Bureacratic inertia and apparent fear of political repercussion kept California Department of Social Services personel from spreading the word that children were being abused at the Peoples Temple settlement in Jonestown, Guyana more than a year before the tragedy that took 911 lives, according to a report by the state Justice Department.
The report prepared by Deputy Attorney General John S. Moy, is to be released Tuesday. It paints a bleak picture of missed signals, misinterpreted reports, and failures to act that culminated in the possibility that 22 children died in Guyana because the state agency failed to warn local probate judges not to grant guardianships to People's Temple members.
On Nov. 18, 1978, after ordering the shooting death of U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan (D.Calif.) and several reporters at a nearby airport. Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones and 910 of his followers committed suicide or were murdered in a bizarre pact at the jungle settlement of Jonestown; 246 of the dead were children.
According to Moy's investigation allegations of abuses of children at the settlement had come to the attention of state authorities in August 1977 through an article in New West magazine.
Those allegations were given chilling credibility by a state Health Department investigator, J. C. Ortiz, who interviewed many witnesses who corrobated the charges printed in the magazine.
But Ortiz took eight months to finish his report, although the bulk of his investigation had been completed in two to three months, Moy's report says. About the time Ortiz finished his report, his department has broken up by a state reorganization, and its functions were transferred to several differenct agencies. The Department of Social Services assumed responsibility for most programs involving children.
Ortiz concluded his report by saying the U.S. embassy in Georgetown, Guyana, should be alerted to the abuses of children, including head-shaving, making children work all night, ostracism and humiliation.
Nevertheless, California probate judges awarded guardianships of 2 children to Peoples Temple members after Ortiz's report was completed.
Inexplicably, Ortiz then recommended that his investigation be closed. That was interpreted by Department of Social Services Offices as meaning he considered the probe over. But Ortiz later told Moy he hoped the agency would follow up on the allegations he outliend in his six-page report.
But no one ever did -- partly, Moy says, out of concern that political toes might be stepped on.
Whose toes they were, however, may never be known. Moy's investigators looked into scores of containers of Peoples Temple documents after the tragedy, and found inventory lists that included reference to newspaper reporters, former lieutenant governor Mervyn M. Dymally, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, black activist Angela Davis, San Francisco District Attorney Joseph Freitas, Assembly man Willie L. Brown and the late San Francisco mayor George Moscone.
But when they attempted to find the items mentioned on the list, those items had vanished.
"In sum, Moy writes, "absence of (these materials,) deprived us of possible evidence relevant to the questions whether state officials declined to pursue an investigation of Peoples Temple in the interest of protecting the temple."
The report concludes that "the Peoples Temple experience teaches that permitting anonymity in administrative decision-making fosters avoidance of responsibility and frustration of legislatively mandated child protection objectives."
But, the report adds, "It cannot be said, with any reasonable degree of conviction, that the disaster at Jonestown would have been averted had the department requested the American embassy (in Guyana) to monitor the well-being of the children at Jonestown."