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

MADD Kern County hosts virtual ‘Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash’, presented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles

October 14, 2020 | 6:00 am


For the seventh year, Kern County came together on Saturday, Oct. 10, in the fight against impaired driving to proclaim, “No More Victims!”

Bakersfield’s virtual Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash — presented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles — is Kern County’s chance to do something about drunk and drugged driving in our community. 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.

Like many nonprofits, MADD Kern County has severely been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, losing a large percentage of funding intended to fight against impaired driving in our community. In fact, MADD California has lost over 80% of annual revenue, forcing drastic cuts that continue to disrupt grassroots programs and services, officials said. Meanwhile, impaired driving, unfortunately, continues to be one of the leading causes of fatalities and injuries on our roadways.

In a unifying event, MADD California hosted a virtual Walk Like MADD ceremony on Oct. 10 using the #OneMADDCalifornia hashtag. The statewide virtual ceremony included CHP-Bakersfield officers, featuring Robert Rodriguez singing the national anthem, and local presenting sponsor Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

In Kern County, the event raised more than $42,000 to help fund local educational programs and prevention services, raise awareness of the DUI problem in our local communities, and provide support to local victims and survivors of drunken driving crashes. Statewide, the event raised more than $1.6 million!

You can watch the full ceremony at walklikemadd.org/bakersfield and on Facebook at “Bakersfield Virtual 2020 Walk Like MADD”.

“Our community annually comes together to fight this serious issue in Kern County, to remember the victims of these crimes, and demand change,” said Carla Pearson, victim services specialist for MADD Kern County. “MADD Kern County thanks our local community for helping for spread the message, and fundraise for vital local program. We all want a future of No More Victims.”

In what has become one of the largest fundraising walks and runs in town, the event brings together people from our community – surviving victims of crashes, families and friends of injured and deceased victims, law enforcement, prosecutors, first responders, advocates, and community leaders and members – to march, rally and run for the cause.

Presented by the local law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, the local event was also supported by Chevron, Valley Strong Credit Union, Clinica Sierra Vista, Kern County Prosecutors Association, Good Samaritan Hospital, Sally Herald Accountancy Inc., and others.

Awards were given to race finishers and top fundraisers. They are as follows:

  • Fastest Male: Garret Sugimoto, Kern Regional Crime Lab
  • Fastest Female: Jessica Harrington, 23ABC News
  • Top Team: Madysyn & Kaleb’s Keepers
  • Top Fundraiser: Amber Morales
  • Top Law Enforcement Team: Kern County District Attorney’s Office

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MEDIA COVERAGE

PRE-EVENT MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Chad Boyles earns two awards for young professionals

September 2, 2020 | 9:44 am


One thing is for sure: Chad Boyles, personal injury lawyer with Chain | Cohn | Stiles, is someone we should all be watching.

Boyles has recently been selected for inclusion in two listings awarded to young professionals: the Best Lawyers in America “Ones to Watch” list, and also in Bakersfield Life Magazine’s annual “20 Under 40 People to Watch” issue.

Learn more about these two recognitions below:

 

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch

The “Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch” recognition is given to attorneys who are earlier in their careers (5 to 10 years in practice) for outstanding professional excellence in private practice in the United States. It’s part of the “Best Lawyers in America” program, which is the oldest and most respected guide to the legal profession, based on 77 areas of expertise.

Boyles joins two other lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles who have been honored by the Best Lawyers program. David K. Cohn, managing partner at the law firm, has been selected into the personal injury litigation category of Best Lawyers in America, while James A. Yoro, senior partner at the firm, was selected into the workers’ compensation law listings. This year they are also the only two attorneys in the greater Kern County area to be listed. You can view David Cohn’s “Best Lawyers” profile by clicking here, and you can view James Yoro’s profile by clicking here.

Attorneys named to the U.S. News & World Report’s “The Best Lawyers in America” are recognized by their peers in the legal industry for their professional excellence in specific practice areas. For the 2020 edition of The Best Lawyers in America, more than 8.3 million votes were analyzed, which resulted in more than 62,000 leading lawyers being included in the new edition, about 5 percent of lawyers in private practice in the United States. Unlike some other attorney directories and awards, lawyers are not required or allowed to pay a fee to be listed, and inclusion in Best Lawyers is considered a singular honor.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles was also selected for inclusion in the “Best Law Firms” list by U.S. News & World Report, another “Best Lawyers” program which recognizes law firms for “professional excellence with persistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. Additionally, achieving a ranking “signals a unique combination of quality law practice and breadth of legal expertise.”

 

20 Under 40 People to Watch

Bakersfield Life Magazine’s “20 Under 40 People to Watch” highlights outstanding young men and women whom Bakersfield can be proud of, who possess a hard work ethic, dedication, and a passion for volunteering.

The following profile on Boyles was published in Bakersfield Life Magazine:

Chad Boyles has achieved some remarkable feats for someone his age.

At 35, he was named a partner at Chain Cohn Stiles, Bakersfield’s oldest personal injury law firm. He was a 2019 graduate of Leadership Bakersfield, a 33-year tradition that challenges a group of 32 individuals to step out of their daily lives to help make the community better. Most recently, he was named on Best Lawyers’ “Ones to Watch” list, a peer-reviewed process that highlights lawyers who have been in practice for five to nine years based on 77 areas of expertise.

Despite all that, he still finds time out of his busy schedule to give back.

“It’s important to give back,” he said. “Make time when you can.”

Boyles has spent 33 of his 36 years in Bakersfield, leaving only to attend Whittier College School of Law before returning to his hometown to begin his career as an attorney. It’s a career that combines two things he loves — problem solving and helping people.

“I get to apply No. 1 to No. 2,” Boyles said. “It is definitely a motivation to solve the problem, because I am representing people and helping them navigate a really complex system that would be difficult to do on their own. It feels good at the end of the day when I know that I’ve worked hard and we get a good result for the client.”

Boyles’ involvement in the community allows him to solve problems and help people as well.

As part of the Runner Alumni Mentor Program, Boyles helps mentees figure out what direction they want to go in life. Boyles is also the committee chair for Party in the Park, which raises funds for RAMP as well as scholarships to help students with their education.

“I’m passionate because that’s our future and I want to help guide people,” Boyles said. “It can be a difficult time in your life. You may not be sure what you want to do. I just like helping them get the exposure, helping them decide what career path that they want.”

Boyles wants to be a resource he didn’t have when he was a student. He had to learn a lot through trial and error. One thing he did have, however, was the unwavering support of his parents, who instilled a strong work ethic in him at an early age.

It’s a foundation that motivates Boyles in his professional and personal life, driving him to keep learning, improve at his craft and make time to give back along the way.

“Even though I spend a lot of time at work, I still have time to give to the CSUB Alumni Association and whatnot,” Boyles said. “I did what I could to give back to future generations.”

Boyles also filmed a “Letter to the Community” featured in Bakersfield Life Magazine, which you can watch by clicking here.

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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 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

Chain | Cohn | Stiles awards 11 drivers education scholarships in new ‘Guided Partners in Safety’ (GPS) program

August 12, 2020 | 5:00 am


The Law Office of Chain | Cohn | Stiles has awarded 11 drivers education scholarships as part of the new “Guided Partners in Safety (GPS) Scholarship” program.

The scholarships program aims to support a new generation of teen drivers, build guided partners in safety, and help pay for student driver’s education training, while keeping safety at the forefront. Over 150 area high students applied for the inaugural “GPS Scholarship” program. The winners, chosen based on grades, essay impact, and financial need included:

  • Roger Alvarado – Wonderful College Prep Academy
  • Jennifer Cazarez – South High
  • Fatima Garcia – Golden Valley High
  • Jessica Gamino – West High
  • Mayeli Gutierrez Ibarra – Foothill High
  • Allan Morales – South High
  • Leslie Cholico Navarro – Arvin High
  • Emily Ortiz – Foothill High
  • Martin Tellez – Highland High
  • Tiffany Wright – Highland High
  • Heidi Vega – Mira Monte High School

Being able to obtain permission to drive will benefit the students in various ways, they shared in their applications. West High student Jessica Gamino said, “I’ve wanted to get a job … If I could drive, so many opportunities could be available to me.” Roger Alvarado, of Wonderful College Prep, said he wants to drive to help his family, and prepare for adulthood.

“Many teenagers underestimate the risk of driving and exhibit dangerous habits,” Alvarado said in his application. “By entering driving school I will diminish the risks of danger, assist my family and become independent.

For Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which represents victims of accidents throughout the Central Valley, safety of our youth is a top priority. Auto accidents are the No. 1 killer of American teenagers, according to national statistics. Distracted driving, excessive speed, and lack of seatbelt use are major dangers and causes of teen driver crashes. Additionally, the number of teen drivers nationally is on the decline, with the cost associated to driving as one key factor, according to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The message of teen driving safety is even more important during the “100 Deadliest Days” – the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day when more than 8,300 people have died in crashes involving teen drivers from 2008 to 2018. That’s more than seven people per day each summer.

“Our goal was to help those in need, and reinforce the importance of talking to teen drivers about the responsibilities, rules, and consequences that come with getting behind the steering wheel,” said David Cohn, managing partner and personal injury attorney. “We hope this program will help at least a little in lowering the statistics locally.”

For information on the 2021 GPS Scholarship, please stay tuned to the firm’s social media, including on Facebook @GPSscholarship, at the start of 2021.

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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

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

Awards give Chain | Cohn | Stiles ‘world-class’ law firm, attorneys designations (Bakersfield Life Magazine)

July 15, 2020 | 5:00 am


Editor’s Note: Chain | Cohn | Stiles was featured in the July “Top Attorneys” issue of Bakersfield Life Magazine. As the magazine stated in the issue: 

“Requiring the services of an attorney often comes during a time of need. Bakersfield houses some of the best law professionals around. These attorneys specialize in a range of fields, from personal injury to family law, civil litigation and more. The profiles featured on the following pages will you find the right attorney.” 

To read the entire issue, click here. To read Chain | Cohn | Stiles’ featured profile, click here, or you can read the entire profile below. 

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Awards give Chain | Cohn | Stiles ‘world-class’ law firm, attorneys designations

You don’t have to choose between world-class lawyers and local attorneys for your injury case.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, the Bakersfield-based personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm, is ranked in the “Best Law Firms” list by U.S. News & World Report, recognized for “professional excellence with persistently impressive ratings from clients and peers.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has two attorneys selected in the “Best Lawyers in America” program, which is the oldest and among the most respected attorney ranking services in the world.

David K. Cohn and James A. Yoro join the top 5% of practicing attorneys in the United States in being selected, and are the only two attorneys in the greater Kern County area to be listed.

David Cohn is one of the most respected lawyers in the Central Valley. He is a Martindale-Hubbell AV preeminent-rated trial attorney, has been named to the Southern California Super Lawyers list, and was selected to join the International Society of Barristers. Over the course of his career, which spans 45 years all at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, Cohn has obtained numerous multi-million dollar results on behalf of his clients, and his cases have led to workplace, roadway and vehicle safety measures.

James Yoro is a Certified Workers’ Compensation Professional in California, and is one of the most veteran and most respected workers’ compensation lawyers in the state. He is the past president of the Kern County Bar Association. He has argued cases in front of the California Supreme Court, and for nearly 40 years has fought day in and day out for the rights of injured workers.

The law firm includes attorneys David Cohn, Jim Yoro, Matt Clark, Chad Boyles, Beatriz Trejo, Tanya Alsheikh, and Doug Fitz-Simmons. To learn more about each attorney and the firm, visit 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.

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

‘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.