A Santa Cruz man who served as a court-appointed advocate for children in the foster care system in Santa Cruz County was arrested Friday on suspicion of child sex abuse, indecent exposure and possessing child pornography, authorities reported. The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office arrested Brian Criswell, 39, in connection with the alleged molestation of two children, including with one starting from 2009 to 2011, according to Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Kennedy.
Criswell was placed into custody Friday morning on suspicion of sodomy with a child under 14, oral copulation with a child under 14 and lewd and lascivious behavior by force with a child under 14, according to online records of the Santa Cruz County Jail. Criswell also was also arrested on suspicion of annoying or molesting a child under 18, possessing pornography of a child under 18 and indecent exposure, according to jail records.
His bail was set at $500,000 for each of the six felony counts, according to the jail. Deputies captured Criswell at 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Dominican Hospital located at 1555 Soquel Drive in Santa Cruz, according to the jail’s website. Criswell was arrested in connection with his conduct with minors through his role in Santa Cruz County’s Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, program, according to Kennedy. CASA, based in Watsonville, recruits, screens and provides volunteer mentors to spend time with children placed by judges into foster care, according to Cynthia Druley, the group’s executive director.
Each child advocate typically spends two to four hours per week with the foster care youth for about two years with the goal of recommending to the court how the kid may be placed into a permanent home, Druley said. Criswell, who worked as a CASA child volunteer advocate going back to 2009, was terminated from the program three weeks ago, Druley said. “We were shocked that one of our volunteers who we’ve known and who passed a background check would be involved in this activity,” Druley said.
CASA requires its volunteers pass a detailed background review, including with the FBI, sex offenders’ registry and criminal history databases, and provide multiple personal references, Druley said. Criswell passed the extensive check of his past, which showed that the organization cannot be “too careful…about the people who we allow to work with children,” Druley said. The sheriff’s office has reason to believe that there are still other child victims who had been in contact with Criswell while he served as a youth counselor, advocate and sports coach, Kennedy said.
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