Dog Bite Prevention: Mental State of Dogs Vital in Post-Pandemic World

April 14, 2021 | 10:55 am


Each year, millions of people are bitten or attacked by dogs. Sadly, children make up more than 50% of all dog bite victims.

Last year nearly 18,000 dog bite injury claims were made in the United States, according to the Insurance Information Institute. California had the most claims, and Florida, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Georgia and New Jersey rounding out the top 10.

In commemoration of National Dog Bite Prevention, the focus this year is on the mental state of our dogs, and transitioning pets in a post-pandemic world. Last March at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, State Farm reported its highest month for the number and amount paid for dog bite claims. Experts said they believe pets may have picked up on their owners’ stress and anxiety.

As pet owners return to the workplace or school, pets will be left home alone. This may result in destructive or aggressive behavior due to stress and anxiety. This will be a particular problem for the record amount of dogs adopted during the pandemic.

“By owning a dog, you are responsible if it bites or injures another person,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “And since we know all dogs can bite, and they can bite for many different reasons, owners are responsible for keeping us humans and pets safe in difficult situations.”

 

DOG BITE PREVENTION

So, what can we do to prevent dog bites?

The three most important things as a dog owner, education, training and responsibility, experts share. Educate yourself on dog body language. Take this commemoration as an opportunity to educate your friends, families, and neighbors that any dog can bite, regardless of its breed. Teach the people around you that even well-trained dogs are capable of biting, especially if you disturb them while eating or sleeping, or if they are caught off guard, like by a postal carrier. Learn how to be a responsible dog owner. Schedule regular veterinary-care check-ups, teach children to treat dogs with respect, give your dog some mental and physical exercise, use a leash in public, and keep your dog away or locked in a room if it tends to be aggressive towards strangers and someone visits your house.

Socializing your pet helps your dog feel at ease in different situations. By introducing your dog to people and other animals while it’s a puppy, it feels more comfortable in different situations as it gets older. It’s also important to use a leash in public to make sure that you are able to control your dog. Also educate yourself and your children about how to approach a dog. Lastly, it’s important to know how to avoid escalating risky situations and to understand when you should and should not interact with dogs.

You should avoid petting a dog in these scenarios:

  • If the dog is not with its owner
  • If the dog is with its owner, but the owner does not give permission to pet the dog
  • If the dog is on the other side of a fence—​don’t reach through or over a fence to pet a dog
  • If a dog is sleeping or eating
  • If a dog is sick or injured
  • If a dog is resting with her puppies or seems very protective of her puppies and anxious about your presence
  • If a dog is playing with a toy
  • If a dog is growling or barking
  • If a dog appears to be hiding or seeking time alone

Reading a dog’s body language also can be helpful. Just like people, dogs rely on body gestures, postures and vocalizations to express themselves and communicate. Dogs can give us helpful clues as to whether a dog is feeling stressed, frightened, or threatened.

 

K-9 STUDY & LAWSUITS

The Washington Post recently highlighted the dozens of video-recorded K-9 attacks that have surfaced over the past few years across the country, many showing people under attack even though they are unarmed, have surrendered to police, are already handcuffed or are innocent bystanders

An estimated 40,000 people were treated for K-9 attacks in hospital emergency rooms from 2009 to 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although deaths are rare, the nonprofit Marshall Project news organization found at least three people had died of injuries from police dog bites since 2011.

Today, about 15,000 police dogs are now working in the United States.

Some psychologists say the premise behind the use of police dogs — to subdue and get a suspect to become motionless — is faulty at its core. Humans are hard-wired to actively fight an attack that might lead to serious injuries or death. Many Black suspects also have frightening personal histories of ancestors being hunted by canines.

In some cases, the people who were bitten have received financial settlements through civil lawsuits, including clients of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. The law firm resolved a lawsuit in 2016 on behalf of a Bakersfield woman for $2 million in what was the largest award for a dog bite case against a public entity in California at the time, according to VerdictSearch, a verdict and settlement database. In this case, a 21-year-old was attacked by a K-9 dog accompanying a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy while outside of a restaurant in north Bakersfield. Responding to a domestic dispute, the deputy exited his patrol vehicle and began walking toward Casey. At that time, the K-9 exited the patrol car, ran toward Casey and began biting her for 60 to 90 seconds. Casey suffered several major bite wounds to her leg. Investigation found that the K-9 escaped from its holding kennel in the back of the patrol car due to a mechanical defect inside of the car. The deputy agreed that the K-9 should not have been let out of the patrol car. In addition, the K-9 failed to respond to commands from the deputy to cease attacking.

Most recently, Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a claim on behalf of the family of a second-grade student who was bitten on the face by a dog while in her classroom. Leilani, 8, suffered severe lacerations and tearing to her face when she was attacked by one of two large dogs visiting her classroom at Wayside Elementary School (Bakersfield City School District) in south Bakersfield. The dogs belonged to a volunteer reader from the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office.

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If you or someone you know is bitten or attacked by a dog, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolves several cases involving misconduct at North High School

March 9, 2021 | 3:29 pm


Chain | Cohn | Stiles law firm has resolved four cases on behalf of students at North High School who were victims of sexual misconduct by an athletic equipment manager at the school.

The cases settled for a total of nearly $2 million.

Kern County Sheriff’s Office had arrested Edwin Rodriguez on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment. He was sentenced to time served after pleading no contest to a charge of committing a lewd or lascivious act with a 14 or 15 year old, and ordered to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, according to media reports.

Rodriguez resigned from North High in 2018 after a student reported receiving sexually explicit messages from him through social media. A school administrator notified the sheriff’s office, which determined Rodriguez sent inappropriate messages through Snapchat to at least eight juvenile students, and had sexual contact with several of them.

According to the victims, Rodriguez would give students sodas and candy, befriend them on the social media, and send them sexually explicit photos and videos, among other sexual misconduct that took place over several years. One of the women shared that the abuse first occurred when she was a sophomore in high school.

In one instance, Rodriguez sent a photo on Snapchat to two of the girls that showed him wearing shorts and a tank top and grabbing his penis. A number of text messages sent by Rodriguez to the girls told them he thought they were “hot” or commented on various parts of their body he found attractive.

Rodriguez “groomed” the victims, Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury attorney David Cohn, who represented the victims and their families, told local media. To see full media coverage of the lawsuits and criminal cases of Rodriguez, please see the links below.

The mother of one of the victims has also spoken out.

“This sick man manipulated my daughter. She and I are very close, but she felt she was doing something wrong and was afraid to tell me about it,” said the mother of one of the victims in a statement. “My hope through this lawsuit is to prevent this from happening in the future, and to protect our students through better accountability and scrutiny of school officials.”

“I think all the markers were out there,” Cohn told KGET-17.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys and the parents of the victims advise other parents to talk to their children about boundaries with those authority.

“Take this opportunity to have a discussion with your teenager,” Cohn said. “Students should never have one-on-one conversations through social media or text messages with school personnel, coaches, or other adults in authority. And encourage them to speak up if someone in authority contacts them privately or crosses a line.”

 

OTHER MISCONDUCT CASES

Chain | Cohn | Stiles also resolved several lawsuits on behalf of victims of sexual assault by a Kern County Juvenile Corrections officer while they were housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall. Settlements of $200,000, $250,000, and $400,000 were reached with the County of Kern on behalf of the victims, respectively. The final settlement was reached recently after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the victim, a Chain | Cohn | Stiles plaintiff, who had alleged that in 2015 corrections officer George Anderson made sexual comments to her, groomed her for sexual abuse, propositioned her for sex and watched her shower. The appeals court found that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California erred in its 2016 decision and reversed it.

In another case, a former McFarland High School basketball coach pleaded no contest to contacting a teenager to commit a sex act. Fernando Pruneda faces two years in prison and sex offender registration after pleading no contest to the felony. Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which represents the teenager and family, said the civil matter can proceed now that the criminal case has been resolved. “Fernando Pruneda attempted to sell a position on the varsity basketball team in exchange for sex, and this disgusting and abhorrent conduct deserved to be charged as a felony,” Clark said in media reports. “We congratulate the Kern County District Attorney’s Office for their perseverance in securing this plea deal. This case is an example of how sexual predators groom their young prey, and that high school personnel, if it were paying attention, would have been aware of this conduct.” According to court documents, Pruneda tried to get sexual favors from a junior varsity basketball player. The boy told detectives Pruneda massaged him — as well as other players — below the waist. When the boy resisted or told Pruneda to stop, the coach told him “you won’t get varsity,” according to the documents. The boy also told investigators Pruneda forced him to sleep in the same bed with him during away tournaments. When deputies questioned Pruneda about inappropriate text messages he sent the boy, Pruneda told them he was just joking around. Pruneda coached boys’ basketball for 15 years and helped coach baseball.

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What to do in a sexual abuse / assault case

Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline, or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. The sooner you get in touch with someone, the sooner justice can be served.

See a doctor: Seek immediate medical care following a rape or sexual abuse. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations, and they often have someone on staff that can help with stress.

Contact at attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a sexual assault and abuse lawyer.

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SETTLEMENT MEDIA COVERAGE

CLAIM FILING MEDIA COVERAGE

CRIMINAL CASE MEDIA COVERAGE

Family of fatal New Year’s Eve crash victim, Chain | Cohn | Stiles speak about dangers of impaired driving

February 23, 2021 | 4:04 pm


The year 2020 is a year many of us are glad is in the past, but for the families of three young people who died in a New Year’s Eve crash, they would give anything to go back in time. And one of those local families is hoping their kind of loss is the last in our community.

The family of Andrew Ortiz – mother Sasha McKeen, stepfather Steven McKeen, and father Michael Ortiz – recently spoke with Jeff Platt at KBAK-29 Eyewitness News about the crash, their son, and the dangers of driving under the influence and unbuckled. They were joined also by Matt Clark, accident and injury attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Adam Teasdale, 21, was charged with three counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and one count of DUI causing bodily injury for the crash at Brimhall Road and Jewetta Avenue in northwest Bakersfield that killed Timothy Michael Wilson, Devin Lee Atha and Andrew Nicholas Ortiz, all 20. A fourth passenger suffered minor injuries.

Police said they believe Teasdale was driving about 60 mph when he swerved and lost control. The car went onto the raised concrete median and slammed into a tree, according to reports. The three people in the back were thrown through the window.

Police found “whip-it” canisters of nitrous oxide — which provide a brief high by inhaling the gas — and a bottle of consumed Fireball Whiskey at the crash scene, according to the media reports. A nitrous oxide canister was also found in one of Teasdale’s pockets.

“I just killed my friends,” he said, according to a witness who lives near where the crash. “Why did I swerve.”

Teasdale refused to take any field sobriety tests at the scene, according to media reports, and would only consent to a blood draw if he was arrested. One officer stated that Teasdale “displayed sings of being under the influence of alcohol.” He also said the devil was inside him.

Teasdale is being held on $1 million bail and is due in court March 26. He has pleaded not guilty.

“You may be lucky 99 times out of 100, but that last time your luck may run out,” Michael Ortiz, father of Andrew Ortiz, said in a statement. “I’m heartbroken by this tragedy. I hope someone will learn from it, and make a good decision to not drive impaired.”

Following the fatal crash, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County also shared with media other dangers and consequences of impaired driving, including hefty fines, court costs, attorney’s fees and suspension of a license. It’s much cheaper, and safer, to call an Uber or Lyft for a ride home.

“No one has to get behind the wheel if they have been drinking or impaired by drugs, it is that simple,” said Michael Yraceburn, board member for the MADD Kern County Advisory Board.

Since 2009, our community has seen at least 4,000 DUI arrests made each year, according to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office – nearly 12 DUI arrests per day. Kern County ranks worst in the state for DUI crashes resulting in injuries, and second most in the United States.

“We suffer a lot here in Kern County, Bakersfield area from the tragic loss of impaired driving,” Yraceburn said. “Protect yourself and protect those that you love.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles for many years has partnered with MADD Kern County to combat DUI crashes. Since the law firm’s involvement with the first Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash, MADD Kern County has raised nearly $400,000 to help local victims of impaired driving crashes. For its work, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been recognized and honored on several occasions, including receiving a “Community Champion” award and “Pursuit of Justice” award, among others.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, family increase reward for information leading to arrest in fatal hit-and-run crash

February 16, 2021 | 2:14 pm


It’s been more than 6 months since the July 22 hit-and-run crash near CSU Bakersfield that killed 65-year-old Deborah Ann Geneau, and still no one has come forward to take responsibility.

Bakersfield Police Department has finished its investigation and filed its report in fatal crash. With no arrests made as of yet, the family of Deborah Geneau and Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles has increased its reward to $7,500 for the person who helps identify the driver of a 2013-2019 dark gray Nissan Sentra that is suspected of causing the crash on Stockdale Highway near Don Hart Drive. That vehicle turned into the bike path parking area across from CSUB immediately after the collision, police said. It had driver’s side damage.

The family is also hoping any witnesses in the crash – or anyone who was able to take photos or videos – will come forward and provide police with any information they may have, including the driver of the dark grey crew cab pickup truck seen here:

Anyone with information is urged to call 326-3967 or the Kern Secret Witness line at (661) 322-4040.

Deborah Geneau’s husband Rick Geneau and Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark recently held a press conference, and shared the latest on the crash investigation, police report, reward, and more. Among the new developments:

  • Bakersfield Police Department has completed its report and investigation into the crash. That report is 165 pages long.
  • Bakersfield Police Department recommends felony charges against the unknown driver, including hit-and-run, vehicular manslaughter, and unsafe lane change.
  • Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed lawsuits on behalf of the Geneau family against two other driver’s involved in the fatal crash.
  • Both of those drivers were also speeding 10-15 mph above the 55 mph speed limit at the time of the collision, according to police.

Bakersfield Police Department released a video of surveillance camera angles. The angles include traffic cameras and footage from a Golden Empire Transportation bus that was in the vicinity of the crash, police said. You can view the videos by clicking here.

At a previous conference at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, husband Rick Geneau, husband of Debbie, and their daughter Dawn, shared about their loss, and pleaded with the driver who caused the collision to turn him or herself in. Rick met Debbie met when they were both 14 years old. At the time of Debbie’s death, they had had been married for 45 years.

“You see these lines on my face, they’re not from old age. They’re timelines that I’ve spent with my wife,” Rick Geneau told media. We all miss her deeply … I thought I was the strength of the family. Come to find out she was my strength.”

Dawn Elliott told media she feels she’s had to take on her mother’s role and be the strength of the family during this time.

“You’ve not only taken my mom’s life, you’ve taken a piece of all of our lives.”

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

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CRASH MEDIA COVERAGE

REWARD MEDIA COVERAGE

REWARD INCREASE MEDIA COVERAGE

NEW INFORMATION

Burn Injury Awareness: How to prevent burn injuries at home and work

February 10, 2021 | 5:00 am


One person was burned by an air fryer while working at a fast food restaurant. Another person suffered serious second- and third-degree burns when a tank overflowed at work, and hot oil splashed onto his hands. And another person was burned by a cream bought for home use to remove callus.

These are just a few of the people in Kern County who have suffered burn injuries at work, or at the fault of someone else, and came to Chain | Cohn | Stiles for help. They join about 400,000 people who receive medical care for treatment of burn injuries each year.

This week is Burn Awareness Week, a chance for burn care organizations, survivor support groups, public safety officials, injury prevention professionals, educators, and all of us to share prevention messages associated with burn injuries.

Burn injuries continue to be one of the leading causes of accidental death and injury in our country. Children under 5 years old are two times as likely to be seen for burn injuries at a hospital emergency department. The majority of these injuries are preventable, with most burn injuries occurring at home and nearly 10% of all burn injuries taking place in the workplace.

 

ELECTRICAL SAFETY

This year’s theme for Burn Awareness Week is “electrical safety.” The most common risk of electrical burn injuries comes from unprotected electrical outlets, improperly used extension cords, lightning, and workplace electrical injuries. In fact, one can encounter many risks in a household, but we can decrease the dangers of electrical fires and burns by doing the following:

  • Plug major appliances, like space heaters and air conditioners, directly into wall outlets. Don’t use extension cords or power strips with them.
  • Charge laptops and cellphone on hard surfaces. Don’t charge them on soft surfaces like beds or upholstered furniture.
  • Unplug any device powered by lithium-ion batteries once they are fully charged. Don’t overcharge or leave them charging unattended, or overnight.
  • Turn heating pads, electric blankets and space heaters off before sleeping.
  • Learn how to react to a fire in the microwave oven: keep the door shut and unplug it if safe to do so.
  • As a general rule, don’t put metal in the microwave.
  • Keep battery terminals (positive and negative ends) from coming in contact with each other, or with other metals. Tape the ends if you are storing them loosely in a drawer.

Sadly, accidents happen even when taking precautions. Here’s what you should do in the case of a burn injury:

  • Treat a burn right away by putting it under cool, running water. Cool the burn for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Cover a burn with a clean, dry cloth. Do not apply creams, ointments, sprays or other home remedies.
  • Seek immediate emergency medical care for more serious burns to prevent infection and other complications.

 

CHAIN | COHN | STILES BURN INJURY CASES

Over the years, the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles have helped numerous burn injury victims, as well as given back in an effort to raise awareness and make sure victims are properly cared for. In fact, when San Joaquin Community Hospital (now Adventist Health) established a burn center to help Bakersfield and Kern County residents in need of specialized burn care, the law firm’s partners donated $200,000 toward the center and it was named the Chain | Cohn | Stiles Burn Center.

Here are just a three recent notable cases:

  • Lawyer David K. Cohn helped resolve a lawsuit for $10 million after a man was burned over 80 percent of his body in an oilfield accident.
  • Attorney David Cohn represented two men who suffered from severe injuries caused in a fireworks accident while attending a party on Fourth of July in west Bakersfield. The two men arrived at the party where party-goers were allegedly setting off illegal fireworks and explosives. A blast injured two people, and the case settled in 2018 for $2.3 million.
  • In June 2012, David was watering his yard in Ridgecrest when he heard a sizzle and a pop sound. A raven had landed on a power line, which then failed and caused the electrical wire to fall on a fence three houses away. As the fence caught fire, David ran to try to put it out, not knowing a power line was down in the area. While focused on fighting the fire, David didn’t notice that his son, 3 years old at the time, followed close behind. When he noticed his boy, David ran to move him away, but it was too late. The boy tripped over the electrical wire, which caused an electric jolt that burned both of his legs. Attorney Matt Clark helped settle the family’s lawsuit, which argued that a connector on the power line failed when the raven landed near it. The failure caused the wire to fall to the ground, putting residents there in danger.
  • The law firm was involved in several cases of exploding e-cigarettes where the victims suffered major burn injuries when electronic cigarettes, or “vapes,” they were using failed and exploded spontaneously.

For more on these types of cases, see the “Results” page on chainlaw.com.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Lawsuit: Dangers of Highway 99 through Bakersfield should be addressed for safety

January 13, 2021 | 5:00 am


In November 2019, a big rig driver slammed into the back of a pickup truck on Highway 99 at Rosedale Highway, killing both the pickup’s driver and passenger, Kathy McNutt and Luther Harold Goldman. A year later, at nearly the same location, a 10-year-old boy died when a big rig crashed into the back of the car he was riding in.

The stretch of Highway 99 through Bakersfield has seen in its share of crashes in recent years, particularly in central Bakersfield, which is currently is under construction. Officials should take extra steps to make sure it’s safer for drivers.

That’s the message from Jimmy McNutt, son of Kathy McNutt, who died in the November 2019 crash. Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the McNutt family in their wrongful death lawsuit against the big rig driver, his company, and Caltrans, and helping raise awareness of the dangerous roadway.

California Highway Patrol reported in that November 2019 crash that there was no evidence of tire friction marks from the semi, showing the driver did not attempt to brake, and leading them to believe negligence could have played a role. The driver of the pickup, Luther Harold Goleman, was Kathy McNutt’s boyfriend. Kathy McNutt was a loving grandmother, mother, daughter, and sister, Jimmy McNutt said.

“There is a big increase in accidents there, for sure,” Jimmy McNutt told KGET-17 News. McNutt works as a tow truck driver, and regularly assists and responds to accidents locally. “We respond to quite a few. It seems like if not every day, every other day.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark suggested Caltrans could increase the number of warning signage to make sure drivers are aware they are in a construction zone, or install “rumble strips” in the area to alert inattentive drivers of potential dangers, which cause a vibration and audible rumbling.

In the case of the fatal crash involving the 10-year-old in November 2020, CHP reported that traffic had come to a complete stop on the southbound lanes of Highway 99 just north of Rosedale Highway. A driver of a semi-truck was unable to stop in time and crashed into the rear of the vehicle, pushing the car into the rear of another trailer.

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Department of Justice settles with Kern County Sheriff’s Office over civil rights violations, Chain | Cohn | Stiles cases

December 30, 2020 | 5:00 am


A settlement has been reached between the California Department of Justice and local law enforcement departments after an investigation into civil rights violations and excessive force allegations, some of which stem from Chain | Cohn | Stiles cases.

The settlement agreement requires the Kern County Sheriff’s Office to enact an extensive list of reforms over the next five years aimed at ensuring the department protects citizens’ constitutional rights and treats individuals with respect and dignity, according to The Bakersfield Californian reports. To see the list, please scroll to the bottom.

The four-year investigation determined KCSO had engaged in a pattern of constitutional violations involving improper use of force, unreasonable searches and seizures and inadequate management. The Department of Justice also alleged the Sheriff’s Department violated state law in its use of deadly force and its handling of civilian complaints. The settlement requires more than a dozen changes to the Sheriff’s Office over the next five years, with an independent monitor to ensure those changes take place.

While the investigation shined yet another light on the ongoing civil rights violations by local law enforcement, it’s hard to imagine the settlement will lead to real change, Chain | Cohn | Stiles managing partner David Cohn told media. The law firm has filed numerous wrongful death, excessive force, and civil rights lawsuits against local law enforcement department resulting in tens of millions of dollars in damages for clients.

“I don’t think it means anything,” Cohn told The Bakersfield Californian. “I don’t think it’s going to have any meaningful impact with respect to how the Kern County Sheriff’s Department handles excessive force issues within the department … Do you see any of the political leaders, do you see any of the supervisors saying to the sheriff, ‘we want meaningful reform, we are tired of paying out on these claims? It’s business as usual. Nothing is going to change.”

The local office of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation also commented as follows: “This is not going to be an overnight, ‘we’ve entered into this consent decree and now all of a sudden things are going to be better in the next year or two.’ There is going to be this long road ahead to ensure we are going to see the change we want to see.”

 

INVESTIGATIONS

More than five years The Guardian — a renowned British national daily newspaper that also covers issues in the United States — unveiled its five-part series that examined the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct cases and other issues involving “America’s deadliest police” of Kern County. Among the cases highlighted were many of those involving wrongful deathpolice misconduct, sexual misconduct and civil rights cases over the years prior handled by the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

“Police in Kern County, California, have killed more people per capita than in any other American county in 2015,” according to The Guardian’s report. “The Guardian examines how, with little oversight, officers here became the country’s most lethal.”

The Guardian’s series was part of a project called The Counted, highlighting the number of people killed by police and other law enforcement agencies in the United States throughout 2015, “to monitor their demographics and to tell the stories of how they died.” Why was this necessary? According to The Guardian, the U.S. government had no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement at the time, and still doesn’t. And this lack of basic data has been glaring amid the protests, riots and worldwide debate set in motion by fatal police shootings.

Why focus on Kern County? The series tackled the issue of how police officers in Kern County are reportedly responsible for killing more local residents per capita than in any other county in the country — about 1.5 people per 100,000 residents.

Among the cases highlighted by the publication included:

  • David Sal Silva, who was killed on the night of May 7, 2013. Silva was asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center when several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop. After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. Shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a civil rights lawsuit in connection with the wrongful death of David Silva. On May 4, 2016, a settlement was reached for $3.4 million.
  • David Garcia, who was shot to death in January 2015 by Kern County Sheriff’s deputies while leaving his house unarmed. Deputies were called to the house to assist on a suicide attempt call. A settlement was reached in 2018.
  • James Moore was beaten to death by several deputies from the Kern County Sheriff’s Department while housed in central receiving downtown Bakersfield jail. On behalf of his family, Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed suit. Three deputies were prosecuted by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office for their roles in James’ death. The case settled for $6 million.
  • The series also highlighted three deputy-involved fatal crashes. In all three, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed claims and lawsuits on behalf of their families. Ultimately, the lawsuits led to reformed driving practices on the part of KCSO deputies. Those cases include:
    • Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley, who were killed in December 2011, when Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed them as they pushed a motorcycle across Norris Road. Swearengin was traveling at more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, without activating his emergency lights or siren. The case settled in March for $8.8 million.
    • Nancy Garrett, who was killed in September 2014 in Oildale when a Kern County Sheriff’s Office patrol car operated by Deputy Nicholas Clerico struck and killed her. The California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) found Deputy Clerico at fault in the crash, and the CHP report recommended that a vehicular manslaughter charge be filed against the deputy.
    • Larry Maharrey, who was killed when Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Marvin Gomez abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive in Oildale directly into Maharrey’s motorcycle. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with Deputy Gomez’s patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash. The family, represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, and County of Kern settled the lawsuit for $3.8 million.

Then in 2016, the California Attorney General’s Office and the FBI launched investigations into Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the Bakersfield Police Department.

But this wasn’t the first time a Bakersfield police department had been investigated for an alleged pattern of excessive force. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice launched what would become a four-and-a-half year investigation after receiving numerous complaints of deadly and non-deadly excessive force and discriminatory policing methods. In April 2004, that department suggested policy changes in a 19-page letter to the department and Bakersfield Police Department began making those changes including some in its use-of-force and officer-involved shootings policies. In 2008, the federal department reviewed those changes and announced the BPD hadn’t stepped over any constitutional lines.

Still, claims and lawsuits against local law enforcement alleging misconduct, civil rights violations, and police brutality persist.

 

REFORMS

A list of reforms required under a settlement agreement between the California Department of Justice and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office are as follows:

  • Revise use of force policies to prohibit maneuvers that have a substantial risk of causing suffocation and require deputies to intervene when excessive use of force is taking place.
  • Modify canine policies and training from “find and bite” to “find and bark” and limit off-leash canine deployment only for armed suspects or those wanted for a serious felony.
  • Inform public about all officer-involved shootings and deaths in custody.
  • Require supervisors to investigate all uses of force.
  • Improve use of force training to include de-escalation techniques and bias.
  • Meet with community advisory panel to receive input.
  • Require deputies to state reason for an investigatory stop or detention as soon as possible.
  • Require deputies to state a valid reason under the law for a consent search and secure a supervisor’s approval for any search of a home.
  • Provide dispatchers with crisis intervention training and establish deputies who are preferred responders to individuals in a mental health crisis.
  • Ensure timely access to police services to all individuals regardless of ability to speak English.
  • Develop a recruitment plan for attracting workforce that reflects diversity in Kern County.
  • Broaden efforts to participate in community engagement efforts.
  • Conduct a biennial community survey measuring public satisfaction with policing.
  • Establish a clear definition for a civilian complaint.

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If you or someone you know is injured by law enforcement, injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

THE GUARDIAN SERIES

Kern County juvenile hall sex abuse cases resolve after appeals court win

December 2, 2020 | 5:00 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has resolved several lawsuits on behalf of victims of sexual assault by a Kern County Juvenile Corrections officer while they were housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall.

Settlements of $200,000, $250,000, and $400,000 were reached with the County of Kern on behalf off the victims, respectively. The final settlement was reached recently after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the victim, a Chain | Cohn | Stiles plaintiff, who had alleged that in 2015 corrections officer George Anderson made sexual comments to her, groomed her for sexual abuse, propositioned her for sex and watched her shower. The appeals court found that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California erred in its 2016 decision and reversed it.

“These young ladies had a right to privacy, as we all do. The fact that we had three victims who alleged sexual misconduct by a corrections officer pointed to a systemic problem in the facility. Simply, this was an abuse of power and authority,” said David Cohn, managing partner and attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “We’re glad these women received justice, and will be able to move forward with their lives.”

One victim alleged that corrections officer George Anderson sexually abused her and watched her shower. He allegedly made sexual comments, groomed victims for sexual abuse, and propositioned for sex. Specifically, one victim alleged Anderson made comments about her butt, told her about a sexually explicit dream he had about her, touched her face and shoulders and watched from a staff desk as she showered on several occasions. The department had received previous complaints about Anderson watching girls shower, it’s alleged.

In addition to seeking damages, the victims alleged they were failed by the deficient oversight, training, and practices at Kern’s juvenile hall, which provided the perpetrator with opportunities that he was able to exploit.

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PAST MEDIA COVERAGE

How dangerous is drowsy driving? As risky as operating a vehicle while under the influence

November 4, 2020 | 10:18 am


How dangerous is drowsy driving?

Driving on less than 5 hours of sleep is similar to driving over the legal limit for alcohol. In fact, you are 3 times more likely to be in a vehicle crash if you are fatigued, which is why drowsy driving is responsible for some 300,000 crashes every year in the United States, and up to 6,400 deaths per year, according to National Sleep Foundation.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles — for Drowsy Driving Prevention Week — is raising awareness of the dangers of driving while drowsy, and educating drivers on sleep safety in an effort to reduce the number of fatigue-related crashes and to ultimately save lives.

And with the end of Daylight Saving Time, the time change can disrupt sleep patterns causing people to feel drowsy.

“Driving while you are tired or drowsy is risky and can have the same dangerous consequences. These are facts: it impairs driving performance and reaction time,” said Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney and senior partner Matthew Clark. “Please make sleep a priority, and only drive when alert. Think of your safety and your passengers, but also of the safety of others on the road.”

Some groups have been identified as most vulnerable to drowsy driving including commercial drivers, particularly tractor trailer, tour bus and public transit drivers; people who work long hours or late-night shifts; people with sleep disorders; new parents or caregivers of infants and young children; young and newer drivers; and college and high school students. For example, drowsy driving contributed to 91,000 police-reported crashes and nearly 800 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Busy interstates accounted for the most sleep-related driving deaths compared to other roadways. Utility vehicles were involved in the highest percentage of fatal sleepy-driver accidents with pickup trucks and vans next on the list. Dawn light and foggy skies contributed the most to fatal sleep-related accidents, according to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

A study by SleepJunkie, a website focused on improving sleeping habits, found that drowsy driving-related roadway fatalities spike in the early morning hours, with 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., marking the deadliest span. The hours just before and after — 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. — were the second and third most fatal times.

Before you drive, consider if you are:

  • Sleep-deprived or fatigued. Six hours of sleep or less triples your risk.
  • Suffering from sleep loss (insomnia) or poor quality sleep.
  • Driving long distances without proper rest breaks.
  • Driving through the night, mid-afternoon or when you would normally be asleep.
  • Taking sedating medications such as antidepressants, cold tablets or antihistamines.
  • Working more than 60 hours a week. This increases your risk of crashing by 40 percent.
  • Working more than one job and your main job involves shift work.
  • Drinking even small amounts of alcohol.
  • Driving alone or on a long, rural, dark or boring road.

The warning signs of drowsy driving include repeated yawning, struggling to keep one’s eyes open and focused, forgetting the last few miles driven, tailgating or missing traffic signals, and swerving or drifting between lanes of traffic.

Here is what you can do to prevent drowsy driving:

  • Get enough sleep before you drive. It’s recommended adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per day.
  • If you’re planning a long road trip, make sure you plan properly for rest stops — a break every 100 miles or every two hours on the road is suggested.
  • Use the buddy system to keep you awake and share driving duties.
  • Also, try to travel during times you are normally awake.
  • If you have been up for 24 hours or more, do not drive. Period.
  • Drink caffeine if you feel sleepy, and see how you feel first before getting behind the wheel.
  • Avoid alcohol and medication that may cause drowsiness or have side effects.
  • If you feel too sleepy, find someplace safe to take a nap or sleep, or stay the night somewhere. After, you’ll feel energized and ready to drive!

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved a wrongful death lawsuit in which a driver fell asleep at wheel after working a 12-hour shift, jumped a curb and struck a jogger as he ran on the sidewalk. The jogger was also a husband and father of a little girl. That case settled for $6 million.

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McFarland basketball coach sentenced in sexual misconduct case; Chain | Cohn | Stiles civil case for victim is ongoing

October 28, 2020 | 5:00 am


A former McFarland High basketball coach has been sentenced to state prison after he promised a 15-year-old boy a spot on the varsity team in exchange for sexual favors.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the victim in his sexual misconduct civil case.

Fernando Pruneda was sentenced to two years in prison for the charge of contacting a minor to commit a sexual offense after pleading no contest. He must also register as a sex offender.

An investigation into the high school coach was launched after a McFarland High School sophomore reported inappropriate sexual contact with the coach. According to court documents, Pruneda repeatedly contacted the boy via text message.

Pruneda offered to take him to a basketball tournament in Nevada. Pruneda told the boy not to say anything to anyone, and to inform his parents that the whole team is going. He also informed the boy that they would have to share a bed. He would also tell the boy to erase the messages between the two. According to court documents, Pruneda began to offer the boy massages after practice. Pruneda called the boy out of class to give him a massage.

Kern County Sheriff’s Office detectives became involved after meeting with the victim and his mother, and texted Pruneda in place of the victim to arrange a meeting. They arrested him at the meeting location.

The civil case is ongoing.

 

SEXUAL MISCONDUCT LAWSUITS

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been involved in several lawsuits in recent years in representing victims of sexual abuse and sex assault:

  • Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a lawsuit against the Wasco Union High School District on behalf of a student who was the victim of sexual misconduct by an assistant football coach at the high school. Miguel Nicholas Saldana pleaded no contest to sending sexually explicit messages to the student, was sentenced to six months in jail, must perform 720 hours of community service and register as a sex offender.
  • Our attorneys filed lawsuits in federal court against the County of Kern and a juvenile corrections officer on behalf of a young woman who was sexually abused at juvenile hall. The lawsuit was settled recently for $250,000.
  • Our lawyers also filed claims on behalf of several students who were victims of sexual misconduct at North High School. Kern County Sheriff’s Office has arrested Edwin Rodriguez on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment.
  • Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented Karen Frye, who was sexually molested at Lerdo Jail by a Kern County Sheriff’s Department detentions deputy. The law firm filed suit against the county for civil rights violations, conspiracy, sexual assault and battery, negligence, fraud, breach of contract and excessive use of force. The department also attempted to “buy off” Frye by offering her $1,500 in exchange for her agreement to not sue the department. That case settled for $300,000.
  • We represented a woman who was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison. Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys also represented a 79-year-old woman who called the sheriff’s office during a dispute with her husband, who was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s. She, too, was sexually assaulted by Lopez in a similar fashion to his other victims. The third victim was quietly paid $5,000 by the department, and was unable to bring a civil claim. In addition, the partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles penned a “Community Voices” article, calling on the County of Kern to cease practices that call for confidential settlements in lawsuits pertaining to victims of sexual assault, as well as paying “hush money” to those victims.

A new law in California allows victims of childhood sexual assault more time to file lawsuits, and seek justice. Assembly Bill 218 gives victims of childhood sexual abuse either until age 40 or five years from discovery of the abuse to file civil lawsuits. The previous limit had been 26, or within three years from discovery of the abuse. It also allows victims of all ages three years to bring claims that would have otherwise been barred due to existing statutes.

Here’s what you can do if you’ve been sexually assaulted or abused:

  • Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. This can be difficult to do, but the sooner you get in touch with someone, the sooner justice can be served.
  • See a doctor: Seek immediate medical care following a rape or sexual abuse scenario. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations and they often have someone on staff that can help with the stress.
  • Contact an attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a legal professional, who has understanding of sexual abuse law.

If you or someone you know experienced sexual assault and is seeking resources, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

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MEDIA COVERAGE