Chain | Cohn | Stiles files claims on behalf of 3 students who were victims of sexual misconduct at local high school

March 13, 2019 | 6:00 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles law firm has filed claims on behalf of three 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. 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.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, after speaking with victims and investigators, suspects there could be even more victims. 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, who is representing the victims and their families, told local media. To see full media coverage of the filing of the complaints and the arrest of Rodriguez, please see the links below.

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

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

Added Cohn: “We want to get to the bottom of how this went on for so long.”

“I think all the markers were out there,” Cohn told KGET-17. “It will be interesting to listen to the district’s explanation for why they didn’t do something sooner.”

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.”

Citing similar cases that have occurred in the past few years, Cohn told local media that a message must be sent to the school district that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated.

“A the end of the day, what really has an impact on the school district is getting hit in their pocketbook,” Cohn said.

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CLAIM FILING MEDIA COVERAGE

 

CRIMINAL CASE MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney provides legal commentary following North High School sexual misconduct allegations

February 27, 2019 | 10:48 am


A local high school athletic equipment manager has been arrested on suspicion of having sexual contact with current and former students. And as yet another local school employee is arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct with a student, Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury attorney Matt Clark provided insight to media on the ongoing problem, and the effects on victims.

According to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Edwin Rodriguez, 40, who worked at North High School in north Bakersfield, was arrested on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment. He faces 11 felony counts and 13 misdemeanor counts.

For media coverage of this case with Clark’s legal commentary, see “Media Coverage” at the bottom of this post.

According to media reports, 10 people have come forward to investigators alleging inappropriate physical contact and other unwanted interaction. Rodriguez allegedly sent explicit messages, including photos and videos, to eight juvenile students through the social media platform Snapchat and that he had sexual contact with several of the victims dating back to 2015. One of the alleged student victims at North High estimated they had witnessed over 300 conversations with Rodriguez of a sexual nature involving students, both male and female, according to court documents.

The arrest of Rodriguez comes after several other sexual misconduct cases in recent months. In December, former Liberty High School boys basketball coach was charged on suspicion of annoying or molesting a child under the age of 18. Also, a Kern County jury awarded $10 million to a girl who was allegedly molested by a computer lab technician for the Lamont Elementary School District. A lawsuit was recently filed against a former Highland High School assistant principal who allegedly sexually abused a 16-year-old male student in 2009. And a McFarland High School basketball coach was arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct in October after a male student came forward to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office; the coach had allegedly sent inappropriate text messages to the student, promising him a spot on the school varsity team in exchange for sexual favors.

Matt Clark, who has represented several victims of sexual abuse and misconduct, told local media he has seen these types of cases all too often.

“I don’t think people realize the damage they do to these young adolescents when an adult gets into a relationship with them. It haunts them years and years later,” Clark told The Bakersfield Californian. “Victims don’t necessarily want to come forward. I think they’re in a tough position.”

Social media and text messaging have played big roles both in allowing such relationships to start; they also help prove that misconduct has actually taken place.

“It gives the sexual predators the means to make contact and to groom their prey,” Clark said. “However, it’s also actual documentary evidence that a school employee sent inappropriate messages or material to a minor. Before we had that technology it was just verbalization, which was difficult to prove.”

Several times a year, Clark speaks at the Kern High School District “Coaches Clinic,” which trains school employees on various legal issues to watch out for.

“One of the rules that I give to the coaches during the training is do not text message a student one on one,” Clark said on KGET-17 News. “There should never be a situation where you are text messaging a student one on one.”

Clark said that while some predators believe deleting their correspondence with students will protect them from being caught, that is not the case.

“If you put something in a text message, it’s saved forever, even if you delete them,” Clark said. “If you’re having inappropriate contact with a student and you don’t know that, that’s really playing with fire.”

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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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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MEDIA COVERAGE

Big rig explosion, elder neglect, wrongful death lawsuits among Chain | Cohn | Stiles active cases

January 23, 2019 | 9:08 am


The personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles are involved in some of the most significant cases in the Central Valley, ranging from police misconduct cases/civil rights to industrial accident cases, big rig, wrongful death, product liability cases, and more. And while every case handled by Chain | Cohn | Stiles is an important one for the lawyers, paralegals, and staff, the cases that follow represent just some of the diverse cases we’re working on currently.

For more on these cases, go to chainlaw.com/current-cases.

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McGowan v. County of Kern

Chain | Cohn | Stiles 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 came 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 found 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.

Nancy left behind a son, Mark, and a daughter, Deborah, along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

 

Doe Big Rig Tank Explosion

A big rig truck driver was filling his tank with fuel at a Valero gas station west of Bakersfield when a tank ruptured in a catastrophic release of pressure. The explosion severely injured the driver, and collapsed the gas station.

Kern County Fire Department responded with a Hazmat team, as did Kern County Public Health Services.  Crews secured the utilities by operating all emergency fuel shutoffs, and rescue efforts focused on the truck driver who was treated on scene, and transported to a local hospital, according to media reports.

The investigation into the explosion continues.

 

Ojeda v. Animal Health International, Inc.

On the morning of Aug. 26, 2015, Steven Ojeda was driving to Wasco State Prison, where he worked as an associate warden, when a cloud of dust enveloped the roadway on Kimberlina Road, obscuring the vision of Ojeda and other drivers around him.

Just a few miles from his work, cars suddenly slowed as the area was covered in dust from people working in the fields. Ojeda crashed into the back of a vehicle, and was subsequently rear-ended by another vehicle. Tragically, Ojeda was killed in the crash.

“It is an extremely hard loss for our instruction and for our staff. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time,” Wasco State Prison officials said in a statement at the time of the crash.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a wrongful death claim on behalf of Ojeda’s family.

 

Acosta v. Sunny Gem

The plaintiff, a truck driver, was eastbound on Kimberlina Road near Wasco when the defendant, also a truck driver, heading northbound on Wildwood Road ran a stop sign, causing the plaintiff to collide with the defendant truck trailer, resulting in substantial injuries.

Garcia v. City of Delano

On April 17, 2018, Fernando Garcia, a maintenance worker for the city of Delano, was helping move boxes to a storage room. As he was moving the second set of boxes in the storage room, he collapsed.

He was taken to the hospital, and died three days later. He was married to his wife Elizabeth for 12 years, and he left behind three children.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the Garcia family in their workers’ compensation death benefits case.

 

Avalos Lopez v. Jaguar Contracting

Francisco Avalos Lopez was a first assistant foreman, which included the supervision of a crew of about 50 people, and was responsible for the production and output of his crew. The physical job required him to provide water, shade, and clean the portable toilets for his crew before the start of the workday.

On July 28, 2017, the crew was having an early morning meeting when Avalos collapsed holding his chest, and said, “heart.”

He left behind a wife and had three children. Days before his death, he had told his wife that he wanted to leave the job at the end of the season due to stress.

 

Jane Doe v. Domino’s Pizza

A juvenile girl working at Domino’s Pizza in Bakersfield was struck by gunfire during an altercation at the restaurant.

A 20-year-old was taken into custody in connection with the shooting, facing multiple charges including robbery, burglary and negligent discharge of a gun. Bakersfield Police Department reported that the man argued with employees, began to forcibly take food, began assaulting employees and a struggle ensued. During the struggle, police say a gun possessed by the man fell to the floor and discharged, striking the girl.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the worker in her workers’ compensation case.

 

Owens v. Brookdale Senior Living

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed an elder abuse and neglect lawsuit against a Bakersfield senior rehabilitation center that resulted in the death of an 80-year-old man, longtime teacher, U.S. Army veteran, and husband of 57 years.

The elder abuse, elder neglect, wrongful death, and fraud complaint was on behalf of the widow of John Paul Owens against Brookdale Senior Living, Silvercrest Manor, and Wade Budney of “A Helping Hand Senior Care Services.”

Well into retirement, Paul began to suffer symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. He took a fall at home in 2017 that required him to have surgery on his leg and hip. After, Paul was placed in Brookdale Senior Living for daily care.

“So he could walk again, take care of himself again, so he could go back home and live with his wife of 57 years, that was the goal,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark told KGET News.

That didn’t happen. Paul developed large bed sores, pressure ulcers and received inadequate care. As an example, he was bathed just four times over a span of 35 days.

“Mr. Owens was continually denied the benefit of those interventions necessary to prevent the formation and progression of pressure ulcers,” according to the complaint.

Soon, Carol Owens was told Paul could no longer be housed at Brookdale, and needed to find another facility due to insurance issues. Brookdale contacted “A Helping Hand Senior Care Services,” ran by Wade Budney, to be discharged to Silvercrest.

“Budney puts [Owens] in his personal vehicle, this is a guy with two stage three pressure ulcers, a urinary catheter, a broken leg, hasn’t had rehab yet,” Clark told KGET.

Carol Owens added: “I was told if he wasn’t transferred that Wade would call and report me for elder abuse.”

The inadequate care continued at Silvercrest. Ultimately, the event prompted an investigation by the California Department of Public Health. The department found that Brookdale failed to prevent Paul Owens from developing ulcers, prematurely discharged him, and failed to safely discharge him to another facility.

Additionally, Budney falsely and misleadingly stated that Paul Owens would receive appropriate and adequate care at Silvercrest. He also concealed the fact that he would receive monetary compensation from Silvercrest.

Shortly after being admitted to Silvercrest, Paul Owens was taken to Bakersfield Memorial Hospital. He died shortly after in January 2018.

“The main reason I’m doing this is I don’t want other people to have to go through this with loved ones, that’s the whole goal,” Carol Owens told KGET News.

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

Wrongful death, civil rights, elder abuse cases among notable cases resolved by Chain | Cohn | Stiles in 2018

December 26, 2018 | 6:00 am


As 2018 comes to a close, Kern County’s leading accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles takes a look back at noteworthy resolved cases, some of which you may have seen in local media.

 

Wrongful Death: $3.4 Million

In April, Chain | Cohn | Stiles reached a settlement with the County of Kern on behalf of the family of a motorcyclist who was killed in 2015 when a Kern County Sheriff’s patrol car abruptly made a turn against a red light directly into his path.

The crash involving 59-year-old Larry Maharrey garnered media attention as it was the fourth fatality in as many years involving a Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle.

The parties agreed to a $3.8 million settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit.

“These are tragic cases where you have individuals who are completely innocent who were killed in traffic collisions. Those are the types of accidents that shouldn’t happen, especially involving officers who are trained to protect these very same people,” said Matt Clark, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney for the family.

On July 14, 2015, Maharrey was driving his motorcycle eastbound on Norris Road in Oildale, when the deputy abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive directly into Maharrey’s path. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with the patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash.

The California Highway Patrol determined that Sgt. Marvin Gomez and Maharrey did not become visible to each other until 0.87 seconds before the collision because other vehicles blocked their view. CHP had recommended a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge against Gomez, but the District Attorney’s office declined to file a criminal charge. Chain | Cohn | Stiles contends that Deputy Gomez violated KCSO policies and procedures by failing to pre-clear the intersection before turning left against a red light.

Maharrey’s death came at the heels of another wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the family of Nancy Garrett, who was struck and killed by KCSO deputy Nicholas Clerico in 2014, also in the Oildale area. This case is ongoing. Less than four years before Maharrey’s death, Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley were killed 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, also represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, settled in March 2014 for $8.8 million.

For more than 20 years, Maharrey worked for Golden State Drilling as a diesel mechanic. At his vigil, friends and family described him as “a good man” who would do anything for anyone in need. He especially enjoyed fishing and, of course, riding his motorcycle.

In another case involving law enforcement, Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved in 2018 a wrongful death case on behalf of the family of Donald Hill, a 30-year-old Central Valley man who died in December after being restrained by police officers.

Hill, a civilian employee at Naval Base San Diego, died on Dec. 31, 2016 while he was being restrained by Lemoore police officers near the 1100 block of Pine Court. A “spit hood” was placed over Hill’s head, he was restrained chest down with weight on his back, and he vomited and stopped breathing. After he became unresponsive, he was transported to Adventist Medical Center in Hanford, where he was pronounced dead.

 

Trucking Accidents: $3 Million

Jesus Garcia-Santana was travelling on Highway 101 just north of Paso Robles to his son’s home in Bakersfield when his car became inoperable. He pulled to the side of the road, exited his car, opened the hood, and called for assistance. He then sat in his car on the passenger side, and waited for help. As he waited, a Stevens Trucking tractor pulling two trailers full of carrots veered onto the shoulder and struck Garcia-Santana’s car. As a result, Garcia-Santana suffered significant life-threatening injuries.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed negligence claim, alleging that the truck driver was not paying attention, not scanning the road ahead of him, when he overreacted to a car changing lanes in front of him. In November, the case settled for $3 million.

In another big-rig accident case that settled for $3 million in 2018 (Medeiros v. Triple T Trucking, Inc.), our plaintiffs were in a pickup truck on Highway 99 that slowed to a stop due to a lane closure, and was rear-ended.

 

Motorcycle Accident: $3.4 Million

Jason Travis Harvey, 42, was riding his motorcycle near Wible and Planz Roads in southwest Bakersfield when a California Water Service pulled out in front of Harvey, and the motorcycle his the side of the pickup. He was rushed to the hospital where he later died.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved the motorcycle accident, wrongful death case for $2.4 million.

 

Premises Liability: $2.3 Million

Russell Lester and Bryan Walls were attending a party on Fourth of July 2014 in west Bakersfield, celebrating our nation’s independence and wedding reception. By the end of the night, they were in local hospitals.

The two arrived at the party where party-goers were allegedly setting off illegal fireworks and explosives. Lester and Walls were asked to hold the balloons while they were filled with acetylene gas, which is very unstable, highly flammable gas. The balloons were being taped to a pole when they exploded. It’s possible static electricity ignited them.

Four people were severely injured in the blast, including Lester and Walls. The two suffered burns to their face, chest and arms. Lester lost all the hearing in his right ear and partial hearing in his left ear, and lost peripheral vision in his left eye. Walls suffered hearing loss, too, and Lester’s burns were so severe that he was taken to a Fresno burn center.

In June 2018, Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved the premises liability case for $2.3 million.

 

Elder Abuse / Neglect

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved several elder abuse and neglect cases, including one case that received media attention.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a lawsuit against Valley Convalescent Hospital in Bakersfield on behalf of the family of an 80-year-old patient who died as a result of neglect at the facility. Robert Hopkins fell from his bed in February while housed at the facility after a nursing assistant failed to ensure a guard rail was properly set. He suffered a fracture in his vertebrae below the skull, spent a week in the hospital, returned to Valley Convalescent Hospital on Feb. 28, and died the following day.

The California Department of Public Health determined Hopkins’ death was a result of his fall. The Department fined the facility $100,000 and it received the most severe penalty under California law (Class AA Citation). Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed an elder neglect and wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Hopkins’ family.

The case resolved in June for $450,000.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, contact the accident and injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files elder neglect, wrongful death, fraud claim against Bakersfield senior rehab facilities

July 18, 2018 | 6:00 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed an elder abuse and neglect lawsuit against a Bakersfield senior rehabilitation center that resulted in the death of an 80-year-old man, longtime teacher, U.S. Army veteran, and husband of 57 years.

The elder abuse, elder neglect, wrongful death, and fraud complaint was filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the widow of John Paul Owens, Carol Owens, against Brookdale Senior Living, Silvercrest Manor, and Wade Budney of “A Helping Hand Senior Care Services.”

The filing of the complaint was covered by KGET-17 News, which you can view by clicking here.

Paul Owens was born in 1937 in Oklahoma. His family moved to McFarland when he was 4 years old, and he graduated from McFarland High School. After school, he served in the U.S. Army, attaining the rank of sergeant, and worked as a paratrooper.

In 1960, Paul married Carol. He earned his teaching credential in 1962 and would teach for 38 years. He loved cross country running, and working with his hands.

Well into retirement, Paul began to suffer symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. He took a fall at home in 2017 that required him to have surgery on his leg and hip. After, Paul was placed in Brookdale Senior Living for daily care.

“So he could walk again, take care of himself again, so he could go back home and live with his wife of 57 years, that was the goal,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark told KGET News.

That didn’t happen. Paul developed large bed sores, pressure ulcers and received inadequate care. As an example, he was bathed just four times over a span of 35 days.

“Mr. Owens was continually denied the benefit of those interventions necessary to prevent the formation and progression of pressure ulcers,” according to the complaint.

Soon, Carol Owens was told Paul could no longer be housed at Brookdale, and needed to find another facility due to insurance issues. Brookdale contacted “A Helping Hand Senior Care Services,” ran by Wade Budney, to be discharged to Silvercrest.

“Budney puts [Owens] in his personal vehicle, this is a guy with two stage three pressure ulcers, a urinary catheter, a broken leg, hasn’t had rehab yet,” Clark told KGET.

Carol Owens added: “I was told if he wasn’t transferred that Wade would call and report me for elder abuse.”

The inadequate care continued at Silvercrest. Ultimately, the event prompted an investigation by the California Department of Public Health. The department found that Brookdale failed to prevent Paul Owens from developing ulcers, prematurely discharged him, and failed to safely discharge him to another facility.

Additionally, Budney falsely and misleadingly stated that Paul Owens would receive appropriate and adequate care at Silvercrest. He also concealed the fact that he would receive monetary compensation from Silvercrest.

Shortly after being admitted to Silvercrest, Paul Owens was taken to Bakersfield Memorial Hospital. He died shortly after in January 2018.

“The main reason I’m doing this is I don’t want other people to have to go through this with loved ones, that’s the whole goal,” Carol Owens told KGET News.

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles wants to remind everyone of the importance of speaking up for those who cannot, our oldest, frailest and most vulnerable citizens. If you or someone you know experiences elder abuse or neglect, please contact our attorneys by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the law firm’s specialized website focused on elder abuse at bakersfieldelderabuse.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolves wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of family of motorcyclist killed in crash with Sheriff’s deputy patrol car

May 9, 2018 | 9:34 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has reached a settlement with the County of Kern on behalf of the family of a motorcyclist who was killed in 2015 when a Kern County Sheriff’s patrol car abruptly made a turn against a red light directly into his path.

The crash involving 59-year-old Larry Maharrey garnered media attention as it was the fourth fatality in as many years involving a Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle.

The parties agreed to a $3.8 million settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit.

“These are tragic cases where you have individuals who are completely innocent who were killed in traffic collisions. Those are the types of accidents that shouldn’t happen, especially involving officers who are trained to protect these very same people,” said Matt Clark, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney for the family.

Clark continued: “It’s incredibly unfortunate an innocent man died. Maharrey’s family is satisfied with the resolution, but it’s not like the resolution will bring him back.”

On July 14, 2015, Maharrey was driving his motorcycle eastbound on Norris Road in Oildale, when the deputy abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive directly into Maharrey’s path. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with the patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash.

The California Highway Patrol determined that Sgt. Marvin Gomez and Maharrey did not become visible to each other until 0.87 seconds before the collision because other vehicles blocked their view. CHP had recommended a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge against Gomez, but the District Attorney’s office declined to file a criminal charge. Chain | Cohn | Stiles contends that Deputy Gomez violated KCSO policies and procedures by failing to pre-clear the intersection before turning left against a red light.

Maharrey’s death came at the heels of another wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the family of Nancy Garrett, who was struck and killed by KCSO deputy Nicholas Clerico in 2014, also in the Oildale area. This case is ongoing. Less than four years before Maharrey’s death, Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley were killed 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, also represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, settled in March 2014 for $8.8 million.

For more than 20 years, Maharrey worked for Golden State Drilling as a diesel mechanic. At his vigil, friends and family described him as “a good man” who would do anything for anyone in need. He especially enjoyed fishing and, of course, riding his motorcycle.

MEDIA COVERAGE

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Understanding what sex violence is, and how to report it

April 25, 2018 | 3:19 pm


Sexual assault happens in every community. Whether it’s harassment, online abuse, or unwanted sexual contact — including rape — it’s important to take these actions seriously, not blame the victim, and speak up against sexual violence.

April marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the United States, a time when survivors and advocacy groups work to raise awareness surrounding the pervasive issue of sexual violence, as well as educate the public about ways to prevent it.

This year’s campaign comes during a watershed moment in history, as thousands speak out about their experiences through the #MeToo Movement that has sent shock waves through nearly every industry, revealing the indiscriminate nature of sexual violence. This year, National Sexual Violence Resource Center is leading the “Embrace Your Voice” campaign, encouraging people to speak up to “promote safety, respect and equality toward ending sexual violence.”

“It is important we all understand what sexual assault is, and how to report it,” said David Cohn, managing partner for Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “In fact, it’s up to all of us to speak up, show our support for survivors, quit the victim blaming, and dispel myths and misconceptions.”

Cohn continued: “At the same time, it is important for victims to know there is help out there, and where to turn when that help is needed.”

The U.S. Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” This includes forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.

Anyone can experience sexual assault, including children, teens, adults, and seniors. In fact, nearly 1 in 5 women in the United States have experienced rape or attempted rape some time in their lives, and 1 in 67 American men have experienced rape or attempted rape. Those who sexually abuse can be acquaintances, family, trusted individuals, or strangers, with the first three being the most common.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has represented victims of sexual assault by teachers, law enforcement, coaches and others in position of authority. The law firm recently resolved several cases for victims of sexual assaults by a Kern County Sheriff’s Department deputies and detention deputies in juvenile hall.

Indeed, sexual assault persists, and the statistics are staggering:

  • One in three women will experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • One in six men will experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police.
  • More than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.
  • One in five women will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • 51.1 percent of female rape victims reported being raped by an intimate partner.
  • 40.8 percent of female rape victims reported being raped by an acquaintance.
  • In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the perpetrator.
  • 8 percent of rapes occurred while the victim is at work.

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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And if you or someone you know is the victim of sexual assault at the hands of someone in authority, contact the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Kern County Sheriff’s comments from leaked video on cost of deadly force causes controversy

April 18, 2018 | 9:53 am


A video released recently showing Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood telling an employees union that it is better “financially” to kill suspects than to “cripple” them has sparked controversy locally and nationwide.

In the one-minute video filmed in 2006 during his first campaign for sheriff, Youngblood is seen seated at a table discussing deputy trainings and the cost to the sheriff’s office due to police violence.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark discussed Youngblood’s comments recently while on The Richard Beene Show on KERN Radio 1180, 96.1. You can listen to the full interview here.

The Bakersfield Californian described a portion of the video:

Youngblood, in response to a question about officer training, said that detention deputies are trained more extensively than they used to be because of the cost the county faces when deputies kill or injure a person.

“There’s a good reason for that: millions and millions of dollars,” Youngblood said. “You know what happens if a guy makes a bad shooting on somebody — kills them,” Youngblood said. “Three million bucks and the family goes away.”

It’s “a totally different ballgame” when it happens in a jail to an inmate who is in restraints and surrounded by multiple officers, Youngblood said.

“It’s no different than when a deputy shoots someone on the streets, which way do you think is better financially? To cripple them or kill them, for the county,” Youngblood asks.

“Kill them,” said a voice from the audience.

“Absolutely,” Youngblood replies. “Because if we cripple them we get to take care of them for life, and that cost goes way up.”

The comments from the video were related to a discussion about the 2005 in-custody beating death of James Moore, who was beaten by several Kern County detentions deputies. That wrongful death case, represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of Moore’s family, resulted in a $6 million settlement. The killing also led to criminal charges against the deputies.

Lawyer Matt Clark said Youngblood’s comments speak to a culture within the sheriff’s department that life is not valued, and shared that families of victims of wrongful death at the hands of sheriff’s deputies — of which there have been several in recent years — are upset over the sheriff’s comments.

“Doesn’t that provide a mindset in that department that human life isn’t worth that much?” Clark said. “Having represented families who have lost loved ones due to the negligent and sometimes criminal conduct of the sheriff’s department, I can tell you (the families of victims) are not pleased to hear that.”

Specifically, Clark discussed several wrongful death, civil rights, and excessive force cases represented in recent years by Chain | Cohn | Stiles:

  • Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley were pushing the motorcycle to a relative’s house crossing Norris Road in Oildale when they were struck and killed by a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy patrol car, speeding with lights and sirens off. The wrongful death case settled for $8.8 million.
  • Chain | Cohn | Stiles 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.
  • On July 14 2015, Larry Maharrey was driving his motorcycle eastbound on Norris Road when a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive directly into Maharrey’s path. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with Deputy Gomez’s patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash.
  • On the night of May 7, 2013, David Sal Silva fell asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center. 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. And shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. A wrongful death lawsuit settlement was reached in May 2016 for $3.4 million.

In most of these cases, deputies suffered little consequences or punishment despite breaking department policies in the situations that led to these tragic deaths, Clark said.

This isn’t the first time the Kern County Sheriff’s Office has been the center of controversy for its practices and history of deadly force.

In December 2015, The Guardian publication 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. Then 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 have engaged in patterns of excessive force and systematically violated the civil rights of local residents. The California Attorney General’s Office is currently investigating patterns of excessive force and civil rights violations in Kern County’s departments.

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If you or someone you know is the victim of excessive force, police misconduct, or other civil rights violations, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Dog Bite Prevention: Safe interaction, education, responsible pet ownership are key

April 11, 2018 | 11:39 am


Each year about 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs and 800,000-plus receive medical attention for dog bites, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Many of the dog bite victims are children, the elderly and postal carriers.

The good news is that many dog bites can be prevented with safe and appropriate interaction with canines, education, and responsible pet ownership.

The motto for this year’s Dog Bite Prevention Week, observed from April 8-14, is “70 million nice dogs … but any dog can bite.” Here are a few tips to help keep us all safe from dog bites, courtesy of the Humane Society of the United States and American Veterinary Medical Association.

Socialization

Socializing your pet helps it feel at ease in different situations. By introducing your dog to people and other animals while it’s a puppy, it feels more comfortable in different situations as it gets older. It’s also important to use a leash in public to make sure that you are able to control your dog.

Responsible pet ownership

Basics of responsible dog ownership that can help reduce the risk of dog bites include carefully selecting the dog that’s right for your family, proper training, regular exercise, and neutering or spaying your pet.

Education

Educate yourself and your children about how, or whether, to approach a dog.

Avoid risky situations

It’s important to know how to avoid escalating risky situations and to understand when you should and should not interact with dogs. You should avoid petting a dog in these scenarios:

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

Pay attention to the dog’s body language

Put a safe amount of space between yourself and a dog if you see the following signals, indicating that the dog is uncomfortable and might feel the need to bite:

  • Tensed body
  • Stiff tail
  • Pulled back head and/or ears
  • Furrowed brow
  • Eyes rolled so the whites are visible
  • Yawning
  • Flicking tongue
  • Intense stare
  • Backing away

When putting space between yourself and a dog that might bite, never turn your back on them and run away. A dog’s natural instinct will be to chase you.

Safety tips for children

You can help protect your child from dog bites by discussing with him or her the appropriate way to behave around dogs.

  • Children should not approach, touch or play with any dog that is sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy or bone, or caring for puppies. Animals are more likely to bite if they’re startled, frightened or caring for young.
  • Children should never approach a barking, growling or scared dog.
  • Children should not pet unfamiliar dogs without asking permission from the dog’s guardian first. If the guardian says it is okay, the child should first let the dog sniff his closed hand. Then taking care to avoid petting the dog on the top of the head, he can pet the dog’s shoulders or chest.
  • Children should not try to pet dogs that are behind a fence or in a car. Dogs often protect their home or space.
  • If a child sees a dog off-leash outside, he should not approach the dog and should tell an adult immediately.
  • If a loose dog comes near a child, he should not run or scream. Instead, he should avoid eye contact with the dog and stand very still, like a tree, until the animal moves away. Once the dog loses interest, the child can slowly back away.
  • If a child falls down or is knocked to the ground by a dog, he should curl up in a ball with his knees tucked into his stomach, and fingers interlocked behind his neck to protect his neck and ears. If a child stays still and quiet like this, the dog will most likely just sniff him and then go away.
  • Children should never try to outrun a dog. If a dog does attack a child, the child should “feed” the dog his jacket, bag, bicycle—or anything that he has for the dog to grab onto or anything he can put between himself and the dog.

What to do if you think a dog may attack

If you are approached by a dog that may attack you, follow these steps:

  • Resist the impulse to scream and run away.
  • Remain motionless, hands at your sides, and avoid eye contact with the dog.
  • Once the dog loses interest in you, slowly back away until they are out of sight.
  • If the dog does attack, “feed” them your jacket, purse, bicycle or anything that you can put between yourself and the dog.
  • If you fall or are knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your ears and remain motionless. Try not to scream or roll around.

What to do if you’re bitten by a dog

If you are bitten or attacked by a dog, try not to panic.

  • Immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water.
  • Contact your physician for additional care and advice.
  • Report the bite to your local animal care and control agency. Tell the animal control official everything you know about the dog, including their owner’s name and the address where they live. If the dog is a stray, tell the animal control official what the dog looks like, where you saw them, whether you’ve seen them before and in which direction they went.

Lastly, contact a personal injury lawyer if you think you have a case.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved a lawsuit in 2016 on behalf of a Bakersfield woman for $2 million in what is the largest award for a dog bite case against a public entity in California. Learn more about that case here.

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If you or someone you know it attacked or bitten by a dog, contact the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000 to schedule a free consultation, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Even in cases of cancer, workers receive little help from state workers’ compensation system in road to recovery

March 28, 2018 | 6:00 am


Editor’s Note: The following article appeared as a Community Voices article in the Opinion section of The Bakersfield Californian on March 26, 2018. To read the article in print format or online, scroll down to the “Media Coverage” section. 

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Even in cases of cancer, workers receive little help from state system in road to recovery

By Beatriz A Trejo

When we think of work injuries and workers’ compensation we typically think of slip-and-falls, car accidents, or perhaps back pain associated with lifting heavy objects.

What we often ignore are “progressive insidious diseases,” with cancer being one of the most aggressive and feared of these diseases. Recently, the San Francisco Fire Department reported a spike in their breast cancer rates, reporting that 15 percent of the department’s female firefighters between the ages of 40 and 50 had been diagnosed with cancer. That number is six times that of the national average. And, according to the American Cancer Society, occupational exposure to carcinogens accounts for 4 percent of all cancers in the United States.

So what is being done to help the hard working people in California? Sadly, very little.

For some professions, the California Labor Code finds cancer to be presumptively caused by work factors – these professions include firefighters and law enforcement officers. When cancer is found to have an industrial link, the disease is treated within the workers’ compensation system. But even when the cancer is found to be industrial, the injured worker is only entitled to a maximum of two years of wage replacement, which is only paid at two-thirds of their average weekly wages. At the end of the two years, an injured worker can expect payment of “permanent disability” at a maximum of $290 per week, which ends after a specified period of time.

Sadly, the worse aspect of treating cancer in the workers’ compensation system is the delay in medical treatment, which is subject to “utilization review.” In in its most basic form, utilization review allows insurance carriers to deny or delay medical treatment by having a “medical professional” review requests for treatment, and make a decision on the necessity of the request without ever seeing the patient or reviewing an entire medical file. At that point, the injured worker’s only option is to appeal the denial of treatment to an “independent medical review,” which is another blind review by another unknown “medical professional.”

By now, you should be asking yourself, “How is this legal?” And if you are not, you probably should. A work injury can happen to anyone – a day laborer, an office worker, a public servant – and it could be anything from a muscle strain to terminal cancer. In any case, when the injury is work related, workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy of the injured worker, often trapping people in endless delays and denials of medical treatment and very little payout at the end.

Think about this – and our own hard working, injured firefighters and police officers in Bakersfield and Kern County – next time a Senate Bill or a proposition relating to workers’ compensation is on the ballot.

Beatriz Trejo is an associate attorney at the Bakersfield-based injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles. She was named “Young Workers’ Compensation Lawyer of the Year” by the State Bar, and is a volunteer for Bakersfield’s Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center Foundation for Community Wellness.

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

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MEDIA COVERAGE