LAKE BLUFF — A man who says he was abused by a Lake Bluff teacher nearly 40 years ago said he hopes a recent criminal charge starts a process to ensure children are protected.
Charles Ritz III, who taught at what was then Lake Bluff Junior High School between 1975 and 1985, surrendered May 15 at the Lake County Jail in Waukegan on a misdemeanor charge of public indecency/lewd exposure stemming from his time as a Lake Bluff teacher.
Ritz, who taught in California for 30 years after leaving Lake Bluff in 1985, returned from California to surrender after learning of the charge, according to a May 15 Lake County News Sun story.
After his surrender Ritz was taken into custody in the Lake County Jail, where he remains as of May 16 unable to post the cash portion of a $100,000 bond, according to a spokesperson for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
Jim Moss, a Lake Bluff resident who was a student at what is now Lake Bluff Middle School when Ritz taught there, is one of Ritz’s accusers. He said he is glad to see the start of the judicial process. He wants to make sure what he accuses Ritz of doing never happens to a child.
“I am pleased to see the beginning of justice,” said Moss in a May 16 DNS interview. “There is work to be done. There is still work to be done with the school. We still have victims who need help. We need to focus on getting complete reports by mandatory reporters,” such as teachers and administrators who are required by law to report potential abuse.
Moss Urges Proactive Approach by School
Moss said he wants to see Lake Bluff Middle School become proactive and a leader developing procedures and training so people who are required to report abusive behavior by school personal feel compelled to do so.
“In my day they would err on the side of not reporting a situation,” said Moss. “We should to go the police and let them do their jobs. The schools should not do their jobs for them. They should err on the side of being conservative.”
“We will remain vigilant in our duty as a School Board to provide a safe and supportive environment for learning. We will continue to share updates on our assessment of current policies and procedures at future public Board meetings and in directed communications to our parents, staff and community,” Lake Bluff School District 65 wrote in a statement.
In February, Moss petitioned the District 65 Board of Education to conduct an investigation into Ritz’s alleged actions to help it learn how to ensure such a situation will not happen again, according to a DNS story.
Going public nearly a year ago, Moss said he and others started a Facebook page to reach out to victims and begin the effort to bring Ritz to justice. When Lake Bluff Village President Kathleen O’Hara learned about it she went to Lake Bluff Police Chief David Belmonte and asked him to open an investigation, according to a November 3 DNS story.
An investigation by police and Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim’s office lasted nearly a year, according to a statement by the State’s Attorney’s Office. Charges were filed May 11 when a warrant for Ritz’s arrest was issued, according to Lake County Court Clerk records.
Nerheim Declines To Give Details of Ritz’s Actions
While Nerheim declined to release details about Ritz’s alleged acts resulting in the charge, the statement discussed procedural aspects of the investigation by Lake Bluff police and his office, according to Cynthia Vargas, his communications manager.
Despite the fact the alleged events occurred three decades ago, Nerheim said in the statement he is comfortable the statute of limitations is not a barrier to the case.
“Although these events happened decades ago, they can currently be prosecuted based on the fact that Mr. Ritz left the State of Illinois shortly after the commission of these criminal acts,” said Nerheim in the statement.
Investigators from the Lake Bluff Police Department and the State’s Attorney’s Office worked together interviewing more than 50 witnesses in several states ranging from Florida to California, according to the statement. Extensive records going back nearly 30 years were reviewed. Police Chief Belmonte said it was a challenging investigation.
“Those challenges did not diminish our resolve to investigate the matter and work on behalf of the victims and our entire community so we could learn as much as we could about the disturbing allegations and do whatever we could to hold responsible parties strictly accountable,” said Belmonte in the statement.
Ritz will be arraigned June 22 in Lake County Criminal Court in Waukegan, at which time he will have the opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty. If convicted, he can face up to a year in Lake County Jail, be placed on probation for up to two years after his release and pay a fine, according to Vargas.