Domestic Violence PURPLE Ribbon

DA Announces Standards for Healthcare Response to Domestic Violence

District Attorney Summer Stephan announced on Wednesday the release of a collective set of guidelines for healthcare organizations on how to screen for and respond to domestic violence. The first-of-its kind standards provide a countywide roadmap for medical professionals, who are often the only individuals able to see domestic violence victims alone away from their abusers.

This effort builds on the steps taken by the District Attorney’s Office and the County Health and Human Services Agency over the past five years in the Strangulation Protocol under which training was provided to over 5,000 peace officers on how to detect strangulation signs and symptoms.

“Domestic violence, including strangulation, goes largely under-reported by survivors,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “Healthcare staff can be a critical point of intervention and connection to help in a safe and private setting and that’s why I am so proud of the partnership with our County’s Public Health Officer along with other healthcare experts that is saving lives.”

The data-driven effort has been led by the District Attorney’s Office, County Medical Care Services, Emergency Medical Services and Public Health Services. Together, the partners worked with healthcare staff over the past year to develop this evidence-informed document.

Since the Strangulation Protocol went into effect, domestic violence homicides dropped by 15 % between 2017 and 2020 according to the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team.

In 2019, the DA’s Office in partnership with HHSA released launched the Health CARES initiative, bringing training and resources to healthcare staff countywide. The release of the Healthcare Standards comes on the anniversary date of national Health Cares About Domestic Violence Day. Healthcare staff across the county will take part in efforts to raise awareness about domestic violence including resources fairs, training and outreach events.

Included in the Healthcare Standards are evidence informed practices for:

  • Conducting screening for domestic violence
  • Assessing for signs and symptoms of strangulation
  • Reporting suspicious injuries to law enforcement
  • Evaluation of the patient by a trained forensic examiner
  • Safety planning with the patient and connect them to resources

“The purpose behind these standards is to have a collective and coordinated healthcare community response as we see and treat patients who have experienced violent crime,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, Public Health Officer for the County of San Diego Public Health Services, HHSA.

Implementing better documentation and connecting forensic health service examiners when strangulation or other domestic violence related injury has occurred has been critical.

“These steps are saving lives and we hope the implementation of these Standards for Healthcare staff countywide help drive this change home,” said Michelle Shores, Director of Forensic Health Services for Palomar Health.

Abusers are being held accountable and justice is better served through these efforts.

“Our office has seen a threefold increase in felony charges for strangulation-related crimes that we can attribute to better forensic evidence,” DA Stephan said. “The most compelling data point that the partnership between healthcare and public safety is working is the dramatic decrease in domestic violence strangulation homicides that have dropped to 2.3 %.”

The San Diego County Domestic Violence Council has assisted in bringing together countywide staff representatives from healthcare organizations such as UCSD, Rady Children’s Hospital, Sharp, Palomar Health, military hospitals, and the County of San Diego in the collaborative development of this document.

“Our hope is for universal screening in healthcare settings, where every patient is asked whether they are experiencing abuse and received education and resources,” said Claudia Grasso, the San Diego Domestic Violence Council President. “Even if that patient is not personally experiencing abuse, odds are that they know someone who is and this information could make a difference to someone who needs help.”

If you or someone you know is being abused by a current or former partner, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) for confidential support and assistance with planning.

Administrative Analyst Carmen Olut

Meet Administrative Analyst Carmen Olut

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are highlighting stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service. Meet Administrative Analyst Carmen Olut, who has been with the DA’s Office since 2014.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your position and how you got where you are?

I was born in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. I am the second of three girls. I moved to San Diego for college (SDSU). I have a BA in Political Science, MA in International Relations, and a Paralegal Certificate. I first started in the County at the Assessor’s Office and then the Health and Human Services Agency. I am currently an Administrative Analyst II in the Financial Management Unit but started as a Legal Support Assistant I in reception.

I thought helping victims or their families in fighting for justice was a very rewarding job. Although I am not a prosecutor, there are many ways someone can contribute to helping victims and keeping our community safe. In my case, I can assist with managing Insurance Fraud grant funds and purchasing needs that can arise.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? Why is it important?

It is important to recognize this month and the many achievements that Americans with Hispanic backgrounds have done. Personally, since both of my kids were born here, I would like for them to be proud and knowledgeable of half of their culture/background (their other half is Turkish) and for them to also be able to identify themselves as American and value the greatness that comes with that.

DUI fatalities continue to spike

Fatal DUIs Continue to Spike

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that the county has already set a grisly record of 35 people killed in DUI crashes so far this year, representing the most fatal DUIs recorded in 20 years of record keeping.

Last year, despite the decrease in traffic on the roadways due to the ongoing COVID -19 pandemic, San Diego County saw its worst year in over two decades with 30 DUI fatality cases that killed 33 people. This year, there are already 34 such cases with 35 victims. Historically, the county averages between 15 and 20 DUI-related fatalities each year.

In addition, data shows average blood-alcohol levels are also higher than last year – increasing to .18%. Prosecutors say that more than half of individuals being arrested for driving under the influence have both alcohol and drugs in their system—a deadly combination.

“Drivers know the risks and the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, yet it seems more than ever they’re being reckless and putting lives at risk by then they drink, abuse drugs drinking excessively and/or using drugs and then getting behind the wheel,” said DA Summer Stephan. “Prosecuting and investigating these serious cases require a specialized team of prosecutors and investigators, who are working every day to hold offenders accountable and deter this deadly behavior.”

For the eighth year in a row the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office is receiving a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety to prevent and prosecute impaired driving deaths and DUI -drugs. This year’s grant funding total is $530,600. For cases in which someone dies at the hands of a DUI driver – alcohol or drug impairment— the cases are investigated as potential murders, instead of approaching the case as a DUI car crash in which someone died.

Funding from the DUI Prosecution Grant supports the District Attorney’s Office in handling cases through each step of the criminal process. In fatal and major injury DUI vehicle collisions, members of the team may respond to the crash scene in person to assist in the investigation. The program allows the District Attorney to focus specifically on holding those who decide to drive impaired accountable for their dangerous actions. To date, the Office of Traffic Safety has given more than $3.2 million in grants to the DA’s Office. This year, the DA is expanding the grant to include specialized training and prosecution of DUI drug cases.

“Experience and knowledge are critical for prosecutors to build successful impaired driving cases,” OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. “This program provides resources, tools and a strong training network for DUI prosecution teams that hold people who drive under the influence accountable for their actions.”

While fatal DUI crashes continue to increase, non-fatal DUIs have gone down. More than 5,130 DUI-related cases were prosecuted last year, a decrease of about 55% from the 9,400 two years ago. When you include DUI crashes with injuries into the number of fatal crashes, the District Attorney’s Office prosecuted 396 DUI cases with injuries or fatalities – which is a decrease of 12% from the 445 injury crashes of 2019.

As part of the grant and with assistance from the State’s Traffic Safety Resource Program, the DUI Homicide Unit coordinates and participates in DUI prevention and awareness in schools, military bases and colleges. It also provides training to local law enforcement agencies.

“By getting the message out, we are hoping for voluntary compliance from motorists,” said California Highway Patrol Border Division Chief Omar Watson. “However, officers will be looking for anyone who is driving impaired and posing a danger on the roadways.  As a reminder to the motoring public, don’t drive impaired, have a ride plan or pre-designate a driver, and remember, one bad decision is not worth a lifetime of repercussions.”

The DUI Homicide Unit, which launched in 2014, streamlines complex DUI cases by creating expertise within the DA’s Office. The specialized unit creates uniformity in sentencing among the four adult courthouses. In addition, the unit helps law enforcement adapt to changes in technology by having a designated DA Investigator who is trained in the latest techniques in collision reconstruction. Since its inception, the unit has prosecuted more than 170 cases.

In recent years, California has seen an increase in drug-impaired driving crashes statewide. The District Attorney’s Office supports OTS’ efforts to remind the public that “DUI Doesn’t Just Mean Booze.” If you take prescription drugs, particularly those with a driving or operating machinery warning on the label, you might be impaired enough to be cited for DUI. Marijuana use can also be impairing, especially in combination with alcohol or other drugs, and can result in a DUI arrest and conviction.

“In the wake of the deadly increase of DUI and Drug related crashes that result in death, we are calling on all drivers to take a pledge today to not drive after drinking alcohol or consuming drugs including marijuana,” said DA Stephan. “We are also calling on our community to take all reasonable measures to stop anyone from driving under the influence. We will continue to bring stiff accountability for those who harm others through reckless driving under the influence, but the real win is when we can together prevent death and injury in the first place. Grant funding from the California Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration helps us be better, more efficient and increasingly effective in how we handle these challenging cases.”

Assistant Director of Prevention and Intervention Programs Martin Arias

Meet the Assistant Director of Prevention and Intervention Programs Martin Arias

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are highlighting stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service. Meet the Assistant Director of Prevention and Intervention Programs Martin Arias, who has been with the DA’s Office since 2016.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your position and how you got where you are?

My parents were born in Mexico and immigrated to the US 30 years ago. I am first generation born in the US and am also the first to graduate from a university in my family. I graduated from San Diego State University in 2015. I started working at the District Attorney’s Office as a Crime Prevention Specialist five years ago and am now the Assistant Director of Prevention and Intervention Programs.
As the Assistant Director, I focus on making sure the CARE Center’s needs, as well as those of the staff, are met. Additionally, I build and nurture meaningful community partnerships so that we can continue to provide resources and services to the community.

Latinos are heavily underrepresented in public service and law enforcement, but are the largest minority group. I decided to pursue a career in public service and law enforcement so that I can help give a voice to those who have historically not had one.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? Why is it important?

Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to honor and remember our ancestors, roots, culture, and all things that Latinos have accomplished. It is important because we should always be proud of where we come from and it should serve as a reminder to us that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.

Senior Accountant Karen Castillo McCabe

Meet Senior Accountant Karen Castillo McCabe

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are highlighting stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service. Meet Senior Accountant Karen Castillo McCabe, who has been with the DA’s Office since 2016.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your position and how you got where you are?
I was born and raised in Lima, Peru. My grandparents were our next-door neighbors and I had cousins across the street. I lived the typical, wonderful Latin-American childhood surrounded by a lot of family and friends.
Thanks to my parent’s efforts, and after my senior year in high school, I came to the United States to finish my education. I attended Grossmont College while working in a Jack in the Box restaurant. I transferred and went on to graduate from San Diego State University with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting. After obtaining my degree I went to work for the Jack in the box Corporate Office on their accounting team.
I was always taught by example, the value of hard and honest work in public service. My dad was a police officer and my mom an attorney, who served as a judge before coming to the United States. Because of their example, I sought an opportunity to work at District Attorney’s Office and so far, it has been very rewarding. I am now a senior accountant with the Administration Division, and I know how very important our work is to our community. My efforts help to support the various programs that improve the lives of everyone who lives in San Diego. I am happy to serve the people and make this area a better place to live for me and my growing family.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? Why is it important?
Hispanic heritage is very present in my household. I show my kids (Marco, 4, and Bianca, 1) that we are Peruvian, we speak Spanish and we value our traditional foods and dances. We are also proud that our ancestors, the Incas, had great engineering and agricultural knowledge that combined with hard work, turned their community into one of the greatest empires.
Hispanic Heritage Month is important because it gives us an opportunity to share and learn more about our culture as well as others. This helps our community be more inclusive and understanding with one another. When we celebrate what makes us unique it allows our differences to become special and dear to us. It has given my son a sense of great pride to point on a map where his mother is from and say “yo hablo Español también.”

Legislative Assistant Briana Zavala

Meet Legislative Assistant Briana Zavala

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are highlighting stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service. Meet Legislative Assistant Briana Zavala, who joined the DA’s Office as a Student Worker in 2016 and became a Legislative Assistant in 2018.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your position and how you got where you are?
I grew up in Southeast San Diego, graduated from Lincoln High School, and received a full-ride scholarship to UCSD. For most of my life, I believed in the idea of meritocracy. I believed that if you worked hard, you would be successful. However, after going to college and studying Sociology, Ethnic and Gender studies, I quickly realized that opportunity plays a major role in that equation. I am where I am today because not only did I work hard, but I was given the opportunity to be a Student Worker at the DA’s Office over five and a half years ago. I am grateful to JJ Anderson and Grace Liu for mentoring me to be the young woman I am today.

Now, as Legislative Assistant, I have the opportunity to work with office executives to create laws that will not only benefit our office but the entire state. I am proud of where I am, but I have every intention of continuing to grow within the County by taking on leadership roles. While I love the work that I do, my favorite job is being a mom to two beautiful, sweet and kind little girls.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? Why is it important?
Hispanic Heritage month is important to me because I am proud to be Mexican American. It is a time to celebrate diversity and acknowledge the history, culture, and achievements of the Hispanic community. I hope that during this month of celebrations we will use it as an opportunity to educate and have conversations about the lack of opportunity, resources, and marginalization that Hispanic people face to this day. Representation does not equal decolonization. As public servants, we must not only celebrate but hold ourselves accountable for more than can be done in our positions. I ask my colleagues to celebrate this month by reading about mental health barriers in the Hispanic community. The article can be found here.
¡Si se puede! Together we can, and together we will.

Hands stacked together - Empowerment

DA Releases Comprehensive Plan to Empower Crime Victims and Survivors

Saying that crime victims have become invisible in important discussions around funding priorities, community programs, and criminal justice reform, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today released a detailed plan that recommends a dozen specific solutions in direct crime victim services and improved support of crime survivors. The DA’s Blueprint for Transforming Victim and Survivor Care : A Strategic Approach for Empowering Crime Victims, Preventing Harm, and Reducing Violence is the culmination of input from hundreds of stakeholders, victims, survivors, and community members.

The plan comes as a recent SANDAG report shows violent crime in San Diego County is up 14% in the first half of 2021, aggravated assaults with a firearm are up 55% and a statewide report shows California’s homicide rate increased 31% in 2020.

“This blueprint is a call to action for all elected officials, community leaders, and policy makers to always consider the victim’s voice in implementing laws that affect them,” said DA Stephan. “Keeping the victim and survivor perspective at the core of our work is the best way to interrupt cycles of poverty, disrupt pipelines to prison, and prevent generational violence born of childhood trauma and the normalization of crime.”

To better map the intersection of victims and survivors who encounter the criminal justice system and countywide victim services and to identify areas of gaps and needs for needed change, District Attorney Stephan and her team led three key initiatives to collect community input and to shape a new approach:

1) The formation in April of 2019 of a Victim and Survivor Advisory Board made up of survivors from a wide array of crime types.

2) A virtual Crime Victim and Survivor Summit in November of 2020, engaging over 1,300 community partners, survivors, professionals who work with survivors, and others dedicated to elevating the victim voice.

3) The release of the Blueprint for Transforming Victim and Survivor Care, reporting recommendations for significant changes in how to respond in trauma-informed ways and identifying areas of needed programs, policies and legislation, all through a lens of racial and social equity to best serve San Diego County victims of crime.

These initiatives provided opportunities for community partners and professionals to work alongside survivors of trauma to identify gaps and needs in our criminal justice response and to develop ideas for solutions.

As a result, 12 specific recommendations came from the culmination of stakeholder and community input, survey data, crime victim and survivor board input, Summit participant data, and strategic planning sessions. The recommendations include:

  • Developing regional hubs throughout the county of co-located professional services specific to victims and survivors of crime and their families.
  • Supporting and expanding the use of technology for improved victims’ safety, reporting, communication and access.
  • Expanding and funding best practices such as forensic interviews and domestic violence forensic examinations.
  • Building and increasing school-based prevention education and support systems.
  • Screening for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) to reduce a child’s potential for lifelong health and criminal justice negative outcomes
  • Expand housing for victims and survivors of crime from emergency shelter to permanent housing

“Our society will be judged by how we care for our most vulnerable including children and seniors,” DA Stephan said. “To do this with excellence, we must consult with crime victims and survivors, hear their voices and together pave the way for transformational innovative solutions.”

The District Attorney’s Office is the largest victim service provider organization in San Diego County, serving about 14,000 crime victims annually. The office is the natural community convener to begin and lead an expansive dialogue about empowering the victim voice and best practices in victim and survivor services. The District Attorney’s Office Victim Services team responds with culturally competent, trauma-informed care to individuals plagued by crime, and dispatches mass critical incident teams to provide emotional support and counseling when the community is ravaged by hate crimes such as school shootings or shooting at houses of worship. Because victims and survivors of trauma frequently intersect with the criminal justice system, their perspective is critical to achieving racial and social equity and fair and equal justice for all. The victim and survivor voices are also critical as legislators and political leaders consider changes in the law.

Chief DA Investigator Jorge Duran

Meet Chief DA Investigator Jorge Duran

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are highlighting compelling stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service. Meet Chief DA Investigator Jorge Duran, who has been part of the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation (BOI) since 2017.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your position and how you got where you are?
I was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, a beautiful island country in the Caribbean. When I was about 5 years old my family fled to the U.S. during a civil war after the country’s president was assassinated. We settled in the Bronx, New York, where I graduated from High School and joined the Marine Corps. I moved to San Diego in 1987 and joined the San Diego Police Department. I worked primarily investigative assignments which included: Narcotics, Homicide, and Gangs. I retired in 2016 as a Captain after 29 and a half years and joined the District Attorney’s Office in 2017. In 2019, I was appointed Chief of the Bureau of Investigation.

The success I have been blessed to achieve in both my personal and professional lives, I owe to my mom and grand ma who, through example, taught me the values which have molded my character: hard work, humility, altruism, empathy, and service to others.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? Why is it important?
Hispanic Heritage Month provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the many contributions and sacrifices made by individuals of Hispanic descent throughout the history of our great country. These contributions span a broad spectrum of disciplines including science, sports, politics, and of course law enforcement. But most importantly, Hispanic Heritage Month allows children to see, read, and hear about achievements by folks like them which will hopefully serve as inspiration to do and be the best they possibly can.

Narcan - Naloxone

Governor Signs Bill Requiring Naloxone in Treatment Facilities

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that a bill supported by her office requiring licensed alcohol and drug residential treatment facilities to maintain on premises at least two doses of naloxone or a similar drug approved for the treatment of an opioid overdose has been signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom.

Assembly Bill 381, authored by Assemblymember Laurie Davies and supported by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, also requires a staff member to be on the premises who has been trained on how to administer naloxone. Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, is a nasal spray that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose. People who have become addicted to opioids often enter drug treatment facilities, but suffer is a high rate of relapse, which often occurs within the treatment facilities themselves. Deputy District Attorney Shawn Tafreshi was instrumental in drafting language for AB 381.

“This is a common-sense law that will help save the lives of people who are trying to overcome their addiction,” DA Stephan said. “We are in the middle of the worst drug abuse crisis in American history and people across San Diego County, including residents of treatment facilities, are dying too often because of drug overdoses directly related to the fentanyl crisis.”

The genesis of this legislation and draft language came from the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, which recognized a need for the law given the dozens of overdose deaths that occur each year at rehabilitation centers in the county.

In 2019, there were 152 fentanyl-related overdose deaths. Last year, that number spiked to 462. Based on data so far in 2021, experts predict there will be more than 760 overdose deaths. According to the Medical Examiner’s data, since 2017 there have been at least 53 overdoses at or near a rehabilitation center, sober living home, or homeless shelter.

“California needs to equip our drug treatment centers with every tool in the toolbox to help patients recover from substance abuse disorders,” said Assemblywoman Laurie Davies (R- Laguna Niguel). “Naloxone has proven to be a safe and easily-administered overdose reversal medication that our centers should always have onsite. With AB 381, having Naloxone or other future FDA-approved drugs readily available can mean the difference between a patient surviving a relapse and an untimely end for someone on their journey of recovery. I look forward to working with all law enforcement and substance abuse advocates to strengthen our policies to ensure California’s opioid epidemic comes to an end.”

Relapse after prolonged periods of sobriety is particularly dangerous to the individuals because physiological drug tolerance decreases. Smaller amounts of opioids are needed to become intoxicated, and likewise overdose. Unless there is naloxone present in the drug treatment facility, this overdose may be fatal.

Gavel & Open Law Book

Christian Youth Theater Sex Abuse Charges

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced charges today against Brad Christian Davis, 40 and David Hott, 34, in connection with sexually abusing students in their care at the El Cajon-based Christian Youth Theater. Davis has been charged with one felony count of sexual penetration by a foreign object for a 2010 incident involving a 16-year-old child and Hott has been charged with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious act on a child under the age of 14 for incidents that occurred in 2007 involving a 13-year-old child. If convicted, Davis faces up to three years and Hott faces up to ten years in state prison.

“Protecting children from sexual predators and making sure they are not revictimized during the criminal justice process is my top priority,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “Victims in this case whose abuse was beyond the statute of limitations still provided valuable information and evidence that allowed their voices to be heard and will allow us to seek justice.”

Christian Youth Theater is a national after-school theater company with its headquarters in El Cajon and chapters across the country.

The District Attorney was able to file charges under a law that provides a longer statute of limitations in certain legal circumstances. Most people who experience childhood sexual abuse delay disclosure of the abuse or choose never to disclose it because of fear, embarrassment, shame, or the stigma attached to being a sexual assault victim.

Although the District Attorney’s Office and the San Diego Police Department investigate all aspects of a case to discover each chargeable act that falls within the criminal statute of limitations, not all crimes against victims can legally be charged. Absence of charges, where there was abuse, is sometimes based on the nature of the acts that occurred and how long ago they occurred. The DA noted that in instances where charges cannot be filed, the victim is still an integral part of achieving justice in the overall case because the courts may allow for “pattern evidence” to be admitted as a piece of circumstantial evidence in cases involving sexual assaults.

The District Attorney’s Office and San Diego Police are asking for any additional victims to come forward. Anyone with more information is urged to call the San Diego Police Department.

“I’d like to thank all of the victims for their courage in coming forward and our Sex Crimes Detectives for working diligently on this case with the District Attorney’s Office,” said San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit. “We must hold these individuals responsible for their actions, so they don’t have the opportunity to harm more children in the future.”

Judge Michael Groch set bail at $100,000 for each defendant. Future court dates are expected to be provided in the coming days.