The End of Innocence

The Children’s Center at Park Hill United Methodist Church has long served as a pillar of its community by providing childcare to thousands of neighborhood kids since 1980. But in August 2010, the center was hit with allegations of child sex abuse that could go down as one of the worst cases in state history. What many people don’t know: It wasn’t the first time.

March 2011

On August 4, 2010, Benjamin Janicki was arrested and charged with six felonies relating to three victims. Two more felonies, and a fourth victim, were added to that tally days later. Four of the eight charges are sexual assault on a child. The other four are sexual assault on a child/position of trust felony charges, which are considered more serious crimes. Although the CDHS reported that Janicki admitted to assaulting as many as 13 children, it appears that the district attorney will not file further charges. Arraignment in the case was postponed and has been rescheduled for March 11.

Janicki, whose attorney declined to speak with 5280, has been in custody since his arrest on $350,000 bond. If he is convicted of the crimes with which he is charged, Janicki would likely serve prison time and would be required to register as one of the approximately 725,000 convicted sex offenders in the United States upon his release. If that happens, Janicki would have something in common with at least one other man on that list.

It has been close to 19 years since Martin Rodriguez-McDonald molested a young girl at the Children’s Center. Like Janicki, Rodriguez-McDonald had been hired as a teacher’s aide, but he was brought on as a teacher when he completed the necessary requirements. Like Janicki, Rodriguez-McDonald was a young man—in his early 20s—when he worked at the center. And like Janicki, whose brother had attended the center, Rodriguez-McDonald’s family had ties to the church.

At 5 feet 2 inches tall and about 120 pounds, Rodriguez-McDonald wouldn’t appear intimidating to anyone—except, perhaps, a child. That child was a four-year-old girl. It took her eight years to tell her mother that she had been sexually abused by her teacher. In the fall of 2000, at the age of 12, she described to her mom—and the police—what she remembered. According to her statements in the application for arrest warrant, the girl recalled that Rodriguez-McDonald would take her into a dark filing room at the center under the auspices of telling her scary stories. During what she related as several incidents, Rodriguez-McDonald kissed her, forced her to touch him until he ejaculated, and fondled her underneath her clothing.

Rodriguez-McDonald worked at the Children’s Center for a handful of years but was working at the Denver Soccer Club coaching youth soccer when the DPD arrested him in September 2000. Rodriguez-McDonald (who now lives in Idaho and, through his attorney, declined comment for this article) pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a child on October 16, 2001, almost a decade after his crime. The charges of sexual assault on a child/pattern of conduct and sexual assault on a child/position of trust were dismissed. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, 12 years of sex offender intensive supervision probation, $3,800 in restitution payments, and no unsupervised contact with children.

But it wasn’t just Rodriguez-McDonald who had been in a position of trust. That four-year-old girl, her parents, a hundred other families, and the Colorado Department of Human Services Division of Childcare had expected the Children’s Center’s staff to keep its children safe. Parents who rely on childcare expect that every person at a daycare center has their children’s best interests at heart. They expect the organization has made certain that this is the case. And they expect that if someone with malicious intentions does slip through the front door, there is enough supervision to protect their kids from harm.