Nearly 300 boys and girls allege in a new lawsuit they were sexually assaulted, harassed and abused by Los Angeles County probation and detention officers while being held in county juvenile facilities.
The 359-page Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed Dec. 20 alleges minor detainees at county juvenile camps and detention centers were abused during the time of their mandated detainment. Lawyers for the 279 plaintiffs contend the county failed hundreds of minors through negligence, including a lack of adequate hiring policies to screen for potential sexual predators within its facilities, and failure to provide appropriate training and supervision of staff and employees.
The lawsuit also claims that while the plaintiffs were incarcerated, they were abused under the guise of “authority.” The allegations include grooming, unsupervised inmate access that led to verbal and physical abuse, and inadequate training of employees on proper standards. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say Los Angeles County failed to provide juvenile detainees with necessary supervision to keep them safe from harm.
“It’s an absolute disgrace that the pandemic multiple-decade-long abuses of these minor victims within the exclusive control of Los Angeles County’s juvenile detention system were allowed to run its course for as long as they did with no consequences or recourse,” Doug Rochen, a partner at ACTS Law, which filed the lawsuit, said in a statement. “The irreversible trauma, suffering, and emotional and physical abuse that these children underwent will be a lifelong struggle that they will live with forever. The county should be held responsible for the predatory behavior of these officers and county officials they hired, failed to properly vet, and failed to properly train.”
The alleged assaults occurred between the 1970s and 2018 and happened at Camp Scott and Camp Kenyon Scudder, both girls facilities, and Challenger Memorial Youth Center, the Los Padrinos, Central and Barry J. Nidorf juvenile halls, according to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the lawsuit. County officials did not respond to The LA Times for a request for comment. However, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn told the paper the accusations are “stomach-turning.”
“The officers responsible for this abuse need to be held accountable,” she told The LA Times. “They have no business working for the county, and they should face criminal charges.”
According to the lawsuit, in one instance, a deputy probation officer brought snacks to a 16-year-old boy’s cell at night and engaged in conversation when nobody was around in an attempt to groom him. On three separate occasions the minor was sexually abused and harassed within his cell, the lawsuit contends. In another instance, a then-13-year-old girl alleges that she was sexually abused and harassed by a group of deputy probation officers while she was alone brushing her teeth one night. They promised “extra food and extra privileges” if she willingly allowed them to touch her, and when she failed to comply she was restrained, then brutally and painfully raped, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit contends that a then-17-year-old boy on more than 10 separate occasions was sexually abused and harassed by a deputy probation officer. The officer would enter his cell at night, bring him alcohol to get him drunk, and sodomize him, the suit alleges. In more than 10 instances, a then-16-year-old girl was sexually abused, groped, and harassed within her cell by a deputy probation officer, according to the lawsuit. The officer would isolate the girl in the dorms at night and would threaten her by saying that she would “get more time if she said anything” about the abuse, the suit contends.
“Imagine being a young, incarcerated teenager being sexually abused,” Rochen said. “What access to justice did these kids have? What options were available to them? And who would have believed their cries for help even if they said something let alone being threatened with violence or further incarceration if they spoke up?”
The lawsuit was filed during a window created by a 2020 state law that opened a three-year period for individuals to sue over sexual abuse claims from decades ago, and effectively paused California’s statutes of limitations and provided an opportunity to file suits for civil damages. After 2022, lawsuits can be filed only if the alleged incidents are less than 40 years old or if it has been five years since plaintiffs encountered psychological effects from alleged past sexual abuse.