A California father who was arrested last week after authorities said they had discovered more than 900 images of child sex abuse was also accused in 2018 of having "several hundred" similar images — but he has evaded prosecution because of an alleged computer glitch, a law enforcement official said.
Ryan Rovito, 34, of Redding, is accused of felony possession of child pornography and surreptitious recording after his wife turned over to police a camera she found hidden in the couple’s guest bathroom and a hard drive.
In 2018, his previous wife also went to authorities and reported that he had photos of “prepubescent juveniles” on his computer, said Sgt. Rob Garnero, a Redding police spokesperson.
That case got lost in a new software system and didn't make it to the Shasta County District Attorney's Office until November, a spokesperson for the DA's office said.
The software "had some errors when it launched," Garnero said, adding that the police department's records division made a note in its internal software in December that the previous case had been lost.
When police filed the current case against Rovito, they found the earlier one — "and that's when we discovered that case had never been completely discovered when routed," Garnero said.
Ryan Rovito did not respond to multiple attempts to ask him for comment. His lawyer, Timothy Prentiss, said Rovito maintains his innocence.
"From his perspective, he’s ready to challenge these allegations, and we’d prefer to do that in the legal system," Prentiss said.
Prentiss said he was not familiar with the 2018 allegations.
Statute of limitations
Police said there was a three-year statute of limitations on the 2018 case, which had expired by the time the glitch was discovered. But the Shasta County DA’s office said Thursday that the case falls under a 10-year limit.
“We’re going to have to do some further investigation to review the case before we make any filing decisions,” a spokesperson for the DA said.
Rovito’s ex-wife, who made the 2018 report, could not be reached for comment by phone or email Thursday. Court records show she filed for divorce in April 2019.
His current wife, Victoria Rovito, said that if officials had prosecuted him in 2018, her family’s life might never have been “flipped upside down and shattered.”
“I understand that mistakes happen, but these things cannot fall through the cracks," Victoria Rovito, 33, said in an exclusive interview this week. "It could've been somebody’s life. It could’ve been multiple peoples’ lives."
She said that she didn't know about the previous allegations until police told her this month and that she has since shared them with the National Guard, with which she said Rovito has served.
Lieutenant Colonel Brandon Hill, director of communications for the California Military Department, confirmed late Friday that Rovito is currently serving as a traditional, part-time member of the California Army National Guard but did not respond to additional questions.
"We are cooperating with the appropriate civilian authorities and cannot provide further comment on ongoing civilian criminal cases or law enforcement investigations involving service members of the California National Guard," Lt. Col. Hill said in a statement.
'This situation did not seem fathomable'
When Victoria and Ryan Rovito met in 2021, he seemed like the ideal partner: He got along well with her son, who’s now 3, and "would literally do anything for me," she said. They married less than a year later, she said, tying the knot in February 2022, and they welcomed a daughter seven months ago.
"It just seemed picture perfect," she said.
So when she found a camera hidden in the guest bathroom of their home in Redding, about 160 miles north of Sacramento, and was later told by authorities that he was alleged to have had hundreds of child sex abuse images on his hard drive, she was in "absolute shock."
“This situation did not seem fathomable to me prior to this," she said.
Redding police said that when Victoria Rovito first found the camera and confronted her husband, Ryan Rovito “vowed to remove and discard it."
She discovered he had not thrown it away as promised, and on March 8, she gave police the camera and the hard drive, “fearing Mr. Rovito had nefariously recorded their young children using the bathroom," the police department has said.
Authorities said they performed a forensic analysis of the devices and found hundreds of sex abuse photos and multiple videos. Garnero said Wednesday that the police department is still reviewing devices from Rovito's residence.
Police have said videos obtained from the camera "showed children and adults using the bathroom who did not appear to know they were being recorded."
Rovito was taken into custody March 16, during a traffic stop, on charges related to the felony possession of child pornography and the surreptitious recording of an identifiable person who was undressed.
He posted $25,000 bail the day he was arrested, Garnero said.
If he is convicted, Rovito could face 16 months to eight years in prison, said Garnero, who added that he could also be sentenced to probation and required to register as a sex offender for life instead of facing prison time.
Rovito could also face up to a year in county jail on the surreptitious recording charge, which is a misdemeanor under California law, Garnero said. But he added that “that scenario is unlikely as Rovito does not have a criminal history.”
He is due in court April 21, Garnero said.
'We have to protect our children'
Victoria Rovito requested, and was granted, a temporary restraining order against her husband the day after his arrest, court documents show.
She is focused on rebuilding her family's future: "I feel like our lives have been torn apart," she said.
A GoFundMe campaign set up by a friend says money raised will go toward living expenses and legal fees: "By doing what was right she ultimately is left with a lot of needs," it says.
In the meantime, she hopes that by sharing her story, she can show others how to protect their children in instances of child sex abuse.
"Once I realized what was going on, I didn't want it to happen to anyone else, and that was my driving factor," she said.
About 25% of girls and 1 in 13 boys in the U.S. experience sexual abuse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In more than 90% of those cases, the perpetrators are known and trusted by the children and their families, according to the CDC.
"That could be a family member, extended family, a coach or doctor — someone who doesn't raise any flags to be in proximity to the child," said Scott Berkowitz, the president and founder of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, an anti-sexual violence organization better known as RAINN.
Berkowitz said it's crucial to teach kids to alert trusted adults if they experience sex abuse. Adults should take a "safety first" approach by removing children from proximity to perpetrators, paying attention to their psychological needs and alerting relevant authorities if that's an option, Berkowitz said.
Victoria Rovito agrees: "We have to protect our children. They can't protect themselves," she said.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. The hotline, run by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), can put you in contact with your local rape crisis center. You can also access RAINN’s online chat service at https://www.rainn.org/get-help. Confidential chats are available in English and in Spanish.