‘Payoffs’ of victims of sexual assault by Kern County officers under local scrutiny

December 30, 2015 | 3:00 am


A five-part series examining the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct and questionable practices among local law enforcement agencies has garnered attention nationwide, including in Kern County.

The series was conducted by The Guardian, a renowned British national daily newspaper that also covers issues in the United States, which found, among other things, that police in Kern County killed more people per capita than in any other American county in 2015.

But one issue in particular highlighted in the series caught the attention of local residents and local media.

The third part in the series, “Sexual assault and the price of silence,” tackles how law enforcement officers in Kern County secretly tried to “buy off” victims in sexual misconduct cases against the men sworn to protect them.

“In no way shape or form is the method that they use involving these victims ethical,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles managing partner David Cohn told KGET-17.

This part of the series also includes comments attorneys Neil Gehlawat related to several cases of sexual assault involving Kern County Sheriff’s Department employees. The cases highlighted include:

  • Karen Frye, who was sexually molested at Lerdo Jail by Kern County Sheriff’s Department detentions deputy Anthony Michael Lavis. 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.
  • Jane Doe, 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.
  • Jane Doe 2, 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.
  • Two claims against the County of Kern on behalf of two females who were sexually assaulted in separate incidents by Kern County Juvenile Corrections officers while the girls were housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall. Kern County Corrections officer Cesar Holguin Navejar was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting Jane Doe 1. He is currently facing six felony charges including sexual battery, assault by a public officer and child molestation. Jane Doe 2, who was also housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall. That suspect, George Anderson, has been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation.

Local news outlets interviewed attorneys of Chain | Cohn | Stiles about the cases and the County of Kern’s questionable practices, and also interviewed county counsel, who argued that the practice is both legal and ethical.

Said Gehlawat in The Bakersfield Californian article: “This is reprehensible, these payoffs. They show up with cash in hand and try to pay off these victims.”

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files lawsuit for family of woman killed in crash with Sheriff’s deputy

July 15, 2015 | 11:13 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed 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 patrol car operated by Deputy Nicholas Clerico struck and killed her.

The filing of the lawsuit is on the heels of the release of the California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) report regarding the crash that occurred on Sept. 28, 2014, at the intersection of North Chester Avenue and China Grade Loop in Oildale. The report finds Deputy Clerico at fault in the crash, and the CHP report recommended that a vehicular manslaughter charge be filed against the deputy.

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.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark was joined by Garrett’s grown children, Mark McGowan and Deborah Blanco, for press conference on July 9 to discuss the case, the 230-page MAIT report, and the lawsuit.

To view media coverage of the crash involving Garrett and Clerico and Chain | Cohn | Stiles representation of Garrett’s family, click here. To see media coverage following the press conference and filing of the lawsuit, view them below.

The unveiling of the MAIT report, the filing of the lawsuit by Chain | Cohn | Stiles and subsequent media coverage of the wrongful death case also comes in the midst of yet another tragic crash involving a Kern Count Sheriff’s deputy.

A 59-year-old motorcyclist Bakersfield man riding a motorcycle died Tuesday evening in Oildale when his motorcycle struck a patrol car driven by a deputy responding to an emergency call, according to local media reports. The crash is under investigation.

The crashes and lawsuits also come just a few years following another high-profile case represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles involving a fatal crash with a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy.

On Dec. 16, 2011, Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed Daniel Hiler, 24, and Chrystal Jolley, 30, 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. Chain | Cohn | Stiles sued the County of Kern on behalf of the families, and settled last year for $8.8 million.

In the lawsuit related to Nancy Garrett, her family and attorneys are asking for changes within the sheriff’s department in how deputies are trained properly throughout Bakersfield and other communities across Kern County.

UPDATE – FEBRUARY 2020: The case has been 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.

UPDATE – JUNE 2020: The case has been resolved through a settlement.

 

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PRESS CONFERENCE MEDIA COVERAGE

LAWSUIT MEDIA COVERAGE

SETTLEMENT COVERAGE

Local families, attorneys to march against police misconduct in ‘Walk for Justice’

March 3, 2015 | 10:08 am


Note: To see media coverage of this event, scroll to the bottom.

Prominent attorneys will be joining local families in the “Walk for Justice” on Saturday, March 14, to speak out against local cases of police misconduct, wrongful death and civil rights violations.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat will be joining lawyers from the prominent Los Angeles-based firm Geragos & Geragos at the 1 p.m. march, which starts at 1700 Flower St. in east Bakersfield.

That’s near the site where David Silva lost his life on the night of May 7, 2013, when officers approached him as he lay on the grass across the street from Kern County Medical Center. Silva, a 33-year-old father of four, was severely beaten by seven baton-wielding officers, and died an hour later.

The two prominent law firms are working together on the Silva wrongful death case, as well as other Kern County cases against the Kern County Sheriff’s Department and Bakersfield Police Department. The civil lawsuit is ongoing. 

Silva’s family, joined by other families from local cases of police misconduct, are now advocating for an end to police brutality.

To read more about the Silva case, click here.

The marchers will be meeting at four locations where incidents of police brutality have taken place, and will leave flowers in remembrance of victim’s lives. Those victims also include Ronnie (Pops) Ledesma, David Turner and James De La Rosa. The march will end at Heritage Park.

“Be the voice for those who no longer have one,” organizers stated in a flier for the march.

Attorney Neil Gehlawat will be speaking about local cases, as well as a representative from Geragos & Geragos. Attorney Mark Geragos is representing the families of two men killed by Bakersfield police in separate incidents, including the killing of Ramiro James Villegas on Nov. 13. That claim seeks damages for violation of civil and constitutional rights, wrongful death, punitive damages and emotional injuries. It says Villegas got out of his vehicle and held his hands up after being cornered by officers into a light pole. Officers said Villegas reached toward his waistband, and the officers opened fire, killing him. No gun or other weapon was found in Villegas’ possession.

For more information on the march, visit the “Walk for Justice” Facebook event page by clicking here, or call 661-747-1110. The march is sponsored by “Concerned Citizens of Bakersfield #UnitedWeStand.”

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Media:

The Bakersfield Californian: March draws attention to deaths in encounters with law enforcement

KGET Channel 17 (NBC): Locals call for more accountability in law enforcement

Instagram: CCS’ Neil Gehlawat speaks at “Walk for Justice” event

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Police misconduct, police brutality and the denial of civil rights have the effect of undermining our country’s Constitution. Common forms of police misconduct include unnecessary use of force, false imprisonment, sexual harassment and assault, illegal searches and planting evidence, among other circumstances. If you or someone you know has been a victim of police misconduct or police brutality, call the Bakersfield police misconduct lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the law firm’s website at Chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles responds to Kern County District Attorney decision on Silva case

April 11, 2014 | 4:15 pm


Chain | Cohn | Stiles on Friday released the following news release after Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green announced that her office would not be seeking criminal charges against the law enforcement officers involved in the death of David Silva, represented by this firm:

Below the release are links to media coverage of the announcement, and the response from Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

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April 11, 2014                                                                                                       

NEWS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Attorney in David Silva case calls Kern County District Attorney’s Office decision a disappointment

The attorney for the family of David S. Silva on Friday called the decision by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office a disappointment, following its decision to not file charges against officers that beat and hogtied him before he died.

“This is the reason we need an independent advisory panel evaluating these types of cases,” said David K. Cohn, managing partner with Chain | Cohn | Stiles and attorney representing the Silva family. “Kern County District Attorney’s Office personnel work with these agencies every day, and they’re the ones in charge of prosecuting cases for them. Apparently, the way it works in Kern County is that unless they catch the officers red-handed, nothing will happen. It appears that they look for ways not to prosecute.”

Cohn continued: “Given that we do not have an independent panel in place to investigate, that’s the reason we filed a lawsuit in this case on behalf of the Silva family.  Through this lawsuit, we believe the truth will come out. We have the ability to question these officers under oath. We’ll be more thorough in this investigation than any investigation that the Kern County District Attorney’s Office has done thus far. We won’t just rely on the investigative reports prepared by the Sheriff’s office, which are self-serving, one-sided versions of the events leading up to David Silva’s tragic death.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a civil rights lawsuit in connection with the wrongful death of David Silva in May 7, 2013. The lawsuit arises out of an incident at the intersection of Flower Street and Palm Street in Bakersfield, when David Silva died as a consequence of unreasonable and excessive force used by six Sheriff’s deputies, a sergeant, and two California Highway Patrol officers.

The complaint seeks damages on behalf of David’s four young children, his significant other, his parents and his brother, for the loss of love, affection, society, service, comfort, support, right of support, expectations of future support and counseling, companionship, solace and mental support, as well as other benefits and assistance of the decedent, David Silva.

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Meanwhile, local, state and national news media has been covering the announcement and response. Here are some of those articles and videos. 

 

The Bakersfield Californian: Prosecutors won’t file charges in David Silva’s death, Letters to the Editor

KERO-23, ABC: Attorney in David Silva case calls Kern County District Attorney’s Office decision a disappointment

KBFX-58, KBAK-29, FOX: Kern County prosecutor: No charges in Silva in-custody death 

KGET-17, NBC: District attorney: No charges to be filed in David Silva case

KGET-17, NBC: DA: No charges for deputies in deadly Silva confrontation

KERO-23, ABC: Kern County District Attorney will not file charges in the alleged beating death of David Silva

CBS-2, KCAL-9, Los Angeles: No Charges Filed Against Deputies In Bakersfield Arrest Death

San Francisco Chronicle: No charges filed in Kern County arrest death