A longtime teacher at Hamilton High School’s music magnet program has been accused of sexually molesting at least four students in the mid-1990s through 2010 and is being sued by one former student, according to court documents and a police report.
A complaint was filed last April against Vance Miller, 59, of Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Unified School District alleging sexual battery and negligence. The preliminary paperwork for a second complaint with similar allegations was filed in November.
Miller was a well-known and respected teacher at Hamilton Music Academy Magnet for 17 years and has taught in the district for more than 35 years since his start as a substitute teacher in 1975. He taught at Loyola Performance Arts Magnet for 15 years prior to Hamilton, according to district records.
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. Parents weren’t told why the head of the orchestra was gone and a substitute was in his place. And yet, Miller is still currently listed on the school’s website as teaching five courses.
District spokeswoman Susan Cox said she did not have any information on Miller. Keith Wyatt, an attorney representing the district in the case, said he cannot comment on pending litigation. School officials did not return calls for comment.
The alleged victim in the 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.
“Vance Miller, utilizing his position of trust and authority, performed sexual acts upon Plaintiff at school, at Vance Miller’s home, and in Vance Miller’s car as he took Plaintiff to and from school events...As Plaintiff’s relationship with Vance Miller continued, Plaintiff’s grades spiraled. At a time when Plaintiff needed mentoring, Vance Miller manipulated Plaintiff into performing sexual acts with him, twisting Plaintiff’s sense of not only healthy sexuality, but also trust, vulnerability, love and friendship,” the complaint continued.
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.
"All of these activities were known and/or observed by fellow students, faculty and staff of the Los Angeles Unified School District and Hamilton Academy. Despite having awareness of this conduct faculty and staff with the Los Angeles Unified School District and Hamilton Academy failed to make Mandatory Reports required under California Penal Code Section 11164 et. Seq., and failed to enforce rules of the defendants designed to protect children from being sexually molested by teachers," the complaint states.
In March 2010, the alleged victim told his mother about his relationship and was encouraged to see a counselor. In July 2010, he filed a police report.
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.
From the police report describing an interview with a student who had Miller in 2009:
"There was a time that he and [redacted student name] became afraid of Miller and his actions. [Student] began to attempt to play the piano better, in an attempt to stop Miler from massaging and kissing him. When Miller continued the massaging and kissing, [student] began to skip Miller’s class in an attempt to avoid Miller from touching him. [Student] said that over all, Miller was a great teacher except for the weird things Miller would do to him."
When contacted by phone at home Thursday evening, Miller confirmed he had taught music at Hamilton but would not comment on the case. The district has paid for an attorney to defend Miller, according to LAUSD documents.
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, 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.”
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 two other students have come forward and that he expects there may be more. He said Miller’s behavior showed a “pattern” of abuse and that a “culture of permissiveness” allowed these actions to continue.
“There are multiple kids who don’t know each other, who have no connection to each other, who are coming forward,” De Marco said. “It’s morally reprehensible for a school district, whose first obligation is the protection of children, for as a first step to lawyer-up for the perp, so the perp can attack victims, without first conducting a thorough investigation.”
Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).