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Guards sexually assaulted detained teens: Los Angeles County lawsuit

Six people have filed lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by guards at juvenile detention centers in Los Angeles County.

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Six people who were detained as teenagers in Los Angeles County juvenile detention facilities have filed a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by male and female probation officers, including a survivor who was brutally raped in his cell when he was 13.

The other plaintiffs were aged 14 to 16 at the time of the abuse, according to the lawsuit, which cites more than 20 separate incidents of sexual abuse spanning nearly two decades.

“This issue has been ignored and untested for far too long,” attorney Tracey B. Cowan of Clarkson Law Firm, which is representing the case, said in a July 9 press release.

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“Los Angeles County knowingly put children in active danger when they should be helping them get back on track as they transition into adulthood,” Cowan said. “The Indian officers who committed these assaults know that the children in these facilities are vulnerable, and yet they continue to use their power to exploit them.”

County officials accuse them of allowing accused child molesters to continue working at county juvenile detention centers despite years of “publicly known” sexual abuse, according to a complaint filed July 9 in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The complaint describes repeated incidents of groping, pawing, and rape by guards. Plaintiffs are suing the county and several probation officers for damages, including mental anguish, anxiety, depression, nightmares, flashbacks, humiliation, shame, anger issues, and more.

It’s the latest lawsuit filed over alleged abuse at juvenile detention centers by guards. Two probation officers were named in the July 9 complaint, which shows one is still employed, and 50 other unnamed officials are named as defendants.

McClatchy News is not disclosing the identities of the officers because they have not been formally charged.

Several probation officers have been placed on leave

According to the Los Angeles Times, the 359-page lawsuit was filed in December 2022 on behalf of 279 plaintiffs who were previously held in Los Angeles County juvenile detention centers for sexual assaults they experienced at the hands of officers from the 1970s to 2018.

In response to a July 9 request for comment from McClatchy News, the Los Angeles County Probation Department said most of the lawsuits “involve misconduct committed more than a decade ago, long before the current Probation and County leadership took office.”

“We have repeatedly asked plaintiffs’ attorneys to provide the names of the alleged defendants because we want to ensure that no alleged offenders have contact with youth in our care. Of the employees we have been able to identify, some have died, others have retired so long ago that their records have been expunged, and those currently working for the Department have been placed on leave pending internal and external investigations,” the department said.

“Eight individuals left the Department and two cases were referred to the District Attorney.”

The department made the same statement in a news release April 16, about a month after it announced the arrest of a probation officer in March in connection with having sex with a juvenile inmate at the Dorothy Kirby Center.

At least 66 probation officers in county prisons for adults and minors have been removed from their duties over allegations of using force, endangering or abusing children, sexual harassment and other acts, the Department of Probation announced on May 13.

As of July 9, there are 540 juveniles in Los Angeles County probation custody, the department confirmed.

“An ongoing, systemic problem”

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of six survivors, three probation officers and three probation officers, accused the plaintiffs of abusing them between 1999 and 2016.

The complaint states that if the teens “did not comply with (the officers’) sexual demands, they were punished by having their privileges revoked and/or were threatened with longer sentences and placement in juvenile detention centers under the supervision of probation officers.”

According to the indictment, in 1999, one of the victims spent three months at Camp Scott when she was 15 after being arrested for petty theft. The indictment says a probation officer repeatedly sexually assaulted her at the facility.

According to the complaint, the officer, who has previously been accused of sexually abusing children, once ordered her to spend 72 hours in isolation in a place known as “the box.”

While he was driving her to the “box” in a transport van, the officer stopped the vehicle and “forced (her) to perform oral sex on him, threatening further punishment if she refused,” the complaint says.

The lawsuit accuses Camp Scott supervisors of ignoring numerous complaints of sexual harassment filed against the officer by a female employee and other juvenile detainees.

A 2010 Los Angeles Times investigation found that 11 juvenile probation officers had been found guilty of or punished for physically and sexually abusing minors in custody.

“We filed this lawsuit to shine a light on this ongoing, systemic problem and hold the county accountable for failing to protect our most vulnerable,” attorney Sarah Beller of Clarkson Law Firm said in a statement about the lawsuit.

Julia Marnin is a McClatchy National Real-Time reporter covering the Southeast and Northeast from New York City. She is a graduate of The College of New Jersey and joined McClatchy in 2021. She has previously written for Newsweek, Modern Luxury, Gannett and others.