#MeToo: How to protect yourself from sexual harassment, assault and abuse

November 29, 2017 | 7:00 am


Recently, the United States has 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.

The “Me Too” campaign has spread virally to denounce sexual assault and harassment in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against film producer and executive Harvey Weinstein. Millions of people throughout the world have used the #MeToo hashtag to come forward with their own experiences.

Sadly, these types of cases are all too familiar in Kern County as well. In fact, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has represented dozens of victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, and sex assault and abuse at the hands of law enforcement officers, employment supervisors, and others in roles of power.

Earlier this year, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat contributed an article to the Kern Business Journal that outlined how sexual assault and harassment victims could fight back, specifically in the workplace. That article below has been re-purposed here:

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Sexual harassment is, unfortunately, still a prevalent occurrence in the workplace.

According to a recent study conducted at the South by Southwest conference in 2016, two-thirds of women reported having experienced “unwanted sexual attention” at work. Moreover, a survey conducted by Cosmopolitan magazine revealed that one in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 have been sexually harassed at work. Sexual harassment is evidently more prevalent in the service industry, where a 2014 survey by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United found that 90 percent of women feel forced to “curry favor” with their customers when working for tips.

Even worse, 70 percent of women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace do not report for fear of repercussions, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This is a disappointing statistic, because there are laws in place both in California and in the United States to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace.

In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA, applies to both public and private employers and prohibits sexual harassment against employees, applicants, volunteers, unpaid interns and even contractors in the workplace. You can file a complaint online by visiting the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) website, but it is recommended that you contact an attorney before making such a complaint. The statute of limitations in California requires employees to obtain a right to sue notice letter from the DFEH within one year of the alleged harassment. The employee then has one year from the date of the right to sue notice letter to file a lawsuit.

Moreover, the FEHA requires employers of 50 or more employees to provide sexual harassment training to supervisory employees. The FEHA department permits employees to submit complaints if they have reason to believe that their employer has not complied with this requirement.

Sexual harassment is also prohibited under federal law. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature which unreasonably interferes with the performance of a person’s job or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment can range from inappropriate sexual jokes, to inappropriate touching. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically protects employees from sex-based discrimination, which includes sexual harassment, in the workplace and applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

I advise victims of sexual harassment to take the following steps.

  • First, tell the person harassing you to stop. You may do so in person, but you should also put your request in writing; for example, in the form of an email.
  • If this does not work, or if you are uncomfortable about taking such action, consult your employment manual. You need to follow the protocol laid out in the employment manual, if it exists.
  • If it does not exist, you should notify your human resources department or a supervisor, and inform them – in person, and in writing – about the sexual harassment. If the harassment persists, even despite taking the above steps, then you should contact an attorney immediately to weigh your options.

It is illegal under both state and federal law for an employer to retaliate against an employee for making a sexual harassment complaint. If you are the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, document your complaints in writing, take action, and always remember that the law is on your side.

— Neil Gehlawat is a partner with the Bakersfield-based personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, where he focuses on civil rights, employment and wrongful death cases.

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If you feel that you’ve been sexually harassed or abused by an authority figure, it’s important to contact an attorney. The lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles take an aggressive approach to sexual abuse and harassment cases. You may be entitled to lost past and future wages and benefits if it’s a case of sexual harassment at work, and emotional distress damages, among others. For more information on sexual harassment and sex abuse cases, visit our specialized website here.

Contact Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the website Chainlaw.com.

Supporting victims of sexual assault one ‘Fog Run’ at a time

January 4, 2017 | 8:50 am


For the past 28 years, thousands of runners, families and community members have rallied around Lake Ming east of Bakersfield to support at-risk youth and Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is proud to have supported along the way, including this year as the Bakersfield injury and accident law firm sponsors the 28th annual Fog Run, organized by the Probation Auxiliary County of Kern, a nonprofit associated with the Kern County Probation Department.

For Chain | Cohn | Stiles, the event hits home. The accident and injury attorneys at the law firm have filed several lawsuits in federal court against juvenile corrections officer on behalf of young women who were sexually abused at juvenile hall.

In addition, Chain | Cohn | Stiles for decades has supported local community causes through active events, like 5Ks and other races. In fact, the law firm is the presenting sponsor for Mothers Against Drunk Driving Kern County’s annual flagship event in Bakersfield, the Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash 5K, which raises funds to fight drunk driving locally, and raises awareness of the dangers and consequences of drinking and driving.

As for the Fog Run, the family-friendly 5K and 10K races take place on a beautiful scenic course overlooking beautiful mountains and lake views of Lake Ming . Medals are awarded for the top finishers in various age groups. Informational booths will also be featured on site.

The Fog Run attracts some 800 participants, making it one of the biggest fundraising events in Kern County.

“What makes the event as successful and special is the support and help (Probation Auxiliary County of Kern) receives from their volunteers and sponsors that help support PACK with their mission to supply support and services to at-risk youths,” said probation volunteer services coordinator Anita Ziegeler in The Bakersfield Californian.

Other sponsors and vendors joining Chain | Cohn | Stiles for the event include the Kern County Sheriff’s Department, Bakersfield Police Department, GNC and many more.

Various raffle prizes will be awarded, and Too Fat Sandwiches is providing food for participants. Shirts with Chain | Cohn | Stiles featured prominently on the back will be given out to the first 600 registrants. Register at Ultra Signup by clicking here.

Day-of registration open at 6:30 a.m. and closes at 7:30 a.m. The fee is $30. The race begins at 8 a.m. For more information, call 868-7428.

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If you or someone you know is the victim of sexual assault or abuse at the hands of someone in power, please contact the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles for help by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com for more information.

‘Community Voices’ article calls for end of non-transparent practices in sexual assault cases

August 10, 2016 | 9:37 am


The partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles have 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. The article was printed Sunday, Aug. 7, in The Bakersfield Californian, which you can read in the newspaper version here as well, or read below.

For media coverage on relevant and recent sexual assault cases represented by the Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, scroll to the bottom of the page.

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County’s non-transparent practices in sexual assault cases need to end

By the Partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles

One of the fundamental tenets of democracy is the concept of transparency in government. Unfortunately, for years the County of Kern has attempted to cover up instances of sexual assault and misconduct by County law enforcement personnel.

Government transparency promotes accountability and transforms citizens into public watchdogs. For there to be effective public oversight of government, our citizens must be able to freely access information about the decisions their government makes. This includes the right to know how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent, especially when that money is being used to compensate victims of sexual assault.

Kern County’s pattern and practice of insisting on confidential settlements with victims of sexual assault flies in the face of transparency in government. If a County law enforcement official sexually assaults an innocent victim, then we as taxpayers have an absolute right to know about it. We have a right to know how it happened, why it happened, and what, if anything, is being done to ensure that it never happens again. Confidentiality does nothing to prevent sexual assault from occurring again; it is adverse to public policy and can allow the wrongful conduct to continue. But when the public is made aware of these wrongful acts, and the settlements that follow, it has the effect of exposing sexual predators and lax departmental policies, with the hope that curbing future wrongful conduct will become an obvious priority for the County.

The only part of a settlement in sexual assault cases that should remain confidential is the identity of the victim. Protecting their identities encourages victims to come forward without fear of retaliation or humiliation.  Making the settlement terms publicly known while keeping the identity of victims confidential strikes the right balance between open government and protecting the dignity of victims.

The County’s well-documented practice of paying “hush money” to victims, however, is far from dignified. Even though County officials in news stories have described this practice as “nothing unusual,” and defended it as a “common practice throughout the United States,” it is far from common and it is neither morally nor ethically sound. The payment program is an acceptable practice in the context of resolving small claims for property damage, but is far from appropriate in the context of fairly compensating victims of sexual assault. To even suggest that the two are somehow equivalent is dehumanizing and demeaning to victims of sexual assault.

Approaching unrepresented victims of sexual misconduct with small stacks of cash at their homes shortly after they have been sexually assaulted is wrong, particularly where the perpetrator and fixer both hail from the same public entity. Perhaps more importantly, this practice runs afoul of our commitment to transparency and accountability, because it has the effect of sweeping sexual misconduct under the rug, without the public ever knowing about it.

One county official insisted to local media that confidential settlements have “nothing to do with transparency,” and criticized our law firm for being guardians of the public trust. We don’t take that as a criticism – we embrace it as our commitment to our community.

It’s time for the County to put an end to this abhorrent practice.

— Chain | Cohn | Stiles is a Bakersfield-based injury and workers’ compensation law firm. The partners include David Cohn, James Yoro, Matthew Clark and Neil Gehlawat.

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RELATED MEDIA COVERAGE

 

OTHER CHAIN | COHN | STILES SEXUAL ASSAULT CASES

Annual march focuses on rights of victims of crimes, injustices in Kern County

April 13, 2016 | 9:23 am


One victim is a woman who was sexually assaulted by the very person in charge of protecting her and other citizens in our community, a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy. Another woman was struck and killed by a drunk driver as she walked home. Any yet another victim was beaten to death by several law enforcement officers.

They are victims whose civil cases are represented by attorney from the Bakersfield-based law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, but they all have one thing in common. Those directly involved in these cases, and their families, are all considered victims of crimes and injustices, and were represented at the fourth annual Victims’ Rights March.

“It’s important to honor the memories of these victims, and it’s equally important to speak out against the injustices these victims have faced,” said David Cohn, managing partner of the injury, accident and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

The march, organized by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, began at 5 p.m. Tuesday (April 12) at the Liberty Bell in front of Kern County Superior Court and continued toward Mill Creek Park in downtown Bakersfield. The theme for this year’s march was “Serving Victims. Building Trust. Restoring Hope.” The march was followed by a candlelight vigil.

The march is also part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, established by Ronald Reagan in 1981.

“I think a lot of the criminal justice system is focused on the rights of the accused, as it should be, but sometimes victims’ rights get lost in all of that, and I think victims feel like they’re overlooked or ignored,” said Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green on KBAK-29. “So this is just an event where people can come together with other people who have suffered similar losses.”

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, attorneys continue day in and day out to fight civil cases for victims of crimes and other injustices. The law firm is also deeply involved in causes that assist victims of crimes including through Mothers Against Drunk Driving and through the National Crime Victim Bar Association.

Recently, a five-part series by The Guardian examined the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct and questionable practices among local law enforcement agencies, which garnered attention nationwide. And among the cases highlighted were those of local victims involved  wrongful death, police misconduct, sexual misconduct and civil rights cases handled by the Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

They 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 has filed a civil rights lawsuit in connection with the wrongful death of David Silva.

In another highlighted case, Jane Doe 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.

If you or someone you know is the victim of a crime, contact the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the law firm’s website at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

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

March 23, 2016 | 7:55 am


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

‘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.”

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles represents victims in deputy sexual assault cases

September 9, 2015 | 8:36 am


Two years ago, three women in Tehachapi thought that when a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy came to their homes, they would be safe and protected. Instead, they were subjected to traumatic experiences when they were sexually assaulted at the hands of former deputy Gabriel Lopez.

Lopez pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery. In support of two victims represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, attorneys David Cohn and Neil Gehlawat attended Lopez’s sentencing recently where Lopez’s victims spoke.

Lopez forced one woman to disrobe, after responding to a reported burglary at her home. In another case, Lopez took the woman into a back room and sexually assaulted her, she told the court. Now, she said, she fears law enforcement and is afraid to ask for help if something goes wrong.

“Apologies are nice, but they can’t change what happened and how it affected someone’s life,” she told Judge John S. Somers before his sentencing, according to The Bakersfield Californian.

Somers said Lopez was in a position of power and trust, and therefore rendered his victims powerless against him. If they fought against him, he had the power to have them arrested.

In the end, Somers denied Lopez’s request for felony probation and sentenced him to two years in prison. He will also have to register as a sex offender when he is released.

After the sentencing, the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles spoke with local media about the sexual assault civil case.

“Today at least some justice has been served,” Neil Gehlawat told Eyewitness News after the sentencing. “And I think she can sleep better tonight knowing that this man who did these horrible things to her will be in prison now for two years.”

Attorney David K. Cohn told Bakersfield media that the client who was present at sentencing was relieved Lopez received a prison term, but thinks he deserved more than two years. At a press conference in 2013 announcing the lawsuit, Cohn described Lopez as a “predator” and a “sexual deviant.”

“How does a person like this get through the system?” he asked. “How does he become a sworn officer?”

The civil lawsuit is ongoing.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles also represents 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.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

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If you or someone you know has been the victim of police misconduct or sexual assault at the hands of someone in authority, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Local media highlights CCS 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.

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

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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)