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UPDATED: Detectives seek further victims in alleged molestation by martial arts instructor

Man arrested for assault, but released from custody as investigation continues

Posted: January 14, 2011 9:33 p.m.
Updated: January 22, 2011 4:30 a.m.

Dante Lusica is accused of inappropriately touching an 8-year-old student enrolled at the TaeKwonDo Center, USA, on Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus. Detectives seek the public's help in identifying any other alleged victims.

UPDATED STORY, Jan. 22, 2011:
Sheriff's investigators are looking for additional alleged victims of a Santa Clarita Valley martial arts instructor suspected of committing a sex crime by touching a young girl.

Dante Lusica is accused of inappropriately touching an 8-year-old student enrolled at the TaeKwonDo Center, USA, on Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus.

The 64-year-old instructor was arrested Jan. 5 at his martial arts studio on Bouquet Canyon Road by Special Victims Bureau detectives with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in the Santa Clarita Valley.

He was later released. No charges were filed pending further investigation, said sheriff's Sgt. Darren Harris.

Anyone with information about this incident or others is asked to call Detective Richard Simmons at (661) 799-5809.

Here is a note from Lila Littlejohn, The Signal's executive editor, regarding the above story update:

To our Readers:

A few days ago, I responded to readers' complaints about our initial story on the martial arts instructor with a statement of our policy on the release of names in certain types of arrest stories (see note below original post, below).

I stand by that statement.

However, the Sheriff's Department has since informed me that detectives are seeking additional victims in the case and asked The Signal to help in the search. The information we've published so far is insufficient to assist them.

As mentioned in my previous note, we at The Signal seek to follow the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics to "minimize harm," as the code directs, causing us to struggle periodically with protecting individuals' rights versus keeping the public informed.

This story involved such a call. It was a difficult call to make; clearly, many readers believe I made the wrong one. And from what I hear, so do many martial arts instructors in the Santa Clarita Valley.

But when law enforcement requests our assistance in a case, it changes the dynamics. As a community newspaper, it is our intention always to assist law enforcement if sound journalistic practices allow. When it's a judgment call of individual rights vs. the public's right to know, and the Sheriff's Department indicates the public needs to know, we will oblige.

This has become such a case. You will now find the story, with the name of the martial arts instructor, online (above) and in the newspaper.

I want to thank online users who contributed thoughtful arguments to this thread, especially BBennetts and scvresident30 for their comments after my initial post. To me, this is the best of a website's ability to provide a public forum. You all have given me food for thought.

You have led me and our new city editor, Natalie Everett, to discuss rearranging The Signal's beats to provide better crime coverage. I'll follow up on this here with details next week for those interested.

I'd also like to notify readers that in an upcoming issue -- we're planning this for Sunday but sometimes our plans get changed -- reporter Jonathan Randles will examine the process of bringing a case to court and the difference in required evidence to make an arrest versus required evidence for bringing charges.

Even after someone's release from jail following an arrest, several months can pass before charges are filed. The story will address four specific cases in the SCV.

This story sprang from the discussions here and our own frustration at the length of time it takes to resolve an arrest with stories about charges, a trial, and a conviction or acquittal. Thanks for being a Signal reader.

Here is a note from Lila Littlejohn, The Signal's executive editor, regarding the original story -- which did not name the man arrested or the martial arts studio -- and The Signal's policy about names in crime stories.

To our Readers:

The Signal's policy regarding releasing names in crime stories has been called into question in this story. As executive editor, I take responsibility for deciding to withhold the name of the martial arts instructor.

To understand our policy, a little information on criminal procedure may be helpful.

A person can be arrested but then released without charges, which means there is not enough evidence to determine his or her guilt.

This, in fact, is what happened to the martial arts instructor.

If the crime in question is one that will ruin an individual's name and prevent him/her from earning a living - such as a martial arts instructor being arrested for a crime against a child, then released without sufficient cause for charges - we at The Signal will not publish his/her name.

I'm sure if you pause to consider what would happen to you in a similar situation, you will understand.

Imagine you make your living working with children. The police arrest you for some heinous crime against a child, and the local newspaper trumpets the story on the front page with your name. Then prosecutors decide there's not enough evidence, file no charges, and say, "We take it back. Sorry."

Even if the paper reports the lack of charges - and we would, because it's the only fair thing to do -- what do you think people will remember? What will happen to your business? How will people treat you?

I believe this policy about releasing names in crime stories is consistent with the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which we seek to abide by. If other media outlets disregard the Code of Ethics, we have no control over their behavior and are not responsible for it.

There are exceptions. They include public figures or people seeking public office. The Code of Ethics specifically states: "Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention." The martial arts instructor is not a public figure.

Another case in which we would withhold an arrested individual's name: when we fear for the safety of the individual arrested. As overdramatized and unlikely as that may sound, I made such a decision last summer when the woman who was driving the car that killed Matilde Garnica was arrested, then released to live at home again.

The fevered pitch at which website readers and letter-to-the-editor writers demanded revenge - some actually calling for the driver's death (and, no, we didn't publish those letters, either; doing so would have been irresponsible) - troubled me. We waited to publish her name until she was charged, which still has not occurred.

Some exceptions to this general rule involve common journalistic policy: If multiple other media outlets have released information, or if that information has been released directly from the source to the public, we will publish it. Any damage to reputation or livelihood is done, with or without our publication.

We practice this policy regarding names in crime stories every day. For example, if someone is arrested for a minor crime that we will not follow through the entire charges-filed, trial-held, verdict-reached process, we withhold his or her name.

A number of decades ago, I've been told, The Signal was sued for a fixture called "Demon Rum," which published names of individuals arrested for drunken driving. However, the paper did not follow their cases and thus report their exonerations, if appropriate. This, in my opinion, is irresponsible journalism.

What made this decision about the martial arts instructor particularly difficult was balancing the individual's privacy against the possibility of his threat to public safety. As a mother who raised two sons in the Santa Clarita Valley, I found this concern particularly troublesome.

Ultimately, I decided it would be irresponsible to damage the man's reputation when there was apparently insufficient evidence even to charge him. It may have been the wrong call. It assuredly was not an easy one.

To parents, I would say, "Don't leave your child alone in a one-on-one situation with a martial arts instructor."

To readers, I assure you that if the man is charged, we will release his name and follow his case through the legal system.


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