by Don Kazak
A Palo Alto man facing two felony counts of child molestation had the charges reduced to misdemeanors last week and will have those charges dropped if he completes a counseling program to sensitize him to appropriate behavior with children. Jack Marshall, the chief trial deputy district attorney for Santa Clara County, said the agreement gives Tupou David Schwenke a chance to learn how to behave more appropriately around children.
"In my view, there are some things he's got to learn, and he's getting that opportunity," Marshall said.
Schwenke and his attorney, Steve Elrick, agreed to the reduced charges and counseling.
A determining factor in reducing the charges was that the mother of the two girls in question had written Marshall asking that the charges against Schwenke be dropped.
"The children were not happy becoming the focal point of the situation," Marshall said. "They are saved from the burden of coming to court and testifying."
Schwenke, 37, has worked extensively with children in Palo Alto over the last three to four years, both as domestic help for various families and as a volunteer in four different elementary schools.
He is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 21. At that time, if he has completed a counseling program and has avoided any other legal difficulties, the two misdemeanor counts of child annoyance against him will be dropped.
Marshall said he listened to the tapes of the police interviews with the two girls and with Schwenke, and he became convinced that the charges filed against him should be misdemeanors, not felonies. "My deputy acted properly" in filing the felony charges, Marshall added, stressing the difference was in how certain statements Schwenke made to police were interpreted.
"I'm trying to give this man every chance to put things right," Marshall said. "I really think this man will probably succeed."
Schwenke pleaded not guilty to the charges against him and maintained his innocence. In addition to the letter from the girls' mother, 30 parents signed a petition to the district attorney asking that the charges against him be dropped. Many of those people showed up to support him during his two recent court appearances.
Schwenke said that the support he received from so many parents "was one of the great things to come out of this. I had no idea I had such loving, good friends."
While he was pleased with the outcome, he expressed frustration with the police and district attorney for his arrest and with the Palo Alto Weekly for publishing a news story about his arrest.
"This was an innocent person looking like a predator," he said. "I know who I am and there are children who know I am a good person."
The arrest and the publicity caused him "great anguish and depression" at times, he said. "I know I lost some of (the children) as friends because of the articles, and that's uncomfortable," he said.
"I'm not only not a danger to children, I'm an inspiration to children."
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