Biscayne Park seemed like the perfect place for Maria Elena Molina to raise her son. Tucked between North Miami and Miami Shores, the Village of Biscayne Park is a 3,500-person community of rustic single-family homes, an Episcopal church, a recreation center, and a 1934 log cabin that's home to the village's municipal offices and police department. It has a Leave It To Beaver vibe, with huge trees shading large yards, massive oaks lining grassy medians, and zero tolerance for speeding motorists.
"I lived there for 15 years," Molina says. "I thought it was the safest place ever."
But in the summer of 2008, her tranquil lifestyle was upended. Between June and August, she claims, two boys attending a village-run summer camp with her son, who was then 5 years old, sexually assaulted him. Molina found out about the alleged abuse a month after her son started school.
"His personality changed dramatically," she says. "He went from outgoing and happy to extremely volatile and sad. He was getting in trouble at school, throwing things and tantrums."
Molina says when he finally told her what had happened, she went to the Biscayne Park Police Department to file a complaint. "But no one wanted to help me," she alleges. "No one wanted to write a report."
The village finally opened an investigation after she sought help from Kristi House, a child advocacy center. Her son told detectives and a therapist that the two boys, at the time 6 and 8, assaulted him several times in a bathroom.
His mom then sued the village for negligence. They moved to Davie in 2009. Molina complains that Biscayne Park lawyers wanted to put her son on the witness stand, which would have caused him more trauma. After a Miami-Dade judge rejected the village's motion to depose the boy, Biscayne Park asked the Third District Court of Appeals to overturn the ruling. The appeal was denied.
In mid-October, the village finally settled with Molina's son for $100,000.
Michael Piper, one of the attorneys who represented Biscayne Park, says the village's insurance company recommended settling for economic reasons because the cost of going to trial would be triple what was paid to Molina. He declined to comment further.
"My son has been in therapy and on medication for the past four years," Molina says. "The village treated us like garbage. The residents should be aware that the summer camp program is not safe for children."