Chain | Cohn | Stiles files lawsuit in the case of Wasco High coach convicted of sexual misconduct with student

August 26, 2020 | 10:30 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has 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, according to news reports.

Saldana, who was 23 years old at the time of the offenses, was an assistant football coach at Wasco High School as well as a Kern County detentions deputy. According to Kern County Sheriff’s Office reports, Saldana sent sexually explicit messages and asked for sexual favors from the student, who was 16 years old at the time, through Snapchat. The student then reported the messages to her mother, and then to school administrators.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a lawsuit against the Wasco Union High School District alleging failure to properly supervise the volunteer coach. In fact, Saldana sent messages while he was at football practice and sent sexually explicit pictures of himself while wearing Wasco High attire.

In a reprehensible component in the case, the law firm hired to defend the school district in the case — Robinson & Kellar — threatened in a letter to countersue the victim for as much as $70,000, stating the district was not responsible for the actions of the volunteer coach

“How would you interpret it?” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark told KGET News. “I mean, it’s a threat, right? There’s a ‘Back off, dismiss your lawsuit or, should you ultimately lose, we’re going to pound you to the tune of $70,000.’”

Clark argues that illegal actions took place on school property, and the school could or should reasonably have known about the behavior. The civil case is ongoing.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the victims of several other student victims of sexual misconduct while at school. The law firm filed claims on behalf of three students who were victims of sexual misconduct by a North High School equipment manager.

Edwin Rodriguez faces 13 counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child 14 or 15 years old. Investigation reports state that Rodriguez sent sexually explicit messages to at least eight students through social media, and had sexual contact with several of them. He is in custody on $335,000 bail on the two cases. A trial has been scheduled for Sept. 18.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, or know someone who has been sexually abuse or assaulted at the hands of someone in authority, 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

Reward offered for information leading to the arrest in July 22 fatal hit-and-run crash

August 5, 2020 | 6:00 am


A reward is being offered for information that leads to the arrest of the suspect responsible for the July 22 hit-and-run crash near CSU Bakersfield that killed 65-year-old Deborah Ann Geneau.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles and family of Deborah Ann Geneau is offering a $2,500 reward to the person who helps identify the driver of a 2013-2019 dark gray Nissan Sentra that is suspected to causing the crash on Stockdale Highway near Don Hart Drive. That vehicle turned into bike path parking area across from CSUB immediately after the collision, police said. It has driver’s side damage.

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

“I spent yesterday at the mortuary collecting my mother’s belongings, including her crushed earrings and wedding ring. I couldn’t help but think about what the driver of the other vehicle might have been doing yesterday?” said Dawn Elliott, Deborah Ann Geneau’s daughter and only child, in a statement to media. “We really just want this person to come forward, or assistance to find the person responsible.”

Bakersfield Police Department released a new 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 this point, all indications are that this was an accident,” said Ray Pruitt, investigator with Chain | Cohn | Stiles, in a news conference. “But a person made a decision after being involved in a fatal accident to flee the scene. Now that person has to be held accountable.”

At the news conference for media 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.”

Our community — friends and strangers — have reached out to the family since the accident. The family is grateful for the outpouring of love, condolences, and support, Rick Geneau said. A GoFundMe page has been set up to pay for funeral expenses. Click here to access that page.

Rick Geneau, in speaking through media, said if the driver turned themselves in, he would stand beside them in court and ask for leniency.

“But if you don’t turn yourself in, I’ll be in court also and I’ll be seeking full prosecution to the max,” he said.

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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CRASH MEDIA COVERAGE

 

REWARD MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolves Nancy Garrett wrongful death case, the last in a series of fatal crashes involving Kern County Sheriff’s personnel

July 8, 2020 | 6:00 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has resolved a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of 72-year-old Nancy Joyce Garrett, who was killed when a Kern County Sheriff’s Office deputy struck and killed her in September 2014 while in his patrol car.

The family settled the lawsuit against the County of Kern for $2.5 million. The resolution of this case represents the culmination of nearly a decade of work representing not only the family of Nancy Garrett, but the families of Daniel Hiler, Larry Maharrey and others who have been killed in crashes involving Kern County Sheriff’s Office personnel

“This case resulted in five years of protracted litigation in federal court,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark told The Bakersfield Californian. “We are pleased with the outcome especially in light of the fact that the civil rights components of the case were fought at every turn … This case is an example of how the wheels of justice do in fact grind slowly. We appreciate that we had patient clients who believed in the civil rights aspects of the case to see if through to the end.”

For full media coverage of the case, see the listing below.

 

THE CRASH

The crash occurred on Sept. 28, 2014, at the intersection of North Chester Avenue and China Grade Loop in Oildale. The California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) report found that Deputy Nicholas Clerico was at fault when he ran a red light at 85 mph and crashed into Garrett’s vehicle, on her driver’s side. She died from multiple blunt force trauma injuries.

“A reasonable person would have known that entering an intersection against a red traffic signal, at 85 mph, and without giving adequate warning to approaching traffic would create a danger to human life,” the CHP report stated.

The CHP report recommended that a vehicular manslaughter charge be filed against the deputy, and in 2017, he pleaded no contest to the charge and was sentenced to 240 hours of community service. He was no longer with the KCSO by the time he accepted the plea agreement.

Nancy was a friendly neighbor, a caregiver for our community, an active blogger, and the pillar of her family. She was a drug and alcohol counselor for the Kern County Mental Health Department, and also volunteered her time as a substance abuse counselor for STEPS, a local nonprofit that provides DUI awareness services. At the time of the crash, she was returning home from a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game she attended with her family and friends.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015 on behalf of Garrett’s adult children, Mark McGowan and Deborah Blanco, asked for monetary damages as well as changes within the sheriff’s department in how deputies were trained.

 

KCSO DRIVING

In the lawsuit, Garrett’s family through Chain | Cohn | Stiles asked for changes within the sheriff’s department in how deputies are trained properly throughout Bakersfield and other communities across Kern County. The county’s policies “were not adequate to train its deputies to handle the usual and recurring situations with which they must deal, including … driving at excessive speeds, pre-clearing intersections and responding Code 3. (Kern County) was deliberately indifferent to the obvious consequences of its failure to train its deputies adequately.”

In fact, Garrett’s death came in the midst of other tragic crashes involving a KCSO. In a four-year span, Kern County sheriff’s personnel crashed into and killed four innocent bystanders in Oildale, including Garrett.

  • Larry Maharrey was killed in July 2015 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.
  • Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley 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.

 

BRINGING ABOUT CHANGE

The case was delayed due, in part, to the Central Valley’s federal district court instituting a “judicial emergency” order due to a shortage of judges. Federal Judge Dale A. Drozd of the U.S. Eastern District Court of California, the federal judicial district that includes Bakersfield and the southern Central Valley area, stated that the judicial emergency order “will seriously hinder the administration of justice” in the district.

In the end, Chain | Cohn | Stiles was able to resolve the case for the family, and helped bring about change.

“Over all else, the family of Nancy Garrett from the outset sought change in the driving practices within the Kern County Sheriff’s Office,” Clark told The Bakersfield Californian.

The family believes their lawsuit ultimately had a positive impact in the community, evidenced by the fact that in the five years of litigation they aren’t aware of any deadly traffic collisions involving sheriff’s deputies responding to calls, Clark said.

McGowan and Blanco told The Bakersfield Californian they continue to stand behind law officers and deputies as they work together with the community to maximize vehicle safety.

“Despite this litigation,” they said in the statement, “we support law enforcement and hope it prevents future crashes and tragedies on the part of our officers and our community members.”

Following the closure of the case, Mark McGowan posted a video regarding his experience with the case, and with Chain | Cohn | Stiles. You can view that video by clicking here.

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CRASH MEDIA COVERAGE

CLAIM MEDIA COVERAGE

PRESS CONFERENCE MEDIA COVERAGE

LAWSUIT MEDIA COVERAGE

‘JUDICIAL EMERGENCY’ MEDIA COVERAGE

SETTLEMENT MEDIA COVERAGE

Fireworks Safety: Don’t let home celebrations this Fourth of July turn to tragedy (or a fine)

July 1, 2020 | 6:00 am


As COVID-19 continues to spread locally and statewide regulations block public gatherings, officials are putting a halt to large fireworks shows this Fourth of July, leading many to celebrate at home.

And while lighting fireworks in your own yard might seem festive and fun, it’s important to celebrate our nation’s Independence safely, so your holiday doesn’t turn into tragedy.

In fact, about 11,000 people are treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries each year. And in the month surrounding July 4, our nation sees about 200 fireworks injuries per day, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Serious burns, eye injuries, and even death can occur. Injuries to people aside, fireworks start nearly 20,000 fires each year, including 1,300 structure fires and 300 vehicle fires.

“The fact is anyone close to fireworks is in danger. Fireworks can be unpredictable, and injuries can happen to anyone,” said David Cohn, managing partner at personal injury attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Please understand the dangers, and celebrate safely.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles offers the following safety tips to make sure your Fourth of July is as fun and safe as possible. For local celebration and safety information, please see below.

  • Never give fireworks to small children, or allow them to ignite fireworks.
  • Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities.
  • Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
  • Only use fireworks outdoors in a clear area, and away from buildings and vehicles.
  • Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
  • Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
  • Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
  • After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.
  • Never use fireworks while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
  • Never light them indoors.
  • Never use illegal fireworks.

If someone is injured by fireworks, here’s what you can do:

  • If an eye injury happens, don’t let the injured person touch or rub it, as this may cause even more damage. Don’t flush the eye out with water or try to put any ointment on it. Cut out the bottom of a paper cup, place it around the eye, and get medical care right away — eyesight may depend on it.
  • If someone suffers a burn, remove clothing from the burned area, and call your doctor immediately.
  • If someone is injured due to the negligence of someone else, please contact Chain | Cohn | Stiles immediately to receive legal assistance, be compensated for injuries suffered, and continue to get medical care in the future.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles in recent years has represented victims of fireworks accidents and other burn injury cases. In 2014 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.

 

KERN COUNTY CELEBRATIONS

The city of Bakersfield canceled this year’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration at The Park at River Walk due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The city will broadcast a special Independence Day concert by the Bakersfield Municipal Band on multiple social media platforms. Other Kern County cities — including Shafter, Delano, Tehachapi, and McFarland — have also canceled its shows. Taft and Buttonwillow are continuing its shows with drive-in viewings.

Additionally, American Pyrotechnics Association announced fireworks sellers are expecting record sales this year because Americans may likely celebrate at home as public displays are canceled.

Local departments — including Bakersfield Fire, Kern County Fire, Bakersfield Police, and Kern County Sheriff’s Office — have joined forces to combat an increase in illegal fireworks activity locally.

Bakersfield Fire Department has started establishing teams of unmarked vehicles and fire engine companies to issue $1,500 citations to those violating fireworks laws. Residents are asked to report violations to kerncountyfire.org.

For more information about firework usage and fines, visit youlightitwewriteit.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.

‘America’s deadliest police’ title hangs over Kern County as protests continue against law enforcement brutality

June 10, 2020 | 6:00 am


As protests against police brutality continue throughout Kern County, the United States, and the world, Chain | Cohn | Stiles would like to revisit this issue that has been brought up time and time again in our own community.

In fact, it was five years ago that 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. That investigation is ongoing.

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. In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California published a report following a two-year study that concluded law enforcement agencies in Kern County – specifically the Bakersfield Police Department and Kern County Sheriff’s Office – have engaged in patterns of excessive force and systematically violated the civil rights of local residents. ACLU called on the two departments to reform their policies, re-train and re-orient line and supervisory officers “towards a culture that emphasizes the consistent use of tactical alternatives to force and consequences for the use of unreasonable, unnecessary, or disproportionate force, and establish rigorous and independent oversight institutions to ensure the departments remain accountable and responsive to the communities they serve.

California Assembly Bill 392, which was signed into law and became effective Jan. 1, 2020, modified the conditions under which a police officer can legally use deadly force from times when it’s “reasonable” to when it’s “necessary.” Civil rights advocates say “the spirit of the measure – encouraging de-escalation and crisis-intervention methods – clearly attempts to induce greater restraint from officers, likely making it the strictest such law in the land,” according to a report by USA Today.

UPDATE – JUNE 11, 2020: The Bakersfield Police Department and Kern County Sheriff’s Office announced that the use of the carotid restraint control hold has been suspended pending further review, according to The Bakersfield Californian. The controversial choke hold restricts blood flow to the brain, causing the restrained person to lose consciousness. The announcement came as protests around the country have sprung up following the in-custody death of George Floyd on Memorial Day in Minneapolis. It was also the hold that was attributed to the death of James Moore, described above.

UPDATE – JUNE 16, 2020: KGET-17 News took a look at “qualified immunity” involving police officers and how it looks for local law enforcement. Reporter Karen Hua interviewed partner and attorney Matt Clark with Chain | Cohn | Stiles regarding civil rights, wrongful death, and police misconduct cases in Kern County, and how qualified immunity plays a part. Click here to view the news story.

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THE GUARDIAN SERIES

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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.

Elder abuse and neglect awareness is more important now than ever

June 3, 2020 | 11:42 am


June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month, and there is not a more important time than now to protect and be mindful of our most vulnerable citizens.

Senior residents have been especially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those in nursing and care facilities. As of June, more than 25,000 residents died and 60,000 were infected in the United States as the coronavirus swept through our country’s nursing homes, according to federal data, in which about 80 percent of the nation’s nursing homes reported data to the federal government, and statistics include cases since early May.

Unfortunately, those impacted the most are housed in facilities with a history of low marks for staffing and patient care, reports show.

“We have to be able to provide adequate care to our elder loved ones in these faculties, while at the same time protecting them from being infected,” said Matt Clark, senior partner and elder abuse and neglect attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “For them, it’s literally a matter of life and death.”

During “normal” times, California sees 176,000 cases of reported elder abuse cases each year, according to Kern County Aging & Adult Services. And officials estimate that for every case known to reporting agencies, 24 cases go unreported. This month — during Elder Abuse Awareness Month in Kern County, with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15 — Chain | Cohn | Stiles wants to remind everyone of the importance of speaking up for those who cannot, our oldest, frailest and most vulnerable citizens. Our law firm has been at the forefront in fighting for victims of elder abuse in Bakersfield, Kern County and throughout the state.

Local skilled nursing facilities are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks affecting staff and residents alike. The Kern County Department of Public Health says facilities requested immediate help with staffing shortages, and healthcare professionals throughout the state were sent to assist the facility. Recently, the Kern County Board of Supervisors moved forward with a plan to designate an accountability officer from the Kern County Emergency Services to oversee issues at the state-regulated nursing care faculties.

“… It’s an inadequate amount of staffing that leads to poor patient care. Poor patient care leads to poor patient outcomes. Poor patient outcomes especially in the elder care world often times leads to death,” Clark said in an interview with 23ABC.

Local media reported that the California Department of Public Health cited the Kingston Health Care Facility more than a dozen times for serious violations. Several lawsuits have been filed against the facility for elder abuse and neglect and wrongful death, some by Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Clark shares that the best way for people to review nursing home conduct and reports is my visiting Medicare.gov. Users can research any skilled nursing facility, and check ratings and staffing ratios.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, our state’s senior care facilities put residents in danger.  A 2019 investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that some operators of senior board-and-care homes violated labor laws and often also endangered or neglected their residents, sometimes with dire consequences. Reveal analyzed thousands of licensing records and hundreds of U.S. Department of Labor cases in California and conducted two dozen interviews with workers, residents and their family members in the first comprehensive accounting of failures in care homes whose operators preyed on vulnerable caregivers, many of them poor immigrants, and elderly residents. In California, which has the most licensed senior care homes of any state, federal data showed that operators broke minimum wage, overtime or record-keeping laws in more than 500 cases over the last decade. In 1 in 5 of these cases, operators were cited for health and safety violations that endangered residents, Reveal found.

 

REPORTING ELDER ABUSE, NEGLECT

So why does elder abuse go unreported? Many times, elders have no family to report to. They also fear retaliation from “caregivers,” or they feel shame in regards to abuse. Another reason is they fear they will lose independence, or fear they will upset their own family members. Many times, however, victims simply lack understanding of how to report abuse.

Another issue lies is recognizing elder abuse and neglect. In fact, elder abuse can take many forms including:

  • Physical abuse: Inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior (slapping, bruising or restraining by physical or chemical means).
  • Sexual Abuse: Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
  • Neglect: The failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.
  • Exploitation: The illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.
  • Emotional Abuse: Inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts (humiliating, intimidating, or threatening).
  • Abandonment: Desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
  • Self-neglect: Characterized as the failure of a person to perform essential, self-care tasks and that such failure threatens his/her own health or safety.

Lastly, how do you recognize elder abuse and neglect, and what are the warning signs. Here are a few of them:

  • Bruises, broken bones, abrasions and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person.
  • If you notice changes in a senior’s personality or behavior, you should start to question what is going on.

It’s important to alert others if you have suspicions, and to retain an attorney. In an emergency, call 9-1-1. To report cases of elder abuse, whether it is on your own behalf or that of someone you know, please call Adult Protective Services as part of the Kern County Aging & Adult Services, or contact the Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

  • Adult Protective Services responds to reports from individuals, concerned citizens, social service and health providers, and law enforcement representatives about developmental disabled adults, physically and mentally disabled adults, and the elderly who may be physically or financially abused, neglected, or exploited. Upon receipt of a referral, APS sends a social worker to make a home visit or contact the elder or dependent adult.
    • 24-Hour Hotline: 800-277-7866 or 661-868-1006
  • Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program investigates elder abuse complaints in long-term care facilities and in residential care facilities for the elderly. The primary responsibility of the program is to investigate and endeavor to resolve complaints made by, or on behalf of, individual residents in these facilities, including nursing homes, residential care facilities for the elderly, and assisted living facilities. The goal of the program is to advocate for the rights of all residents in long term care.
    • Phone: 661-323-7884

And if you or someone you know experiences elder abuse or neglect, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the law firm’s specialized website focused on elder abuse at bakersfieldelderabuse.com.

Seeking justice, inspiring hope, sharing stories for 2020 ‘Crime Victims’ Rights Week’

April 22, 2020 | 10:39 am


This week — April 19-25 — is Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which promotes victims’ rights and services available to crime victims.

Locally, the Kern County District Attorney’s Office each year hosts a march, speeches, and vigils to mark the occasion. That, of course, is not possible in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic taking place. But MADD Kern County’s Advisory Board wanted to continue to commemorate this occasion by asking victims, advocates, law enforcement partners, community members, and other impacted to record short videos or send pictures that highlight how each person has been impacted, why we should always remember/help crime victims locally, and a call-to-action to support victims this week and beyond. These stories are posted on the MADD Kern County Facebook page throughout the week, and a selection of which can be viewed below. 

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is proud to partner with MADD Kern County throughout the year, including for Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Attorney Matt Clark shared a short video on the impact of DUI crashes on victims.

Clark is the recent recipient of the “Pursuit of Justice” award by MADD California. He is also a founding board member and organizer for MADD Kern County’s Advisory Board and event planning committees, regularly speaks at local Victim Impact Panels intended to prevent repeat DUI offenses, and has done pro-bono legal work for victims of DUI crashes. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has also been awarded a “Community Champion” award for the law firm’s work toward raising awareness locally and helping victims.

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, attorneys continue day in and day out to fight civil lawsuits for victims of crimes and other injustices.

As examples:

  • A Tehachapi teenager was walking home from a friend’s house when she was suddenly struck by a pickup truck on the dirt right shoulder of State Route 202.  She eventually succumbed to her injuries, just 15 days shy of her 15th birthday. The occupants of the truck fled the scene of the crash without calling the police or summoning medical help.  Both were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash.
  • 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.
  • 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.

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week was established by Ronald Reagan in 1981. Here are some of the powerful stories shared throughout the 2020 Crime Victims’ Rights Week …

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Kvasnicka Family …

We are John and Mary Jo Kvasnicka, with our beautiful daughter Jaclyn Ann.

Jackie, Pavinder Claire and Jessica Magee were three best friends who all worked for Kern Schools Federal Credit Union. The night of August 30, 2014 they spent the evening enjoying Bakersfield together at a Blaze baseball game. It was the last time Pavinder’s parents, and John and I, would see our daughters. Not just see our daughters alive, but see them at all.

That night a man decided he was able to drive his car, despite being high on drugs and alcohol. He decided to drive at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. He decided to not use his brakes when he came up behind our daughter’s car, carrying the three young women home. He decided to slam into the back of Jackie’s car with absolutely no intention of stopping. And he killed Pavinder on impact. He caused major burns to over 40 percent of Jessica’s body, where she carries scars to this day. And he pinned Jackie behind the wheel, desperately screaming for help to escape the fiery inferno. No one was able to help her. Our daughter burned to death, as did Pavinder. Jessica miraculously escaped with the help of her angels in the form of first responders. But she remains forever scarred, physically and emotionally.

None of this had to happen! Every single part of this scenario could have been prevented! Our daughters could still be alive and with us! Jackie’s daughter, yes she was a Mommy, would have her Mommy here with her, and not just pictures!

We no longer ask God “Why?” Instead we use our time and resources to work to make sure no other parent, child, sibling has to suffer what we suffered. Despite the passing of time, our missing Jackie has not and never will lessen. The pain subsides, memories flood our minds, and God provides peace. But our daughter is forever gone.

Do your part!!!! NEVER, EVER drive while impaired! There is ABSOLUTELY no reason for this scenario to ever happen! Have a plan, and make the right choice, always. Keep our streets safe always. Do your part!!!

God bless

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Embree Family …

Taylor Embree (2/28/84 – 10/17/13) was killed by a repeat drunk driver while on his way to work. He was hit head on at 90 mph. The impact was so great that it sheared off the bolts that held the cab onto the chassis causing the cab to become airborne and land on its rear windshield, where Taylor was killed on impact. He left behind his wife Britney, and son, Clayton.

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Soto Family …

This is Ireli Soto-Jalving, holding a picture of her sister Alba Elliott. Ireli was 2 years old when her mom Gabriela Soto was killed on June 6, 2017. Gabby was 7-months pregnant at the time of her death. Gabby and Baby Alba were victims of a head-on collision that was caused by someone who was determined to be under the influence of marijuana.

Gabby was captivated by all things Irish which is why she named her first daughter, Ireli Gabriela. Gabby had a passion and love for many things, but nothing compared like the love she had for her daughter Ireli. Her love for her daughter really pushed Gabby to be the best version of herself, which she presented to everyone and was truly reflected in her work and life.
Gabby was loved by many. Her beautiful smile and infectious laughter lit up any place she entered. And that smile and sincere soul reeled you in and never let you go.

Take care and stay safe,

Blanca Soto

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Balderrama Family …

My name is Tina. My sister is Leslie Balderrama, and she was hit and killed by an underage drunk driver.

No matter how much time passes by, the pain of not having her here with us every day is heartbreaking. Some days you wake up OK, and by the time you’re done getting ready for work, you are having a meltdown because you think of what mornings used to be like when she was there. Holidays are never as happy or exciting as they once used to be. I try to keep a smile on my face for my kids. My son is 6 years old and every day he tells me he misses his Tia, and every time we pass the cemetery he always asks to go see her. Knowing my daughter will never get to meet her is something I will always struggle with. The hardest part for me is always wondering what she would be doing today, what college she would be attending, how far would she have gotten in her basketball career, where would she be working. Little things like that definitely hurt the most.

This is our last family picture together …

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Morales Family …

Sunday, March 25, 2018 was the worst day of my life! My three older children Kaleb, Ethan, and Madysyn were with their father Adam for part of Spring Break. They were headed to their dad’s home in Wasco along with their 11-year-old sister, Jordan, after being at their cousin’s quinceañera practice. They picked up Kaleb from work and then made their last stop at Best Buy, where they purchased a birthday gift for my son, Ethan.

As they were driving Highway 43 (less than 5 minutes from home) a selfish, thoughtless woman decided that she was going to get behind the wheel intoxicated 3 times above the legal limit. She hit the soft shoulder and over-corrected, losing control of her vehicle and crossing over into oncoming traffic, causing Adam to hit her head on from her passenger side of her vehicle with not even a second to react. She was driving her son’s illegal chop shop vehicle. She had no insurance and no license to drive.

According to the CHP report, no brakes were activated and no skid marks were on the road because there was no time for him to react. He was not on his phone. He was not texting. He was not doing anything wrong. He was just driving his children home.

She stole part of my world and forever changed our lives and the lives of many people. My first-born child, Kaleb Adam Garza, was 19 years old. My first-born daughter and sweet baby girl, Madysyn Rose Garza, was 14 years old and a freshman at Ridgeview High School. Jordan Nicole Garza, the kids’ sister & Adam Garza, the kids Father were all were taken away.
Ethan, who was 17 at the time (now 19), was the only survivor. Given the injuries he sustained (2 broken femurs, right ankle, left wrist, right forearm, broken ribs, collapsed lung, a serious injury to his intestines, broken ribs, lacerated liver, and losing his spleen), he is so very, very lucky to be alive. He lost his father and three siblings that night. His scars and physical and mental pain is a constant reminder of his traumatic loss.

This was 100% preventable! It is always 100% preventable! Look what it did to us! It is a never ending healing process and we will never be the same. Please remember to not drink and drive or drive impaired. Please don’t get in the car with anyone who had been drinking or is impaired. Please don’t encourage or underage drink and please, please please, don’t allow anyone to end up like us! It’s forever life changing, an unexplainable loss, and horrible experience no one wants to have!

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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

New state Assembly Bill targets street racing, increasing penalties for dangerous activity

March 11, 2020 | 10:34 am


Outrage had been building in Bakersfield over widespread incidents of street racing, and it reached a boiling point after an alleged street racing crash killed a Bakersfield woman and injured two children riding with her in a minivan.

The issue hits close to home for Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which is representing one of the children who suffered major injuries in that November 2019 crash that killed 58-year-old Maria Blaney Navarro. Reckless driving is a nuisance in our neighborhoods at the very least, but it injures and kills too many innocent people each year.

It’s why Chain | Cohn | Stiles is in full support of a new state Assembly Bill 2565 introduced by Assemblyman Vince Fong of Bakersfield, and co-authored by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman of Glendale, that would bring additional penalties to those who publicly exhibit street racing behaviors.

“I authored this bill in response to what our local law enforcement officials have conveyed as a troubling and problematic trend in our neighborhoods,” Fong said in the statement. “We need to increase the penalties for illegal street racing activities to send a message that this activity will not be tolerated.”

Under AB 2565, acts such as engine-revving and burning out vehicle tires in front of a group of spectators could lead to suspension of a driver’s license. The bill would provide an additional tool for law enforcement as officials look to curtail street racing in Kern County and throughout the state.

Bakersfield Police arrested 50-year-old Ronald Dean Pierce in connection with the death of Navarro, and faces a second-degree murder charge, as well as suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, reckless driving causing an injury, and participating in an illegal speed contest. Police said he was racing a Mustang against another vehicle in southwest Bakersfield when he lost control of the vehicle and struck the van not involved in the race. The impact caused the van to spin out of control into oncoming traffic, where it was then hit by a crane truck, killing Navarro and injuring two grandchildren.

For years, residents in southwest Bakersfield had complained to police about the prevalence of street racing and parking-lot gatherings. After the fatal crash, police responded with overtime traffic enforcement targeting street racers.

Currently, street racing in California is a misdemeanor with penalties including a jail sentence, fine between $355 and $1,000, community service, suspension of your driver’s license, and impounding of vehicles. However, prior convictions for street racing or if someone is injured in the race could face “enhanced” penalties including more jail sentence, fines, and suspensions.

The Assembly Bill is pending referral to a policy committee for a hearing in the coming weeks.

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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.

New state law gives sexual assault, abuse victims more time to seek justice

January 29, 2020 | 10:21 am


The new year brings with it a new law in California allowing 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.

“Abuse victims are grateful to get a shot at justice through this new law without a stringent time limit,” said managing partner and attorney David Cohn, who has represented many victims of sexual abuse through his work at the Law Office of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “It’s important for victims to come forward when they are ready, and ultimately protect our community from future abuse, and obtain accountability.”

Specifically, the new law is a game-changer for childhood victims because it changes how survivors are treated and supported.

In recent years, allegations of sexual abuse have been voiced by victims and conveyed through media reports from Olympic teams, school children, Boy Scouts, and Catholic churchgoers, with media highlighted such allegations. We’ve seen an uprising of women (and men, too) who have gone public with their stories of sexual harassment, assault and abuse, and systemic sexism, particularly in the world of Hollywood.

In fact, the California Catholic Conference in a statement to media described sexual abuse by members of the clergy as a “legacy of shame.”

“It is a legacy of shame for all of us in the Church, and we are aware that nothing can undo the violence done to victim-survivors or restore the innocence and trust that was taken from them,” the statement read. “Ultimately, our hope is that all victim-survivors of childhood sexual abuse in all institutional settings will be able to have their pain and suffering addressed and resolved and so our prayers are that AB 218 will be a step forward in that direction.”

California is at least the third state this year to pass such a law, according to reports. Earlier this year, New York and New Jersey raised their statutes of limitations to age 55. New York also suspended its statute of limitations for one year, leading to hundreds of lawsuits against hospitals, schools, the Roman Catholic Church and the late financier Jeffrey Epstein.

“This law puts powerful institutions like the Catholic hierarchy, public schools and sports leagues on notice that they cannot allow predators to molest children, cover up their crimes and escape responsibility,” said Matt Clark, senior partner and attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

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

  • Our attorneys filed lawsuits in federal court against the County of Kern and a juvenile corrections officer on behalf of a young woman who were sexually abused at juvenile hall.
  • 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.

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.

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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, or sexually abused or assaulted by someone in authority, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

News investigation highlights cost of school employee ‘administrative leave’ in Chain | Cohn | Stiles civil lawsuits

October 9, 2019 | 3:26 pm


In the 2018-2019 school year, the Kern High School District had five employees who faced allegations involving sexually inappropriate behavior, including alleged suspects in Chain | Cohn | Stiles civil lawsuits. Eyewitness News, in an investigation, found that those employees, put on administrative leave while they were being investigated for sex crimes, earned a combined $162,000.

Once you factor in the cost of substitute teachers and legal fees, roughly $250,000 of taxpayer money was spent on these educators who were not educating anyone, the KBAK-29 Eyewitness News investigation found.

“As a taxpayer, I’m offended,” said David Cohn in an interview with Eyewitness News. Cohn is the managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles and attorney representing four of the eight families who have filed claims against Edwin Rodriguez and the high school district. “These serious allegations have been made against him with multiple young women. Once he’s arrested why can’t the district judge just fire him at that point?”

Kern County Sheriff’s Office 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. In February, local media reported 10 people came forward to investigators alleging inappropriate physical contact and other unwanted interaction by Rodriguez while he worked as an athletic equipment manager at North High School.

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 is 19 years old, and 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

Under Education Code 44939, schools can suspend school employees without pay in the case of a serious, immoral or criminal conduct, and have an expedited hearing in 60 days. In the case of Rodriguez, KHSD did not immediately fire or remove his pay, and the investigation took much longer than 60 days. The high school district said in a statement during that time that they “fully cooperated with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office as it investigated allegations against Edwin Rodriguez. KHSD placed Edwin Rodriguez on an unpaid leave immediately after he was charged with a mandatory leave of absence offense as required by Education Code.”

In the case of Edwin Rodriguez, he was placed on leave for 102 days starting in September 2018 over allegations of sexually assaulting as many as ten students at North High School. He was paid over $16,000 during that span, according to the news investigation. Rodriguez resigned in May 2019 and is facing 24 criminal charges.

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.”

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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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If you or someone you know is sexually abused by someone in authority, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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CLAIM FILING MEDIA COVERAGE

CRIMINAL CASE MEDIA COVERAGE