By Annie LaneLast week was a rather depressing one in the world of news. In Arizona, a 9-year-old girl fatally shot her gun instructor in the face with an Uzi. And right here in San Diego, a pediatric nurse was arrested for the sexual exploitation of a child after allegedly molesting the 2-month-old foster infant in his care.
Michael William Lutts, a Kaiser Permanente employee, came to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation after they executed a search warrant on an email address that was being operated by a person with the intent of distributing child pornography. According to officials, Lutts, 50, was identified as an account that had sent pornographic images of children to this unnamed individual.
A search of Lutts’ College Area home found several hundreds of images of child pornography on the computers, hard drives, CDs and other items seized. FBI Special Agent Darrell Foxworth stated that a cell phone taken during the search had numerous images and videos of Lutts sexually molesting the prematurely born male infant.
“The images and videos appeared to be taken inside of Lutts’ residence beginning on Aug. 4, 2014, the very first day he gained custody of the infant,” Foxworth stated in a news release.
Continued acts were committed against the baby over the weeks that he remained in Lutts’ care, with the baby crying in several videos.
After hearing this news, one glaring question comes to mind: How was someone who had such a propensity toward pedophilia allowed to work in the field of pediatrics or cleared to become a foster parent? Better yet: To what extent should the privacy of an individual filling such roles in society be maintained?
A search of the County of San Diego website that provides information about becoming a foster parent reveals that nearly anyone can become one – male or female, single or married, retired or working, homeowner or renter.
Furthermore, to become a foster parent requires a mere 27 hours – when put together that amounts to a little more than one day – of training. In addition to the training, a perspective foster parent must attend an orientation meeting, be fingerprinted, receive a home visit, and complete first-aid and CPR training.
Among the perks of becoming a foster parent, the first listed is “a monthly reimbursement.”
The vetting process mentioned above is fine if the potential foster parent is already in the system, but what about those who have been lucky or smart enough to avoid detection? It seems that if Lutts kept images and videos easily accessible on his phone, a more thorough look into his personal life would’ve saved some future heartache.
Proponents of the Fourth Amendment would undoubtedly call that an extreme invasion of an inalienable right. And they have a point — where do you draw the line? Especially in this increasing Police State, rampant with abuses of power. But this is where the issue of the expectation of privacy comes into play, and whether or not it should be given to someone in Lutts’ position, which allowed him close and fairly unrestricted access to children.
According to the U-T San Diego, a county official stated that no comment could be made regarding the Lutts case at this time. He offered a generic statement, though it doesn’t seem to shed any more light than what is already stated on the website:
An official with the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, which oversees the foster system, said he could not comment on Lutts’ case because of the ongoing criminal investigation.
He said potential foster parents go through a rigorous background investigation, including home visits, fingerprinting and a health report. Foster parents then must complete 27 hours of training.
Don’t get me wrong. While choosing to be a foster parent can bring unbridled fulfillment, I don’t think it’s all Pollyanna either. Taking on a foster child can come with a litany of potential difficulties, ranging from a family history of abuse, chemical addiction, mental disease, etc. But this is even more reason to do an excruciatingly thorough screening of foster parents so that helpless children within the system don’t get put into an environment even more dangerous than the one from which they came.
The other issue at hand — Lutts’ position as a pediatric nurse — prompted the FBI to ask the public to come forward with any information about additional abuse that may have occurred. They can be contacted at 858-320-1800. According to a report by NBC San Diego, Kaiser Permanente is working with authorities:
Lutts’ employer Kaiser Permanente revealed Thursday that he will not be returning to work until the investigation and criminal proceedings are finished.
The medical group’s spokesperson said they have had no indication from law enforcement that their patients were possible victms, but its administration is working with authorities.
“At Kaiser Permanente, our first priority is to keep our patients safe as we address their health care needs, and nothing is more important than assuring the appropriate care of our young patients. We hold sacred the trust our patients place in Kaiser Permanente. We will not tolerate any employee or physician abusing that trust,” Kaiser’s statement read.
This also brings to question the background inspection process undergone by hospitals and other health care organizations in which child care is a major aspect. How does someone like Lutts slip through the cracks? Were there not any fellow coworkers or superiors who were made to feel uneasy by Lutts’ demeanor or behavior at any time during his employment? Are people so afraid of the repercussions from being assertive that they are willing to stifle any uneasiness to avoid overturning the boat?
Take into account the Homeland Security agent who approached what turned out to be an adoptive white father of two Asian girls while on a cruise after watching him take several dozens of photos of his daughters in one setting. The agent didn’t outright accuse him of anything foul, but simply said, “I would be remiss if I didn’t ask if you were okay.” That one question led to a recent – and in my opinion, hypersensitive and erroneous – rant by the father on the Washington Post.
But here’s the thing: I’d read that rant any day over reading all these news reports about Lutts after the fact.
This case has left more questions than it has answers. It’s upsetting to the core because it involves the violation of innocence in its purest form. While a fair and just trial process is required, the surmounting and incriminating image and video evidence against Lutts at this time makes it seem unlikely that redemption is possible or even deserved.
Lutts is currently being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, while the infant has been placed with Child Protective Services. One can only hope that as more events and details continue to surface, the legal system will succeed where the foster and health care system has failed.