California Developmental Center Police Failed to Protect Patients, Audit Finds

By Elaine Korry, KQED

(Monica Lam/Center for Investigative Reporting)

(Monica Lam/Center for Investigative Reporting)

A state audit has found widespread safety problems at five residential centers for people with severe developmental disorders. It documents years of failures by the state Office of Protective Services, which is charged with resident safety at the centers.

The 76-page audit was requested by lawmakers following allegations of sexual molestation and physical assaults that had gone unpunished by the Office of Protective Services. OPS is the in-house oversight agency of the state Department of Developmental Services, which cares for 1,700 people with cerebral palsy, mental retardation and severe autism. In a telephone conference call, disability rights advocate Greg deGiere said the audit vindicates years of media investigations and family complaints.

“We’re talking about serial rapes, torture with tasers, at least one apparent homicide.”

“This audit is a scathing, devastating indictment of the state’s mismanagement of the developmental center residents’ safety,” said disability rights advocate Greg deGiere in a conference call. “Both the Department of Developmental Services and the Department of Public Health have failed to do their jobs and still are failing to do them adequately.”

The auditors cited poor quality investigations, outdated reporting policies and high staff turnover which had put residents’ safety at risk. The audit focused on 48 incidents of alleged abuse, and found failures of oversight in every case. “We’re talking about serial rapes, torture with tasers, at least one apparent homicide,” deGiere said. “This is serious stuff, people who are locked away in these places.”

State lawmakers demanded the audit last year after a series of reports from KQED and the Center for Investigative Reporting. As CIR reported Tuesday:

CIR, through its California Watch project, detailed that dozens of women were sexually assaulted inside state centers, but police investigators didn’t order “rape kits” to collect evidence, a standard law enforcement tool. Police waited so long to investigate one sexual assault that the staff janitor accused of rape fled the country. The police force’s inaction also allowed abusive caregivers to continue molesting patients – even after the department had evidence that could have stopped future assaults.

The Office of Protective Services’ records indicate the force sent 82 patient abuse cases to district attorneys for possible prosecution. However, auditors determined much of the data on the entire caseload was “not sufficiently reliable for the purposes of this audit” to verify that number.

The Office of Protective Services blamed understaffing and excessive overtime for the lapses documented by the auditor. It accepted all the recommendations for faster, more thorough reporting of safety incidents in the future.

Learn more: 

Suspicious Deaths Unsolved at Developmental Centers (The California Report)

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