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Nearly 600 former detainees have sued LA County over sexual abuse in juvenile halls

The county could be forced to pay $1.6 billion to $3 billion for “more than 3,000 claims alleging childhood sexual assault at various County and non-County facilities”


Rochen said his firm, ACTS Law, receives about 10 to 20 calls a day from people making allegations.

Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

By Jason Henry
Pasadena Star-News, Calif.

LOS ANGELES — Nearly 600 people have now alleged in a series of lawsuits filed by one firm that they were sexually abused and harassed while in custody at Los Angeles County’s juvenile facilities.

Attorney Doug Rochen has filed four lawsuits since December on behalf of hundreds of former detainees. The latest suit, filed Monday, June 12, includes 78 individuals who experienced abuse in the county’s juvenile halls and camps from 1998 to 2018.

Rochen said his firm, ACTS Law, receives about 10 to 20 calls a day from people making allegations.

“It is like an avalanche,” Rochen said. “A lot of the times, it is the same conduct alleged against the same individuals at different time periods.”

The incidents were not isolated to a single facility and reveal a “systemic failure to protect vulnerable minors,” according to the lawsuit.

Victims as young as 12

The new suit against the county and more than 200 unnamed officers alleges children, as young as 12 years old at the time, were assaulted at Camp Kilpatrick, Central Juvenile Hall, Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, and Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall during the 20-year period.

For decades, Los Angeles County failed to protect the youth from staff, failed to provide an adequate amount of staff and training to supervise the facilities, and failed to properly investigate allegations of abuse, the lawsuit states.

The allegations involved similar patterns of abuse at different facilities. Officers physically harmed or threatened the children into silence. And those who attempted to report incidents often were ignored, or even punished, the lawsuit states.

At one point, a 15-year-old girl in 2014 attempted to report sexual abuse, but county officials dismissed her allegations and she was placed in solitary confinement instead, the lawsuit alleges.

Other abusers offered snacks, candy and other special privileges to try to coerce the children to keep quiet.

‘Intimate access’

Los Angeles County gave officers “uncontrolled and unsupervised intimate access” to the minors, the lawsuit alleges. The victims allege they were assaulted in their cells, in showers, and in common areas.

One 15-year-old boy at Central Juvenile Hall alleged that, on six different occasions, he was beaten and pepper-sprayed and then sexually assaulted by the same guard after being taken to the showers “to get washed off.”

The assaults may have never happened if the county had “properly supervised” the juvenile facilities, the lawsuit alleges.

Rochen’s firm isn’t the only one suing the county.

The Child Victims Act, in effect since 2020, allows the victims of childhood sexual assault to sue up to the age 40 and briefly allowed those over 40 to sue during the first three years.

Monetary risk

In April, Los Angeles County CEO Fesia Davenport estimated the county could be forced to pay $1.6 billion to $3 billion for “more than 3,000 claims alleging childhood sexual assault at various County and non-County facilities,” according to a recommended budget at the time.

“The cost to settle these claims will have a profound impact on the County budget for decades,” Davenport wrote.

Rochen’s firm filed its first lawsuit on behalf of 279 plaintiffs in December to meet the cut-off date for older victims. Since then, including this week’s lawsuit, his firm has filed three more complaints. He estimates he has another 50 clients whose cases have not yet been filed.

Rochen’s cases cover abuse as far back as 1972 and as recent as 2022, Rochen said. Some of the victims spent only days in the facilities for minor crimes. “The reality is that we probably don’t even know today how many people were really affected,” he said.

Rochen said his clients have decided to come forward in the hopes of letting others know they are not alone.

“They don’t want this to happen to future generations,” he said.

Staffing crisis

Los Angeles County’s juvenile halls have experienced a tremendous upheaval over the past year. A staffing crisis, compounding on itself, created such squalid and unsafe conditions that both the California Department of Justice and the Board of State and Community Corrections, the regulatory body overseeing juvenile halls in California, have cracked down on the facilities.

The BSCC declared Nidorf and Central juvenile halls “unsuitable” for the confinement of youth in May and ordered the county to empty both facilities by July 24. The county now is trying to consolidate, under the very tight deadline, all of its predisposition youth — those who have not been sentenced for a crime — at Los Padrinos, which closed in 2019.

Meanwhile, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge agreed to sanction L.A. County if it does not comply with the terms of a 2021 judgment obtained by the Department of Justice that required the county to maintain adequate staff levels to ensure youth detainees receive the appropriate educational, medical and recreational services.

The two sides met over the last month to negotiate deadlines, but were unable to come to an agreement on time frames for most of the outstanding fixes, according to a status report.


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