The arrest by Ceres Police Department of Oakdale Bethel Assembly of God youth minister Tyler Bliss on suspicion of possessing child pornography last week marks the third time in less than six months that a person in a position of trust has been arrested for a sexual offense involving children in the City of Oakdale.
Last September former Boy Scout troop leader Paul Birmingham was arrested by the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department for engaging in sexual acts with a minor after a month-long investigation into an inappropriate relationship he had with a 15-year-old boy over a five-year period. Detectives say the victim told them the first encounter happened when the boy was 13.
Birmingham was the owner of Print-Rite Printing on Hi Tech Parkway in the city.
A few weeks later in September, Oakdale Police arrested Cloverland Elementary School substitute teacher Bryan Thies for lewd acts with a child and child molestation.
At the time, Oakdale Police Chief Lester Jenkins said police were notified by Cloverland school staff regarding an allegation that Thies inappropriately touched five students at the school earlier in the month.
Ceres Police filed charges in the case against Bliss on Feb. 20. He has a pending court date for arraignment. Birmingham and Thies are currently going through the court process for their charges.
Even past the six-month time frame, Oakdale was impacted by other high-profile child sexual abuse cases.
Earlier in 2013, Timothy Lyman was arrested by Oakdale Police for the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl who was a soccer teammate of his daughter.
Lyman was hosting a holiday party for some of his daughter’s teammates with some other area teens also attending. Alcohol was served at the gathering and the victim had passed out in a bedroom. She later awoke to find Lyman having sex with her.
Last November Lyman pleaded no contest to a felony charge of rape of an unconscious person. He received one year in jail and three years on probation. He is currently out of custody but has to register as a sex offender.
In July 2011, Oakdale Police arrested Valley Home Superintendent and Principal Kevin Hart on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14, and continuous child sexual abuse. Court records alleged the acts occurred over a two-year period in Hart’s Oakdale home.
In May 2013, Hart passed away while going through the trial process for the offenses.
Whatever the reason for these offenses; officials said this highlights the urgent need to tackle the problem at an early age. Parents and caregivers can play an important role by ensuring their children are armed with the knowledge to recognize the wrong kind of behavior and keep themselves safe.
Figures from the California Department of Justice show that in child abuse cases 93 percent of the time the victim knows the offender.
Additionally, those that are in the position of hiring need to take stringent standards in checking the backgrounds of the individuals they assign to these positions supervising children.
According to Boy Scouts of America representatives, Birmingham had his membership to the organization revoked back in 2004 because of allegations of abuse. However there was no evidence of any criminal charges filed by the organization.
Thies had disciplinary actions from the California Commission of Teacher Credentialing dating back to 2008 from an incident in Merced for “immoral or unprofessional conduct” and his teaching credential was briefly suspended.
Records show he was on a mandatory leave of absence due to a “charge filed for a commission of a sex offense” at that time, yet he was still substitute teaching in Oakdale.
Regarding Bliss, the Assemblies of God district office has come out and said they do not conduct background checks on their youth pastors and they are hired locally by the church. In this case the senior pastor, Bliss’ father David Bliss, was the one that hired Bliss to be the youth pastor that oversaw junior high school and high school aged youths.
Ceres Police spokesperson Carrissa Higginbotham said child pornography was only located on Bliss’ home and work computers. None of the other computers at Bethel Assembly contained any illegal images.
It’s unknown what a background check would have revealed, as a check with Stanislaus County courts only shows Bliss receiving citations for minor traffic violations.
A check of the Megan’s Law website shows 38 sexual offenders residing in Oakdale.