by Elizabeth Darling
Thirty parents of schoolchildren and friends of a Palo Alto man charged with sexually molesting two young girls have sent the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office a petition asking that the charges against him be dropped. The signers of the petition include the mother of the alleged victims.
"We remain strongly convinced that (Tupou David Schwenke) has been falsely accused and that a grave miscarriage of justice has occurred," the petition states.
The letter asks that the "fabricated and unsubstantiated charges" be dropped, and it urges the district attorney to "investigate the backgrounds and motives of his accusers."
"We have at different times entrusted our most precious responsibilities, our children, to his care, and at no time was that trust given lightly, nor was it ever violated or abused in any way by Tupou," the petition says.
The mother of the children whom Schwenke is accused of molesting last week also wrote a letter to the Palo Alto Weekly protesting a Dec. 7 story about his arrest.
"I suspect the person who made the allegations was assuming he or she was doing a service to this community," states the letter to the editor, which appears on today's Spectrum page. "The allegations began because of a comment my daughter made to another child that was taken out of context and reported to an adult. Rumors began, suspicions were aroused, an anonymous phone call was made, an investigation occurred and now this man's life, professionally and personally is in shambles . . .
"It is sad and ironic that the person who began these rumors has ended up devastating the very group she had been trying to help and protect: the children of Palo Alto."
The mother declined to be interviewed for this story.
Schwenke, 37, was arrested Oct. 19 on suspicion of molesting a 7-year-old girl and 9-year-old girl. He spent more than a month in jail before he was released on Nov. 23 on $10,000 bail. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Thursday.
Following a Palo Alto police investigation of parental complaints about his activities, the District Attorney's Office filed two counts against him of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 14 years old. The alleged incidents occurred between April 1991 and last June.
His bail was initially set at $75,000, but was later reduced. The conditions of his release are that he must check in with the probation department regularly, and he must have no contact with children under 18 years old unless supervised by an adult. He may have no contact with the alleged victims in the case.
Schwenke, a former Palo Alto school district language tutor, also volunteered extensively at schools throughout the district. He tutored at Addison, El Carmelo and Walter Hays from March 1991 to June 1992, and volunteered at Hoover Elementary School.
His bail was paid by Marlene and Garth Saloner, who, along with nine other parents, have written letters to the DA supporting Schwenke. The letters are contained in the court file on the case.
"He is adored by my children for his playfulness, creativity and energy," wrote Garth Saloner.
"He has a magical way with kids and is childlike himself at times, which, I know, helps the children bond with him," wrote Marilyn Putney. "He is a wonderful, upbeat person, and truly cares for the children. In many ways they are part of his extended family and a big part of his life as well.
In an interview, Putney, who also signed the petition, said she has known Schwenke for more than 18 months. "In no way has he posed a danger to my children," she said. "This person has done a wonderful job taking care of my children."
Her husband, Blake Putney, says he sees the charge against Schwenke as an example of discrimination. "I think that he's probably being discriminated against because he's a man and he does like to be around kids." They said their children were around Schwenke at Jazzercise babysitting, soccer games and the Palo Alto Parents and Professionals for Arts program.
Others parents told of instances where he helped at birthdays, helped children buy an anniversary present for their parents, and let children record the message for his telephone answering machine.
Supporters say the charges are based on accusations made by one person. "His life is in limbo based on one person's accusations. There are no victims in this case," said Marlene Saloner.
In a letter to Supervising Deputy District Attorney Jack Marshall, the parents of the alleged victims say they too do not wish charges to be pressed against Schwenke. "To the best of our knowledge, Tupou never knowingly initiated any predatory or sexual contact with our children or any other children."
The letter goes on to describe two incidents of behavior by Schwenke that made their older daughter "feel uncomfortable," but says he "agreed it may have been bad judgment and agreed to stop it immediately."
They add that they would like to see Schwenke get counseling on "what the guidelines are for appropriate adult male behavior with children." They ask that the charges be suspended for a year so that he can attend classes and receive treatment from a facility in San Jose.
"He has bad judgment sometimes, as we all do. He is not a pedophile. He is not a criminal. But he does need some help," the letter says.
The parents also indicated in the letter that they are reluctant to have their daughters testify in court.
According to the "McCorquodale Rule," legislation now written into law in the Civil Code of Procedure for the state, sexual assault victims cannot be forced to testify in court. Marshall said that this law probably would apply to the children in this case.
He admitted that if the case hinges on the victims' statements and the victims don't want to testify, "we've got a problem."
After being contacted by a number of Schwenke's supporters, as well as the victims' parents, Marshall plans to review the case to "look at it objectively in light of all the information."
"I have absolutely no idea what the result will be," Marshall said. "Mr. Tupou has engendered quite a storm of controversy." He has heard mainly from Schwenke's supporters and he said "we're going to take a fresh look at it. Our job is to seek justice. If people contact us with legitimate additional information, we'll review anything and everything."
Other parents were upset because word about Schwenke's arrest was not adequately communicated to the community by police or the school district.
In 1992, an elementary school principal asked that Schwenke be removed from the school as a language tutor because of inappropriate behavior around children. In 1993, a second principal asked him to stop volunteering in a kindergarten class because of a parent complaint.
@jumphead:Parents ask DA to drop molestation charges
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