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

January 29, 2020 | 10:21 am


The new year brings with it a new law in California allowing victims of childhood sexual assault more time to file lawsuits, and seek justice.

Assembly Bill 218 gives victims of childhood sexual abuse either until age 40 or five years from discovery of the abuse to file civil lawsuits. The previous limit had been 26, or within three years from discovery of the abuse. It also allows victims of all ages three years to bring claims that would have otherwise been barred due to existing statutes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Our attorneys filed lawsuits in federal court against the County of Kern and a juvenile corrections officer on behalf of a young woman who were sexually abused at juvenile hall.
  • Our lawyers also filed claims on behalf of several students who were victims of sexual misconduct at North High School. Kern County Sheriff’s Office has arrested Edwin Rodriguez on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment.
  • Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented Karen Frye, who was sexually molested at Lerdo Jail by a Kern County Sheriff’s Department detentions deputy. The law firm filed suit against the county for civil rights violations, conspiracy, sexual assault and battery, negligence, fraud, breach of contract and excessive use of force. The department also attempted to “buy off” Frye by offering her $1,500 in exchange for her agreement to not sue the department. That case settled for $300,000.
  • We represented a woman who was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison. Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys also represented a 79-year-old woman who called the sheriff’s office during a dispute with her husband, who was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s. She, too, was sexually assaulted by Lopez in a similar fashion to his other victims. The third victim was quietly paid $5,000 by the department, and was unable to bring a civil claim.

In addition, the partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles penned a “Community Voices” article, calling on the County of Kern to cease practices that call for confidential settlements in lawsuits pertaining to victims of sexual assault, as well as paying “hush money” to those victims.

Here’s what you can do if you’ve been sexually assaulted or abused:

  • Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. This can be difficult to do, but the sooner you get in touch with someone, the sooner justice can be served.
  • See a doctor: Seek immediate medical care following a rape or sexual abuse scenario. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations and they often have someone on staff that can help with the stress.
  • Contact an attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a legal professional, who has understanding of sexual abuse law.

———

If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, or sexually abused or assaulted by someone in authority, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles moves forward in case of alleged sexual abuse at Kern County juvenile hall

January 17, 2018 | 10:32 am


In an ongoing pursuit of justice for several victims of sexual assault by Kern County Juvenile Corrections officers while they were housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed an appeal in one of the cases. 

In an ongoing pursuit of justice for several victims of sexual assault by Kern County Juvenile Corrections officers while they were housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed an appeal in one of the cases.

The appeal filed by attorney Neil Gehlawat of Chain | Cohn | Stiles, along with Los Angeles-based lawyer Thomas C. Seabaugh, who are representing the victim, was filed recently in response to the court’s summary judgment.

Chain Cohn Stiles issued the following statement in response to media inquiries:

“Our client alleges that she was propositioned for sex by a juvenile corrections officer at Juvenile Hall, who also engaged in voyeurism by watching her in the shower on multiple occasions. She is one of three former wards who we have represented, all of whom alleged that they were the victims of sexual misconduct by corrections officers at juvenile hall.

“The federal district court ruled in December in this case that even if our client’s allegations were true, that the conduct she alleged would not violate the constitution. We are currently in the process of appealing that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Civil rights cases against law enforcement are often protracted and difficult, but we remain committed to obtaining justice for our client.”

The victim alleges in a lawsuit that Juvenile Hall corrections officer George Anderson sexually abused her and watched her shower. She is one of three alleged victims of sexual abuse by corrections officers at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles. In addition to seeking damages, the victim alleges that she was failed by the deficient oversight, training, and practices at Kern’s juvenile hall, which provided the perpetrator with opportunities that he was able to exploit.

“The fact that we have three girls … who have come forward to report sexual abuse by corrections officers, points to systemic problems at juvenile hall, and not just a few bad apples,” Gehlawat told local media upon the filing of the lawsuits in September 2016.

Seabaugh added: “The purpose of these victims’ stay at juvenile hall was to help them to get back on the path towards a normal life. Instead, law enforcement officers exploited their power and authority over these girls, who already represent some of the most vulnerable members of our society, with devastating consequences for the survivors and their families. This lawsuit is in the public interest, because it involves accountability and consequences for those who were responsible.”

* Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

———

If you or someone you know if sexually abused by someone in power, contact our lawyers right away. Call 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

———

MEDIA COVERAGE

PREVIOUS MEDIA COVERAGE

 

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files lawsuit on behalf of third victim sexually abused by Kern County juvenile corrections officer

October 5, 2016 | 9:14 am


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

Chain | Cohn | Stiles and the Law Office of Thomas C. Seabaugh have filed yet another lawsuit 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.

This is the third case this team of attorneys has filed on behalf of a survivor of sexual abuse by corrections officers at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall, and the second case allegedly involving officer George Anderson.

“The fact that we have three girls over the course of about six months, who have come forward to report sexual abuse by corrections officers, points to systemic problems at juvenile hall, and not just a few bad apples,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat said.

The victim, identified as “Jane Doe,” alleges that the sexual abuse violated her rights as protected by the U.S. Constitution as well as California law. In addition to seeking damages, the victim is alleging that she was failed by the deficient oversight, training, and practices at Kern’s juvenile hall, which provided the perpetrator with opportunities that he was able to exploit.

“The purpose of these victims’ stay at juvenile hall was to help them to get back on the path towards a normal life. Instead, law enforcement officers exploited their power and authority over these girls, who already represent some of the most vulnerable members of our society, with devastating consequences for the survivors and their families,” Seabaugh said. “This lawsuit is in the public interest, because it involves accountability and consequences for those who were responsible.”

The victims in these cases are represented by attorneys Gehlawat and Seabaugh. They filed two claims against the County of Kern in 2015 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.

In one of the cases, Jane Doe 1 was housed at James G. Bowles Juvenile Hall from June 2014 through February 2015. While there, she enrolled in the Pathways Academy commitment program. Throughout September 2014, Kern County Corrections officer Cesar Holguin Navejar allegedly sexually assaulted her. When she reported the incident, supervisors initiated an administrative and criminal investigation. On Oct. 30, 2014, Navejar was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting Jane Doe 1.

———

If you or someone you know if sexually abused by someone in power, contact our lawyers right away. Call 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

———

MEDIA COVERAGE

PREVIOUS CASE MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat comments on juvenile hall sex assault verdict

March 23, 2016 | 7:55 am


* Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has released a statement after a jury found a correctional officer accused of sexually assaulting a teenage inmate at Juvenile Hall not guilty.

The personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed 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.

In one of the cases, Jane Doe 1 was housed at James G. Bowles Juvenile Hall from June 2014 through February 2015. While there, she enrolled in the Pathways Academy commitment program. Throughout September 2014, Kern County Corrections officer Cesar Holguin Navejar allegedly sexually assaulted her. When she reported the incident, supervisors initiated an administrative and criminal investigation. On Oct. 30, 2014, Navejar was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting Jane Doe 1.

Navejar was found not guilty by a jury, and attorney Neil Gehlawat released a statement to Kern County media following the verdict:

“My client and I are obviously disappointed in today’s outcome, but we remain committed to obtaining justice on behalf of our client through the civil case. I believe that we will be able to obtain critical information regarding this incident through the discovery process, including the Kern County Probation Department’s own investigation of the incident.  The outcome of the criminal case will not have an effect on the civil case, and I believe the evidence in the civil case will show that this incident of sexual assault did in fact occur.”

Gehlawat also told The Bakersfield Californian that further investigation, including questioning of Navejar, can take place now that the criminal case is over. He said the teen has suffered significant emotional distress stemming from the alleged assault. A trial date for the civil case has not yet been scheduled.

MEDIA COVERAGE

PREVIOUS CASE MEDIA COVERAGE

Local media highlights Chain | Cohn | Stiles sexual assault cases in Kern County juvenile hall

April 1, 2015 | 10:11 am


Sexual violence is a serious problem in the United States that affects millions of women, and also men. In fact, 1 in 5 women in the United States (and 1 in 59 men) have been raped in their lifetime, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most victims first experienced sexual violence before age 25.

But even these statistics underestimate the problem because many victims do not tell law enforcement officials, family or friends about the sexual violence, which is any sexual activity where consent is not freely given.

It’s the goal of “Sexual Assault Awareness Month,” observed each year in April, to call attention to sexual violence, and stop it before it begins.

The campaign is all too relevant at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, where local media has been covering several cases involving sexual assault represented by the law firm. For the various media videos and articles related to these sexual assault cases, scroll to the bottom of the page to the “Chain | Cohn | Stiles In the News” section.

SEXUAL ASSAULTS AT JUVENILE HALL

On Friday, March 27, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat hosted a press conference following the filing of 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.

Jane Doe 1 was housed at James G. Bowles Juvenile Hall from June 2014 through February 2015. While there, she enrolled in the Pathways Academy commitment program. Throughout September 2014, Kern County Corrections officer Cesar Holguin Navejar allegedly sexually assaulted her. When she reported the incident, supervisors initiated an administrative and criminal investigation. On Oct. 30, 2014, 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, was allegedly sexually assaulted by a different male Kern County Juvenile Corrections officer from September 2014 to January 2015.  That suspect has been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation.

The case of Jane Doe 2 was revealed after yet another juvenile at the facility complained to authorities that the same suspect Jane Doe 2’s case attempted sexual assault of the victim. And it’s possible there are more victims, Gehlawat said.

“If there are other victims, we want to encourage those victims to come out and tell us what happened,” Gehlawat said on the “First Look with Scott Cox” show. “It can help further bring accountability to these officers.”

The cases also bring about questions about employment issues at the juvenile hall, including whether men should be supervising female inmates. Also, the suspect in Jane Doe 2’s case reportedly has a criminal history.

Gehlawat says that the purpose of these civil cases is to deter this behavior and create a change in the juvenile hall system.

Also during an appearance on “First Look with Scott Cox,” attorney Neil Gehlawat discussed the case of a 21-year-old Tehachapi woman who was sexually assaulted by an on-duty Kern County Sheriff’s deputy. Deputy Gabriel Lopez has been charged in that case. You can read about that case by clicking here.

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

———-

If you are or someone you know is a victim of sexual violence, take the following steps:

———-

CHAIN | COHN | STILES IN THE NEWS

Legal claims filed for girls allegedly sexually assaulted in Kern juvenile hall (KBAK-KBFX / CBS-Fox)

Two claims filed against Kern County in connection with alleged sexual assaults at Juvenile Hall (The Bakersfield Californian)

Attorney files claims against county, juvenile corrections officers (KGET / NBC)

Attorney: There may be more victims of guards accused of sexual assault at Juvenile Hall (The Bakersfield Californian)

Attorney lays out sexual assault claims against juvenile hall officers (KBAK-KBFX / CBS-Fox)

Videos: ‘First Look’: More questions arise in alleged assaults at Juvenile Hall (The Bakersfield Californian, First Look with Scott Cox)

Neil Gehlawat hosts a press conference (Instagram)

Neil Gehlawat sits in with The Bakersfield Californian CEO Richard Beene on “First Look with Scott Cox” (Google+)

Girls claim juvie guards sexually assaulted them (Courthouse News Service)