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Crime & Justice

LAPD to launch investigation into Hamilton High teacher accused of sexual abuse

Hamilton High from above.
Hamilton High from above.
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The Los Angeles Police Department is launching an investigation into allegations that a Hamilton High School music magnet teacher showered naked with students at a local gym, said LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith Friday.

Smith said the department would conduct a new investigation into Vance Miller, 59, of Los Angeles after KPCC reported earlier today that a former student said that when he was a 17-year-old junior, he showered with the teacher and two other students.

At least 10 students have alleged sexual abuse by Miller from the mid-1990s through 2010 and one has filed suit against the teacher and the Los Angeles Unified School District, said attorney Anthony De Marco, who represents alleged victims. Miller, a popular and respected music teacher who led the orchestra, taught at Hamilton for 17 years and with the district for more than 35 years. 

"Based on your report I will ensure an investigation gets started," Smith said. "Clearly someone taking a shower with a student is just not right. I will make sure that that gets looked into by our juvenile investigators."

Smith said the department takes any allegation of inappropriate sexual contact or abuse with a child very seriously.

"You don't get to shower naked with students, even if the student is okay with it. If people are under that age, showering with a student, that's just really weird isn't it?" Smith said. "If this guy had taken showers with high school students at one place, then who knows what kind of boundaries this guy has...especially if he's a teacher and he spends his days with kids."

A complaint was filed last April against Miller and the district alleging sexual battery and negligence. The preliminary paperwork for a second complaint with similar allegations was filed in November.

In 2010, Miller was selected as Southern California’s Outstanding Music Educator of the Year. Later that year, on Sept. 13, Miller was pulled out of his class and reassigned to the local district offices but not placed on administrative leave, according to L.A. Unified documents.

When Miller was removed rumors ran rampant as neither students or parents were told why the head of the orchestra was gone and a substitute was in his place. Miller is still currently listed on the school’s website as teaching five courses.  Miller's case will be before the L.A. Unified Board of Education Tuesday for dismissal proceedings, said district spokesman Tom Waldman Friday.

The alleged victim in the civil lawsuit is identified as John Doe, now 31 years old. According to the complaint, Doe developed a close relationship with Miller, who encouraged him to express his attraction sexually.

Believing he had fallen in love, the 13-year-old boy engaged in a roughly four-year sexual relationship that included “kissing, fondling of genitals, masturbation, oral sex and anal sex,” the complaint states.

The complaint also alleges Miller regularly kissed other students on the lips in class, rubbed up against them, took students individually with him to a local gym and showered naked with them.

Attorney Drew Antablin, who represents Miller, said he has a “spotless outstanding record as a fabulous educator” and questioned the credibility of the allegations. Antablin said he was not aware of prior allegations or other possible victims, and could not comment on the findings of any LAPD investigation.

“When somebody of questionable background comes up out of the blue and says that, something happened 15 to 18 years ago, you know...” Antablin said. “[Miller] adamantly denies this, and if the plaintiff wants to press ahead, then the jury will determine whether or not the allegations are or are not true.”

The Los Angeles Police Department conducted an investigation into the allegations against Miller in 2011 with officers visiting the school in March and April to interview school officials and students, according to the police report. During the interviews, two more students said Miller had made them uncomfortable with kisses and hugs. And in one of the cases, Miller extended invitations to hang out after school, go to the gym and get dinner.

Because of the statute of limitations, criminal charges were not filed against Miller, according to the police report and attorney Anthony De Marco, who represents the alleged victims. He said the civil suit goes to trial in August. There is no amount yet stated for damages sought.

De Marco said Miller’s behavior showed a “pattern” of abuse and that a “culture of permissiveness” allowed these actions to continue.

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).