Introductory comment by Jordan Riak, December 1990
If your job description permitted you to do exactly as you wish, pursue every whim, indulge every impulse no matter whom you hurt... If all standards of professionalism and the prevailing constraints of civility were waived on your behalf... If you knew, in time of need, you could depend on your colleagues to purchase a full-page newspaper advertisement in which to sing your praises... If after a 22-year-long career of freewheeling, you could expect a $181,000 pay-off for surrendering your teaching credential, you would have to be a person graced with very special powers indeed.
What is it that enables a common bully to keep a community, its local institutions, even branches of state government enthralled for two decades? Fear? Mass hypnosis? Is there a magical power that radiates from the sweat glands of the high priests of machismo--school coaches--that disempowers grown people, leaving them bewildered, speechless and limp? Even the writer of "REPORT OF FINDINGS", who surely knows his customer, momentarily falls under the spell when he ascribes the bully's behavior to "intense competitiveness." Conduct that would land anybody else out of a job and possibly into jail is characterized as "competitiveness" when a school coach does it. How generous.
One would assume, logically, that a credentialed teacher, employed to oversee schoolchildren, would model exemplary behavior, and that school authorities would enthusiastically vouchsafe that standard. Don't count on it. As you read "THE COACH", CBS "60 MINUTES" and "REPORT OF FINDINGS," please keep in mind that Lassen Union High School District is not unique. Were there 1,000 Pratt families scattered around the US -- which, we're sorry to say, there are not -- you would find 1,000 school districts, each with its bully-in-residence.
Background In the summer of 1990, PTAVE was contacted by Cathy Olian of "60 Minutes," the popular television news magazine which broadcasts Sunday evenings on CBS. Ms. Olian was looking for specific leads relating to abuse of schoolchildren by teachers --the worst current cases we knew of. Three came to mind: one in Washington (state), one in Arkansas and one in Lassen County, California, all of which we felt could only benefit from a good public airing. The 60 Minutes people researched the three and settled on the case in Lassen County. This file is a transcription of their broadcast of December 2, 1990.
KROFT: Ed Murin is no longer coaching the Lassen High School football and basketball teams. Too many losing seasons? No, his teams won more games than they lost, so how come he's no longer the coach? Well, that's what this Meredith Vieira story from Susanville, California, is all about.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] Ed Murin has crossed paths with almost every kid in Susanville, California. It's a small town with one elementary and one high school, and for 18 years, Murin has worked in the school system as a seventh-grade science teacher and a grade-school and high school football and basketball coach. For many of those years, parents and students have accused Murin of abusing school children emotionally and physically.
TED PRATT, Parent: He'd kick chairs out from underneath kids, throw keys in their faces, slam them against the lockers, bang their head against the walls.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] Ted and Janice Pratt and their son Tad feel they've been banging their heads against a wall ever since they started complaining about Ed Murin five years ago. The Pratts claim Tad was mistreated by Coach Murin when he played on the football team. They joined forces with 17 other families who all tell a similar story of a bully of a man with nasty habits.
Mr. PRATT: I had personally seen him drag kids by the face mask over a tackling dummy and drag them down the field and jerk their head around with the face mask -- and the obscenities that he used were absolutely unbelievable.
JANICE PRATT, Parent: He calls them "F-ing idiots," "F-ing dummies."
VIEIRA: [voice-over] Stacy Miller, Dana Whipple and Sterling Chandler are former students of Murin's who say they've been on the receiving end of his wrath.
DANA WHIPPLE, former Student: He would throw erasers at you. He would hit you. He would kick your chair out.
STERLING CHANDLER, former Student: You know he'll hit you, push you, shove you.
VIEIRA: Did he hurt you? Mr. CHANDLER: Oh, yeah, he'd knock you down -- throw you back a couple feet.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] The school system paid Sterling Chandler $3,000 to drop charges of assault against Murin over an incident that occurred on the football field.
Mr. CHANDLER: He ran up and kicked a clipboard and, you know, it had a lot of paper and junk on it. It hit me in the leg. My friends and stuff are looking at my leg and it was bleeding all over and it bled down into my sock. My whole shoe was red. He didn't care.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] Murin was especially cruel to minority kids, they say -- blacks or American Indians like them.
STACY MILLER, former Student: He's called me "wagon burner" before and "war whoop."
Mr. WHIPPLE: I've heard him call people out on the playground, "niggers," stuff like that.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] To former students like these and parents like the Pratts, Ed Murin is a Teflon teacher. No matter what they do, they can't make charges of abuse against him stick. Three years ago, they took their case before a grand jury, which found Murin's coaching techniques to be "physically abusive" and "excessively rough" and his language full of "racial slurs," and recommended an indictment if it continued. That same year, the high-school board conducted an investigation of its own and concluded that Murin hit Sterling Chandler hard, and verbally and physically abused Stacy Miller, and what did the school board do with this information? They did nothing, which is nothing new. [on camera] Ed Murin's troubles in Susanville go back a long way, long before the Pratts got involved. In 1978, nine sets of parents went to the school board to complain about Murin's coaching. In 1981, 250 parents signed a petition asking for his removal. In both cases, the school board voted to keep Ed Murin. [voice-over] Murin wouldn't talk to us and the school board says the reasons they kept him are confidential, but no reason would be good enough for Brenda Compton. Her memories of Murin go back to 1975 when she was just 12 years old and he was her seventh-grade gym teacher. She says she watched Murin mistreat another seventh-grader whose name was also Brenda.
BRENDA COMPTON, former Student: He would call her a "fat pig" and tell her -- I mean make her feel like dirt because she was overweight.
VIEIRA: What happened to Brenda?
Ms. COMPTON: Later that year she committed suicide.
VIEIRA: What did she do?
Ms. COMPTON: She hung herself.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] While she doesn't blame him directly for Brenda's suicide -- she considers what he said to her and the rest of the class unforgivable.
Ms. COMPTON: He told us that what she had done wasn't the right way to commit suicide, that if any of us planned on committing suicide, we should cut ourselves behind our elbows and behind our knees and bleed to death, and that was a better way to commit suicide.
Ms. PRATT: I've lost my anger at Mr. Murin. He needs help. There's no doubt about it. He needs help, but I have a tremendous amount of anger at the administrators and the board members and the officials who covered this up and didn't do something about it. That's their job and they should have done it. They are so culpable now. If they are to admit that he did these things for 17 years, the next question is "Why didn't you stop it?"
VIEIRA: [voice-over] We wanted to ask that question of Marshall Leve, the superintendent of schools in Susanville but once again, we were told all information regarding Ed Murin is confidential and Leve advised school-board members not to talk either, but Everett Heard, a former member who left the board last year, reluctantly admitted that the Pratts are right. School officials have been covering up for Ed Murin. [interviewing] Is it fair to say that the board knew what Murin was doing and chose to ignore it?
EVERETT HEARD, former School-Board Member: Yes, ma'am.
VIEIRA: Do you feel that the children of Susanville were wronged by the school board and the administrators?
Mr. HEARD: I would say so.
VIEIRA: For all those years, were people complaining about Ed Murin?
Mr. HEARD: A lot of people over a number of years -- the faces just kept changing.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] But when parents and children did complain about Murin, they say officials always acted as if no one had ever complained before. That's what happened to the Jennings family two years ago, when Billy was a seventh-grade science student. He says Murin picked on him all year. After he seriously cut his finger in class and Murin refused to give him first aid, Billy's mother Joanne finally went in to complain.
JOANNE JENNINGS, Parent: Here I come in and I said that the kid had been mistreated and he was picked on and he was neglected, and the principal had just told me that I was an "overreacting mother" and that there was never, ever any complaints on Mr. Murin.
VIEIRA: The principal said never before had anyone complained?
Ms. JENNINGS: Never before had anyone ever complained about Mr. Murin. VIEIRA: Well, who do you blame more, then, Mr. Murin or the school administrators?
BILLY JENNINGS, former Student: He's the problem, and the system -- the school system -- should be taking care of it and they're not.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] But Murin's fellow teachers at the elementary school say officials never did anything because Murin is an innocent man.
JENNIFER CESSAREN, Teacher: These parents have a right to call him an abuser. I have a right to call him an absolutely model teacher, a fine friend and a wonderful human being.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] Teachers Jennifer Cessaren and Christine Burriel spent hours with us defending their old friend while other faculty members sat in the background. All of them had signed an ad in the local paper supporting school officials and Ed Murin. [interviewing] Can you accept the fact there could be child abuse going on --
CHRISTINE BURRIEL, Teacher: No.
VIEIRA: -- and you wouldn't know it?
Ms. BURRIEL: No, I have never witnessed -- ever -- any child abuse. I have never heard any racial slurs. I have never seen him discriminate. I have never seen any misbehavior.
VIEIRA: What about all the parents who say their children have been abused, either verbally, emotionally or physically?
Ms. CESSAREN: How do we know if that is true?
VIEIRA: Do you think these people are lying?
Ms. CESSAREN: I think so. I want to tell you something about the credibility of some of these people.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] The teachers told us that many of the parents who complained had children who were troublemakers.
Ms. PRATT: They have to try to discredit the people who are bringing the complaints. They're not about, at this point, to say that Ed Murin has been doing these things for 16-17 years because that's an indictment on themselves if they say that, and I think they know that, so they have to defend Ed Murin now, because in defending Ed Murin, they're defending themselves.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] Feeling stonewalled by the school system, the Pratts did what no family before them ever had: they kept fighting. They spent five years and $30,000 conducting their own investigation into Murin, collecting affidavits from other families, compiling what they thought was a rock-solid case of repeated child abuse. But when they tried to get someone to listen? They started with the county Office of Child-Protective Services. [interviewing] What did Child-Protective Services tell you?
Ms. PRATT: They told us to go to the Sheriff's Department.
VIEIRA: What did the Sheriff's Department tell you?
Ms. PRATT: They told us to go to the Police Department.
VIEIRA: What did the Police Department tell you?
Ms. PRATT: They told us to go to Child-Protective Services.
RUSTY ARIEAS, California State Assembly: It was one of the clearest cases of bureaucratic buck-passing that I had ever seen.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] One of the few people who tried to help the Pratts was state assemblyman Rusty Arieas. He was so disturbed by the Pratts' story that he organized a hearing of the assembly education committee to look into it.
Mr. PRATT: [testifying before the California State Assembly Education Committee] Four and a half years ago, we started the complaint process.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] The state legislators were dumbfounded to discover that there's no agency in California responsible for investigating charges of child abuse in schools. [interviewing] Is nobody really taking responsibility for teacher abuse of children?
Assemblyman ARIEAS: Everyone is washing their hands. That's the case up in Susanville. It's obvious to me that it very likely could happen anywhere in the state of California.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] Arieas says one reason local governments and school officials sometimes look the other way is that they can't afford to do anything else.
Assemblyman ARIEAS: You know that in California nearly every local government, as well as every school board and school district, is under tremendous financial pressure, and you're looking at somewhere between $100,000 and $400,000 to dismiss a teacher.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] The money has to be spent on legal fees, says Arieas, fighting against powerful and well-funded teachers unions. It's enough to discourage some schools and officials from taking any action. [on camera] One state agency that did respond is the California Department of Education, but it took three years to issue a report on Ed Murin and its report dealt only with discrimination, not child abuse. Child abuse, department officials say, is someone else's responsibility. [voice-over] Even so, the department's report issued last spring levels serious charges against the schools in Susanville. The report says there is probably cause to believe that Ed Murin discriminated against minority students and that superintendent Marshall Leve and other school officials knew about Murin's behavior and did nothing to stop it. As a result of its investigation, the state Department of Education has threatened to withhold state funds from the Susanville schools.
Ms. BURRIEL: We reject the state department document. We know it is untrue. Ms. CESSAREN: I feel like the state Department of Education is --
Ms. BURRIEL: Victimizing us.
Ms. CESSAREN: -- is victimizing me as a teacher. It's victimizing the children that are in my library every day. It's victimizing the -- all the kids at our school.
Ms. BURRIEL: Now, they're threatening to withhold funds to 1,200 children -- innocent children -- because we will not reconcile ourselves to this document.
Ms. CESSAREN: A court of law would call that blackmail, wouldn't they? I think they would. I think that's what they'd call that. They'd call it blackmail.
VIEIRA: [voice-over] Last year, a new high-school principal asked Murin to resign as a coach because he found Murin's treatment of the kids unacceptable, but Ed Murin continues to teach at the elementary school.
KROFT: But he may not much longer. Last month, California temporarily lifted his license to teach and started making good on the threat to cut off state funds to the Susanville elementary school. Both Ed Murin and the school district are appealing. We'll keep you posted.