Fame followed Eldridge Broussard Jr. out of Watts and back, from basketball stardom to his once-praised program to lift children out of the drugs and poverty of the Los Angeles ghetto.
Now his 8-year-old daughter is dead, allegedly at the hands of staff members of Broussard's ultradisciplinary program, and 55 other children are in protective custody.Oregon authorities say the children, who were kept in a sparsely furnished four-bedroom farmhouse, were subjected to ritualistic beatings of up to 800 strokes with a paddle or electrical cord. The others were forced to watch and keep count, authorities also said.
Yet such is Broussard's popularity that parents have made no attempt to reclaim their children, even though the youngsters were removed from the house a weekago, according to Children's Service Division spokeswoman Alice Galloway.
The parents display "no lack of confidence in Eldridge Broussard," she says. "They trust him implicitly."
Broussard blames the media for his daughter's death and for the downfall of his Ecclesia Athletic Association.
He said negative publicity when Ecclesia arrived in Oregon last year cost his group financial backing and led to suspension of its activities a year ago. As a result, Broussard said, there were fewer staff members, and some were performing duties they weren't qualified for.
The children, mostly from the Watts area of Los Angeles, were kept in the farmhouse near Sandy, about 30 miles southeast of Portland.
On Oct. 14, four staff members took the body of Dayna Broussard to a nearby fire station. She had been beaten and whipped and died of multiple blunt-force injuries, Medical Examiner Larry Lewman said.
That night, 53 children were taken from the house, where they were sharing sleeping bags on the floor. Investigators said the children, ranging in age from 11/2 months to 16 years, had eaten only a tomato apiece that day.
Two other children involved with the group were taken into custody in Los Angeles.
The beatings were an integral part of the group's program to heighten athletic performance, much like harassment used in military training, said Donald Welch, director of the Clackamas County Juvenile Court.
In an appearance on Oprah Winfrey's syndicated television talk show Thursday, Broussard denied that the children were beaten or abused, saying they were only "spanked."
He said standards of discipline in Oregon differ greatly from those in Watts.
"In Watts, parents have seen brutality that would trip the mind of the average American," he said. "The people that are a part of my school, when they see brutal, they see ears coming off, they see giant huge lacerations."