arrest, police found four additional alleged victims, including Munoz, who were willing to testify before a grand jury.

In late January, Mills said, her nephew's mood turned dark and he was having trouble coping -- afraid that if the trial became too public, he would be labeled a homosexual and a snitch.

On Jan. 28, five days before he was to be released from prison, Munoz killed himself. One of the grand jurors attended his memorial service, sitting behind his family and quietly sobbing.

Holland said that shortly after Munoz's death, detectives showed up at the door to interview her grandson, now 24, who suffers from serious mental problems and has tried to commit suicide several times.

"They need him to testify, but he just can't," she said. "All he could do was sit there in front of the detective and cry."

Last week, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Michael Marcus signed an order dismissing 20 of the charges against Boyles and all charges against Lyman and two other men in light of Munoz's suicide.

"The reason these charges are being dismissed is because the state is unable to proceed without the testimony of the alleged victim who committed suicide," Marcus said. "I can't help but be concerned that the behavior alleged is what contributed to the suicide. . . . That possibility troubles me greatly."

Lyman was arraigned Thursday on two new misdemeanor counts involving another alleged victim. He pleaded not guilty to one count of third-degree sex abuse and one count of furnishing obscene materials to a minor. His bail was reduced, and he was freed from jail several hours later.

Boyles is being held in jail with bail set at more than $5.5 million. Trial on the remaining 71 felony counts against him is scheduled to begin June 27.

© 2005 Oregonian Publishing Co. All rights reserved. Used with permission of The Oregonian.

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