Edward Wooley, a longtime resident of Cooper City, watched his three children play on the Optimist Club baseball team.
When he learned that one of the Optimist coaches has been accused of sexually abusing two players — and that other child molestation charges against him in Miami-Dade County were dropped in 2000 — he was livid.
The Cooper City Optimist Club’s website says while it conducts complete background checks on all of its personnel, including coaches and volunteers, and prohibits anyone convicted of a sex offense to work for the club, those measures don’t apply “if criminal charges resulted in acquittal, nolle prossed (declined to prosecute) or dismissal,” according to the team website.
Said Wooley: “That policy is just plumb stupid in terms of justice and protecting the children.”
Wooley spoke at a town hall meeting Thursday night at Cooper City High School. About 250 people showed up to discuss the case involving David Solomon, 47, an Optimist Club baseball coach who the Broward Sheriff’s Office arrested on July 23. Solomon was charged with two counts of sexual assault on a victim under 12 involving an 11-year-old boy on the team. The alleged sex acts took place during car rides or sleepovers at Solomon’s Cooper City home, authorities said.
Earlier this week, BSO charged Solomon with lewd and lascivious molestation of a another boy under 12. Solomon is being held without bond at the Paul Rein Detention Facility in Pompano Beach.
“How can we prevent something like this from happening in our city again?” Wooley asked.
James Curran, a city commissioner who is a 20-year Optimist Club member, said parents should watch over everyone’s kids, not just their own. Additionally, he thinks concerned parents and teachers should “jump up and get involved,” by volunteering or coaching the program.
“You have the greatest Optimist team in the world in Cooper City,” Curran said. “We have a small problem, Houston, but we have NASA in this room tonight.”
Curran invited Lauren Book, the daughter of lobbyist Ron Book, to lead the town hall. In 2007, Book founded Lauren’s Kids, a nonprofit that focuses on child sexual abuse through awareness, education and advocacy.
She pulled from her own experiences to comfort the crowd.
“It started seven miles away,” Book said, explaining how she was sexually abused from the age 11 by her childhood nanny “for six long years,” in her own home.
She told the audience about warning signs of sexual abuse in children — startles easily, poor hygiene, lack of interest in school, demonstrates unusual sexual knowledge, among other signs. She also discussed tactics of a perpetrator —isolating the victim from friends and family, bribing them and telling them this is “our secret.’’
Book tried to move the conversation away from the blame game.
“This is about healing, this is about a conversation and this is about moving forward,” Book said. “We’re going to work together to ensure that children are safe here in Cooper City and beyond.”
Joining her on stage, her father stressed that the league’s policy of allowing adults to coach who have been charged but not convicted of sex offenses has to change.
“When it comes to your kids, no one gets a second chance,” he said.
He added: “There hasn’t been a moment in the past 14 years that I have not thought about what happened,” noting the nanny was convicted in 2002.
Cooper City Mayor Greg Ross said the current background check policy is in line with Optimist’s international policies.
“We will make changes that are necessary so that the international organization can follow our lead,” Ross said. “This is our city and we need to take control of our kids.”
Over several months this year, Solomon “put his hands on the [first] victim’s private parts when he was alone with the child driving the victim home or while at Solomon’s home for a sleepover,’’ BSO said in a press release. While driving the boy home, Solomon allegedly told the boy not to say anything, according to BSO.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show that in May 2000 Solomon was charged by Miami-Dade police with lewd and lascivious behavior with a child under 16. In November of the same year, he was charged with fondling a child. Both cases, which involved two young basketball team boys at the Miami Shores Recreation Center, and a student from Hialeah Gardens Elementary, where Solomon was a teacher, were dropped because of lack of physical evidence or witnesses.
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