Los Angeles County probation employees raped, molested or sexually harassed at least 70 girls at the county’s youth detention facilities and camps over the last three decades, according to recently filed court documents — a significant expansion in the number of survivors that had been previously disclosed. Some of the alleged abuses date back more than 30 years; others as recently as 2019.
Two new lawsuits expand on litigation filed in March in which survivors said at least 10 probation employees sexually abused or harassed them at the county’s Camp Joseph Scott detention facility from 1996 to 2008. That juvenile camp, which detained girls 17 and younger after their arrests, shut down in 2020.
The new legal filings allege the abuse by caregivers for these vulnerable youth was much more widespread. Court documents describe girls who were assaulted or harassed at Camp Kenyon Scudder, Camp Challenger, the Dorothy Kirby Center, Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, Central Juvenile Hall, and other local juvenile detention centers.
“The Los Angeles County juvenile probation system has been infested with a culture of child sexual abuse for decades,” said Courtney Thom, one of the lawyers representing the survivors in the case, in a written statement. “Vulnerable children often enter the system because of abuse they have suffered at home or on the streets. The probation system should offer these youthful offenders restorative justice instead of perpetuating their cycle of abuse.”
On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell called for the Chief Probation Officer to appear before the full board next week to discuss the lawsuit’s allegations.
“We need to get to the bottom of how this abuse was allowed to happen for so long and whether any of the perpetrators are still employed by the county,” Hahn wrote in a public statement. “The officers responsible for this abuse need to be held accountable. They have no business working for the County and they should face criminal charges.”
Hahn called the allegations in the lawsuit “stomach turning.”
“Ultimately, we need to reexamine this concept of locking up young girls in the custody of primarily men who have an enormous amount of power over them,” she said.
Late Thursday night, Karla Tovar, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Probation Department, responded to an Imprint request for comment by stating:
“While the County hasn’t been served with the lawsuits reported in the media, we want to make it abundantly clear that any abuse of power is contrary to the Probation Department’s core values, as well as its commitment to provide a safe and caring environment for our youth,” Tovar’s email read. “Any officer or staff person who is found to have engaged in sexual misconduct with those entrusted in our care will be discharged and referred to the District Attorney’s office.”
The abuse at the camps began in 1985 and stretched into 2019, according to the lawsuits filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. The alleged acts were devious and sinister: Probation staff threatened girls with punishment or dangled rewards like early release from detention if they would perform sexual acts.
One deputy probation officer forced a teenage girl detained at Camp Joseph Scott to have sex with him repeatedly, eventually impregnating her, the court records show. When she had a miscarriage and informed him, he told her to keep it a secret because he has “a way to make things go away.” And when the girl’s guardian later reported the abuse to the county, they found out the officer was simply moved to another facility.
Multiple girls named the same male probation officers, saying they watched while the detained youth showered and undressed, with “no legitimate supervisorial purpose.” The court records describe some of the officers as touching their genitals and making sexual comments as they watched the girls shower.
In one case described in court filings, a girl recounted being offered a reduced sentence in exchange for sexual acts. In another an probation officer threatened a girl that he would ensure she stayed at the camp for “double time” and “wouldn’t go home” unless she performed oral sex on him.
The lawsuits follow a 2020 state law that opened a rare three-year window for survivors to sue perpetrators of sexual abuse that may have taken place decades ago. The law effectively pauses California’s statute of limitations, enabling suits for civil damages to be filed. After the end of this year, survivors can file civil suits if they are under 40 years old, or it has been within five years since they discovered the psychological effects they’ve suffered from sexual abuse.
The allegations in the Los Angeles County lawsuits aren’t the first to reveal reports of abusive conditions inside local juvenile detention facilities.
A multiyear investigation into the juvenile halls and camps by the U.S. Department of Justice found that staff frequently used “excessive force” and that detained youth were not provided with adequate mental health treatment and programming. The county was put under the oversight of the court for seven years.
In 2010, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that at least 11 of the county’s juvenile probation officers had been disciplined or criminally convicted for misconduct including cases of molestation and physical abuse of minors in custody. According to that report, there were 102 allegations of officer misconduct at the facilities between 2007 and 2010.
And just last year, the California Department of Justice reached a settlement with the county that again led to court oversight, this time due to dismal conditions at the juvenile halls. The California Board of State and Community Corrections deemed the pretrial detention facilities run by the probation department “unsuitable for the confinement of minors.”
Los Angeles County’s Probation Oversight Commission is fully aware of the lengthy history of abuses.
“The latest allegations of sexual abuse against female minors in Probation custody bring new meaning to the notion that what happens in the dark must come to light,” Esché Jackson, the commission’s vice chair, said in a public statement. “It undermines our trust in the Department’s ability to protect young women and reinforces the need for youth justice reimagined.”
Jackson vowed that the commission will “do everything in its power” to hold people accountable and prevent future abuse, including hosting public hearings on the issue.
“Our youth have the right to be safe,” Jackson said. “They deserve to have access to resources to improve their lives and not be resources for sexual gratification.”
This article has been updated to include comments from the Los Angeles County Probation Department sent late Thursday.