A former Palo Alto elementary school volunteer and nanny accused of child molestation 23 years ago was arraigned on 34 counts of felony child molestation on Friday in Santa Clara County Superior Court in Palo Alto.
David Shwenke Tupou (aka David Tupou Schwenke), 50, was originally charged with two counts of child molestation on one Palo Alto girl and pleaded not guilty in April. But since then two other victims have come forward to testify they were also abused by him. During a Dec. 1 preliminary hearing, the three Palo Alto victims, who are also sisters, said Tupou molested them from 1991-1995 and in 1997-1999. The girls were 7 to 12 years old; 5 to 9 years old; and 4 to 8 years of age at the time of alleged molestation, with the youngest girl again being molested between the ages of 9 and 12, prosecuting attorney Pinaki Chakravorty said. Tupou had lived in the girls' home while working as their nanny.
Tupou is charged with lewd or lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14 and lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14 years of age by use of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear. He is currently serving a 63-year sentence for the unrelated 1998-1999 sexual abuse of a minor in San Jose. The victim in that case, who is now an adult, testified at the Dec. 1 preliminary hearing that Tupou allegedly discussed the acts against the Palo Alto girls while she was being molested and that he had referred to the three Palo Alto victims by their names. Last fall, she contacted one of the sisters through Facebook.
The Palo Alto sisters, who are now in their 20s and 30s, came forward in November 2016 to press charges out of concern that Tupou might be released early from prison under Proposition 57, and they don't want him to harm anyone else, they told police.
In addition to being the girls' nanny, Tupou had a considerable history at Palo Alto's schools. He worked for the Palo Alto Unified School District from 1991 to 1992 as a language tutor. He volunteered in at least five Palo Alto elementary schools in 1993 and 1994, including Hoover, Juana Briones, El Carmelo, Addison and Walter Hays, mostly in kindergarten classes. He also volunteered at the Palo Alto Children's Theatre, according to previous Weekly news reports.
Principals at Hoover and El Carmelo asked Tupou to discontinue volunteering after multiple parents expressed concern over his too-intimate behavior with their children, which included excessive tickling, according to Weekly news reports at the time. In October 1994, police arrested him after a parent reported that one of the sisters had confided to her daughter about the alleged abuse. One of the sisters also gave police a detailed account of Tupou's alleged sexual touching, according court records.
But Tupou, then 36, had a charismatic personality and received support from some disbelieving parents in the community. The accusations proved highly divisive, with some demanding the charges be dropped. Prosecutors eventually reduced the charges to annoying a child after the three sisters would not testify against him. Tupou was required only to take sensitivity training, according to court documents and news reports.
The sisters, however, now say they were not given a fair chance in the 1990s to prosecute Tupou. They were juveniles who were instructed by a parent to lie to police. Their mother allegedly told the children to lie so there would not be any consequence to Tupou because he was "family," they told police in November 2016.
Tupou can still be prosecuted on the decades-old charges because of exemptions to California's statutes of limitation laws on sexual-abuse cases. The statute of limitations can extend by a year from the time the victim reports a substantial sexual assault that occurred when they were children. Some of Tupou's alleged abuse was not reported until now, Chakravorty said.
Tupou's alleged abuse included kissing, photographing the girls naked, having them watch provocative videos, playing "strip poker"-type games and touching their bodies or having them touch his, according to court records. He allegedly used force or fear by hanging their baby brother out of a window and threatening to drop him if they victims did not cooperate with his sexual abuse, according to court documents.
Tupou is scheduled to enter a plea on the additional charges on Feb. 9.