One Safe Place for Victims of Abuse

District Attorney Summer Stephan along with a broad coalition of community leaders, victim advocates, health professionals and law enforcement today announced the upcoming opening of One Safe Place—The North County Family Justice Center, in response to data that demonstrates a need for more supportive services for victims of domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, human trafficking and other crimes in northern San Diego County.

One Safe Place, located in San Marcos, provides free support services to anyone who has experienced family violence, child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, hate crimes, elder abuse, human trafficking, violent loss, or other crimes. Child and adult victims of abuse and their families can walk through the doors and receive acute crisis-care, forensic medical exams, advocacy, counseling and therapy, legal services such as restraining orders, connections to a safe shelter and housing, long term mentoring, workforce readiness, clothing, and educational opportunities all under one roof.

One Safe Place will officially open its doors to the public on July 5. At a ribbon cutting ceremony today, officials said the facility will help residents of North County who are experiencing violence and abuse to move forward with safety and dignity.

One Safe Place is made up of caring, dedicated professionals who are all coming together to protect victims from violence and abuse and prevent harm,” said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, whose office built and is administrating the facility. “Opening this facility has been a passion project of mine and a priority for our office. We heard the voices of victims who struggle to regain their safety, heal from trauma, find shelter and economic stability and we responded with One Safe Place in the North County where everyone is welcome, and people can find hope, healing and justice. We couldn’t have done it without our partners and the tremendous support from our County Board of Supervisors and our community.”

Watch a video about One Safe Place.

North County is home to about 1 million people who make up about a third of San Diego County’s population. Data from recent years shows north county residents are experiencing specific types of crime at a disproportionate rate compared to the rest of San Diego County:

  • 46 % of domestic violence-related murders
  • 56% of elder abuse reports

While existing service providers deliver excellent support in the region, there is little interconnectivity, and providers often operate in silos, rather than under one umbrella of victim care. Co-located professionals at One Safe Place include victim advocates, nurses, medical professionals, counselors, attorneys, housing navigators, childcare professionals, work-readiness coaches, law enforcement and more. One Safe Place is a multi-agency service center that focuses on reducing the number of times victims tell their story, the number of places victims must go for help, and increasing access to services and support for victims and their children.

“One Safe Place will literally be a life-saver,” said San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond. “Many victims of violence and abuse feel they don’t have anywhere to turn and continue to suffer. One Safe Place will interrupt the cycle of abuse and empower people to break free to become thriving members of society again. A lot has happened during my first three years on the Board of Supervisors, but there is nothing I’m more proud of than being a part of creating One Safe Place in San Marcos.”

More than 70 community agencies will partner with One Safe Place, many of which will be located in the expansive center. A primary partner is Palomar Health and its nationally accredited child advocacy center. Palomar Health is also placing nurses at One Safe Place who are experienced in performing forensic medical exams on individuals who have experienced intimate partner violence or other types of abuse.

“Palomar Health is honored to provide a safe space for individuals in our community that are in need,” said Kristin Gaspar, President and CEO of the Palomar Health Foundation. “Our top priority is to ensure an extraordinary patient experience to every person who walks through our doors, so they feel safe, cared for and at home. The community we are a part of deserves the time, patience, and personalized touch that healthcare should deliver.”

One Safe Place is part of the Family Justice Center Alliance. The Family Justice Center model has been identified as a best practice in the field of domestic violence intervention and prevention services by the United States Department of Justice. This model began in the City of San Diego in 2002 under the leadership of then City Attorney Casey Gwinn and has continued to thrive with current City Attorney Mara Elliott, becoming a national and international phenomenon. Community leaders say it was time to regionalize this model to serve the North County and say more such centers may be established in the future. One Safe Place- The North County Family Justice Center is unique in that it has also been designated a Trauma Recovery Center by California’s Victim Compensation Board in addition to being a nationally accredited Child Advocacy Center.

One Safe Place is located at 1050 Los Vallecitos Boulevard, San Marcos, CA  92069. Individuals can contact One Safe Place at gethope@OneSafePlaceNorth.org or at 760-290-3690. One Safe Place will be open to walk-ins beginning July 5. The facility is open Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to noon.

More information can be found at www.OneSafePlaceNorth.org

DA to Appeal Parole Grant of Convicted Murderer and Former Pro Skateboarder

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that at a hearing on Tuesday, despite strong opposition by her office, the State Board of Parole Hearings granted parole to Mark “Gator” Rogowski, 55, who was convicted of rape and murder in 1992. Rogowski has been serving a sentence of 31 years-to-life for the murder of Jessica Bergsten. The victim’s family members are devastated by the decision and DA Stephan said her office will appeal to the Governor to reverse Rogowski’s release.

Rogowski was a nationally known skateboard personality from Carlsbad who rose to prominence in the 1980s. On March 21, 1991, he raped and murdered 22-year-old Jessica Bergsten and transported her body to a remote desert area, where her skeletal remains were found several weeks later.

“The family and friends of Jessica Bergsten deserve the continued promise of justice in this case,” DA Summer Stephan said. “Our office argued strongly against releasing this violent defendant. We handle hundreds of parole hearings each year, fighting when it’s appropriate to make sure dangerous criminals are not released and crime victims are given a voice.”

At the time of the murder, Rogowski’s girlfriend had broken up with him. In addition, skateboarding was changing from ramps to the street. Rogowski did not think he could do well on street skating and saw his lucrative career coming to an end. Rogowski was upset that his relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Brandi McClain, was also coming to an end. Bergsten was Brandi’s best friend. Rogowski hit Bergsten on the head with The Club (a steering wheel locking device), raped her and suffocated her in a surfboard bag. He confessed to the crime several weeks later.

The District Attorney’s Office argued at the hearing that Rogowski remains an unreasonable risk of danger to society. Two of the victim’s family members attended the hearing and provided victim impact statement regarding the effects of the crime upon their family and the unsuitability of the inmate for parole.

In December 2019, a panel of parole hearing officers found that Rogowski was suitable for release, but Governor Newsom reversed the decision in April 2020. The grant of parole came on the third try for Rogowski. He is currently incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.

DA Warns Against Price Gouging for Baby Formula

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan is warning businesses and scammers not to take advantage of consumers by price gouging for baby formula during the ongoing shortage brought on by supply chain issues. Stephan says her office is accepting reports of price gouging for potential investigation and prosecution. On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order establishing protections against price gouging for families struggling to access safe and affordable baby formula, clearing the way for prosecutors to file criminal charges.

“We want county residents to know that we stand ready to protect their consumer rights under the law and we won’t let people looking to cash in by taking advantage of families in need,” DA Stephan said. “We take violations related to price gouging very seriously and encourage consumers to report suspected price hikes that they believe may be illegal.”

The Governor’s order generally prohibits selling infant formula at a price that exceeds, by more than 10 percent, the price of the formula charged by the seller on February 17, 2022. Violators of the order are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in a fine of up to $1,000 and/or by imprisonment up to six months. Violators are also subject to civil enforcement actions including civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation, injunctive relief, and mandatory restitution.

You can report suspected price gouging (in English or Spanish) to the District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit at (619) 531-3507 or at consumer@sdcda.org

Resources for Parents

  • Parents should not use recalled formula. Return recalled formula to the store or call the manufacturer of the recalled formula at 800-986-8540 for a replacement.
  • Parents struggling to find baby formula should visit healthychildren.org.
  • More information and resources can also be found in the California Department of Public Health’s Consumer Alert and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Fact Sheet on the baby formula shortage.
  • Families using benefits through the California Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program can find more information on the California WIC Infant Formula Availability webpage.
  • Before buying baby formula from any unfamiliar source, research the company’s reputation through the Better Business Bureau (BBB) at www.bbb.org. For more information about potential scams related to the baby formula shortage, visit the BBB website here.

The District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit is a sub-unit of the Economic Crimes Division. The unit is composed of Deputy District Attorneys, Investigators and Paralegals dedicated to protecting consumers and law-abiding businesses from fraudulent or unfair business practices.

When appropriate, the Consumer Protection Unit will investigate consumer complaints. These complaints typically involve businesses within San Diego County that are involved in unfair or illegal practices.

 

Grand Jury Indicts 11 in Connection with Violent PB Antifa Incident

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that a criminal grand jury has returned indictments against 11 individuals in connection with violent criminal acts committed during a demonstration in Pacific Beach on January 9, 2021. Charges handed down by the grand jury against the defendants include conspiracy to commit a riot, use of tear gas, assault with a deadly weapon, and assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury. In lieu of a preliminary hearing, the grand jury heard testimony over 13 days and delivered the unsealed indictment on May 23, 2022. The defendants have been indicted on 29 felony counts.

The defendants arraigned in court today include Alexander Akridgejacobs, 31; Jesse Merel Cannon, 31; Brian Cortez Lightfoot Jr., 25; Christian Martinez, 23; Luis Francisco Mora, 30; Samuel Howard Ogden, 24; Bryan Rivera, 20; Faraz Martin Talab, 27; Jeremy White, 39 and Erich Louis Yach, 38. If convicted, the defendants face a wide sentencing range from probation to prison. Defendant Joseph Austin Gaskins, 21 will be arraigned on June 20.

According to the grand jury indictment, “the defendants are all affiliated with Antifa. A group of the defendants originated from the Los Angeles area and the remaining defendants are from San Diego County. Antifa uses force, fear, and violence to further their interests and suppress the interests of others. The objective of this conspiracy was to incite and participate in a riot.”

The indictment goes on to say that “on or about January 2, 2021, Antifa supporters posted on social media calling for “counterprotesting” and direct action in response to a scheduled political demonstration in Pacific Beach on January 9, 2021. The defendants and other uncharged coconspirators confirmed their support and participation by showing up in Pacific Beach on January 9, 2021, dressed in black clothing, and armed with weapons and protective gear.”

The overt acts listed in the indictment detail the level of violence and planning committed by the defendants, including:

  • Throwing a wooden lawn chair at a victim and striking her
  • Striking a victim with a baseball bat
  • Striking a victim with a flagpole
  • Attacking victims with tear gas
  • Assaulting a victim with a stun gun

The 10 defendants who were arraigned today pleaded not guilty and a status hearing was set for August 8 at 2 p.m. in Department 102.

$18.8 Million More in Fines Paid to County in School Corruption Case

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced that an additional $18.75 million has been paid to the county as part of a Superior Court judgement for restitution and fines in connection with the A3 Charter School corruption scandal in which multiple defendants stole tens of millions of public-school funds in a massive fraud scheme. In all, 10 co-defendants in the case have pleaded guilty.

Sean McManus, 49, who was convicted of stealing more than $50 million in public funds, was ordered on May 16 to pay $18.75 million in fines by San Diego Superior Court Judge Fredrick Link. The figure is McManus’ portion of the previous $37 million ordered to be jointly paid by McManus and co-defendant Jason Schrock. McManus was also sentenced to four years in prison.

The transfer of funds to San Diego County, completes the $37.5 million in total fines. Additionally, $14 million in restitution has been paid to victims in kindergarten through 12th grade, which is being held in trust and administered by the San Diego Foundation. So far, $95 million has been recovered and distributed to the California State Treasury, with up to $90 million more to be distributed at the conclusion of the receivership.

Under a resolution passed unanimously by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors earlier this year, the fines imposed by the court related to this case will be earmarked and exclusively dedicated to programs that directly serve the needs of kindergarten through 12th grade students in San Diego County. The District Attorney’s Office is recommending the funds be allocated in the areas supporting educational equity and acceleration of learning, behavioral health needs, housing and food stability needs, mentorship, and other needs that allow children to thrive, all of which is consistent with Judge Fred Link’s order to the receiver.

“Due to the expertise and dedication of our public corruption team, led by Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr, this massive fraud case that bilked millions in public funds on the backs of students and parents was stopped and the perpetrators held accountable,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “I am grateful to our team for successfully prosecuting this case and recovering millions of stolen funds that will go back to supporting students. Judge Fred Link, who oversaw this entire case, made sure that the children of San Diego County would see justice by returning the stolen funds to programs that will help students succeed.”

McManus, the CEO and president of A3 Education, along with Jason Schrock and nine other defendants were indicted in May of 2019 on a several criminal counts including conspiracy, misappropriation of public funds, and conflict of interest.

Steven Van Zant, the former Mountain Empire Superintendent and owner of Ed Hive and Ed Collective, the back-office provider for A3 during much of its existence also pleaded guilty on May 16 to felony conspiracy to commit grand theft. He was sentenced to six months of home confinement and ordered to pay $500,000 in restitution and fines within 30 days. If he does not pay, he faces four years in prison. He is also ordered to complete three years of probation, which includes cooperating with the DA’s Office and the Receiver in recovering additional stolen funds held by third parties.

The case is one of the nation’s largest fraud schemes targeting taxpayer dollars intended for primary education. Schrock pleaded guilty to felony charges including conspiracy and conflict of interest. He has been on house arrest in his home in Orange County since he was arraigned. As part of the DA’s investigation, more than $240 million in assets and fraudulently acquired taxpayer funds is being recovered, representing one of the nation’s largest recoveries.

Prosecutors said a case of this magnitude, with foreign parties and compounded with the set back of the pandemic, could take a decade to see through trial and appeals, during which time hundreds of millions of dollars would have been unavailable to children for educational purposes. By coming to an early resolution and recovering all the funds, the DA’s office was able guarantee accountability under the law that puts money back into the system to help educate youth as intended.

The County is using these funds to provide an opportunity for smaller community-based organizations to begin promising new programs or to expand existing programs to improve educational outcomes and reduce inequities and disparities in our communities.

Proposals for the K-12 Youth Services Community Grant must focus on one or more of the following focus areas:

  • Educational Equity/Acceleration of Learning
  • Behavioral Health Needs
  • Housing, Food Stability, Poverty
  • Mentorship

Organizations interested in applying for a K-12 Youth Services Community Grant must apply by 5 p.m., Friday, June 3. Grants are expected to range from $50,000 to $250,000 to be utilized for up to a 12-month period.

For more information or to apply, visit sandiegocounty.gov.

 

DA Charges Juvenile Stabber with Hate Crime

Noting a rise in hate crime prosecutions and declaring that such crimes won’t be tolerated, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today announced her office is charging the 16-year old who stabbed another teenager in the back with one count of attempt murder, and one count of assault with a deadly weapon. Both counts carry hate crime special allegations, as well as personal use of a deadly weapon and personal infliction of great bodily injuries special allegations. Accountability in juvenile court is focused on rehabilitation and is handled differently than in adult court, and includes a range of sentencing options that the court can consider.

In court today, prosecutors put no facts on the record in court today. Juvenile proceedings are confidential, and the DA is limited on what information can be released publicly. The investigation into the incident and the potential criminal acts by other individuals involved is ongoing and additional charges could be filed in the pending criminal case. DA Victim Advocates are working to support the victim’s family and ensure their safety in the aftermath of the stabbing and initial stages of the criminal prosecution.

“Multiple aspects of this incident are appalling and as our investigation moves forward, we will be sure to hold everyone accountable for whom the evidence shows committed a crime,” said DA Stephan. “We’ve seen a disturbing increase in hate crimes, with the highest number being committed against persons who are Black. Anyone who commits these crimes will be held accountable under the law and I join the community in their outrage regarding such incidents. Our office is dedicated to not only prosecuting hate crimes and holding perpetrators accountable under the law. We also educate the public on what constitutes such a crime and how to prevent them while also delivering the message that they won’t be tolerated.”

Prosecuting hate crimes is a priority for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. The DA has nearly tripled the number of hate crime cases it has prosecuted in recent years, filing 21 cases in 2020 and 30 such cases in 2021.

In 2020, in response to reports of hate-related incidents aimed at the Asian community across the nation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the District Attorney’s Office announced a new online form and hotline where the public can report suspected hate incidents and hate crimes they’ve been a victim or witness to in San Diego County. The online reporting form can be found on the District Attorney’s website here. The Hate Crimes Hotline number is 619-515-8805. Individuals submitting information about a suspected hate crime will be contacted with information about the DA’s review of the report and any action that may be taken.

The public is reminded that hate speech in and of itself often does not rise to the level of a hate crime but is relevant as it could escalate to criminal behavior Hate crimes are often preceded by hate speech. By law, a hate crime is a criminal act committed against another person that is motivated by prejudice against that person’s race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Today, the court set a readiness hearing in the case for June 6 at 8:30 a.m. in Department 6 of the Juvenile Court.

Office Manager Convicted of 51 Felony Counts in Massive Patient Referral Scam

Sex Traffickers Sentenced

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that 20-year-old Darius Stone was sentenced to 25 years in prison in connection with a human trafficking criminal case involving four juvenile female victims. In addition, an accomplice, 42-year-old Danyelle Willis was also sentenced to 21 years and 8 months on April 7.

On February 23, Stone pleaded guilty to 19 felony counts related to human trafficking of four young girls between the ages of 13 and 15. The charges include sex crimes, kidnapping, robbery, making criminal threats and furnishing methamphetamine to minors. Willis pleaded guilty to seven felony charges on February 8, related to trafficking two of the minor girls, ages 14 and 15. The charges included human trafficking, furnishing methamphetamine, and other sex crimes. Willis also admitted a prior felony conviction for murder from Minnesota in October 2000.

“Sex trafficking is a lucrative industry that generates over $810 million a year for criminals in San Diego County,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “Traffickers treat children like property that are sold like a piece of pizza to criminal buyers. As they did in this case, traffickers use deception, violence and drugs to control their victims. We want victims of sex trafficking to know they can break free from this horrific cycle and regain their freedom and dignity and that our team is here to support victims and hold traffickers accountable.”

Defendant Darius Stone would contact underage girls on social media, including Snapchat and Instagram. His messages would often be flirtatious initially, but the conversations would occasionally lead to sexual relationships with the girls. Stone would then encourage the girls to engage in acts of prostitution by promising a lavish and exciting lifestyle. As is common in human trafficking cases, Stone used fear and manipulation to further trap the girls in his human trafficking scheme. This included verbal threats and furnishing methamphetamine to the girls.

The co-defendant, Danyelle Willis, assisted Stone with his operation, at times providing transportation for the minors. He also encouraged some of the minors to engage in prostitution and he was convicted of having sexual contact with one of them.

In December 2020, a concerned citizen from Oceanside called 911 to report a young woman begging for help at her front door. The concerned citizen reported that she observed a young man chase after the juvenile, physically assault her, and take her phone. The Oceanside Police Department quickly responded and eventually arrested the man who attacked the young girl, later identified as Stone.

It quickly became clear that the young girl was a victim of human trafficking and a year-long investigation ensued. Detective Kekai Thompson with the Oceanside Police Department and Detective Katherine Dabbaghian with the San Diego County Human Trafficking Task Force worked diligently to uncover additional victims and additional evidence, and worked closely with Deputy District Attorney Matthew Hardy along with the prosecution team to bring justice and protect the young victims.

You can report suspected human trafficking by calling 911, by contacting the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 3737-888 or text BeFree (233733). San Diego’s local HOTLINE is: (619) 666-2757.

DA Alerts San Diegans About Early Prisoner Releases

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan is alerting crime victims, survivors and the San Diego County community at large that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR) is seeking to enact permanent regulations which would result in the early release of thousands of violent offenders and what CDCR characterizes as “nonviolent second strikers.” CDCR is required to hold a public comment period before the regulations become permanent. They are also required to consider and address all comments made. DA Stephan is calling on San Diegans to provide their comments by the deadline provided by CDCR with the comment period ending on April 13, 2022.

Under the proposed regulations, CDCR seeks to reduce sentences already imposed by increasing credits awarded on those sentences.  Violent offenders could have their conduct credit rate increased from 20% to 33%. “Non-violent second strikers” could see an increase from 50% to 66%.  For example, on a 10-year sentence an individual could be released after having served three years and four months if the proposed regulations are adopted. Note that offenses characterized by CDCR as non-violent include offenders who were convicted of human trafficking and domestic violence, and those who have dangerous criminal histories of armed robbery and attempted murder.

“Releasing inmates early who have committed atrocious crimes after only serving a fraction of their sentence threatens the safety of our communities and is a slap in the face to crime victims who are still suffering,” DA Stephan said. “Extending additional credits to inmates with serious and violent criminal histories is not in the interest of justice or the public’s safety. When a judge who hears the evidence and considers the impact on victims hands down a sentence, that sentence should stand and not be altered after the fact except by credits currently provided for under the law.”

CDCR has had these regulations in place for 10 months as “emergency” measures which avoided meaningful public participation in this significant policy change.  In May of 2021, District Attorney Stephan along with 44 other elected District Attorneys, filed a civil lawsuit against CDCR challenging the use of the emergency process for certain categories of early releases.

The public comment period ends on April 13, 2022.

Any person may submit written comments about the proposed regulations by e-mail to RPMB@cdcr.ca.gov or by mail to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), Regulation and Policy Management Branch (RPMB), P.O. Box 942883, Sacramento, CA 94283-0001. Written comments must be received or postmarked no later than April 13, 2022. All written comments must include the rule number, NCR 22-03, OAL Notice File No. Z2022-0215-10

There will also be a teleconference hearing during which the public may make comments on April 14, 2022. The teleconference will be opened to the public beginning at 10:00 a.m. If a member of the public would like to participate by teleconference:

  • Call 1-877-411-9748 (TTY/TDD: Dial 711).
  • When prompted, enter participant code 6032676.

According to CDCR, the purpose of the hearing is to receive comments about these proposed regulations. It is not a forum to debate the proposed regulations. No decision regarding the permanent adoption of these regulations will be rendered at the hearing.

Under the law, CDCR may impose reasonable limitations on oral presentations. Therefore, to ensure everyone who wishes to make a comment has time to do so, comments will be limited to three minutes.

DA Hosts Homeless Summit

DA Proposes Plan to Address Intersection of Crime and Homelessness

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today released new data about the intersection of crime and the county’s homeless population and is proposing a Three-Point Plan to address it. Two years of District Attorney data shows that individuals who are experiencing homelessness become involved with the justice system as victims and perpetrators at dramatically higher rates than the rest of the population.

Cases were analyzed where the criminal conduct met the DA’s ethical standard to file felony charges— proof beyond a reasonable doubt. When compared to the non-homeless population, and there were much higher rates for individuals experiencing homelessness:

Robbery 175 times higher
Residential Burglary 183 times higher
Assault 130 times higher
Arson 514 times higher
Vandalism 222 times higher

Recidivism is a significant issue as well.  Of the individuals experiencing homelessness who have been charged with a crime and recidivated in the two-year period studied, 83% had two to four new cases filed against them, and 15% had between five and nine new cases filed against them.

The data also showed individuals experiencing homelessness are victimized at higher rates than the non-homeless population. When compared to the non-homeless population, there are higher rates of victimization in the following specific crime categories for individuals experiencing homelessness:

Murder 19 times higher
Attempted Murder 27 times higher
Robbery 15 times higher
Domestic Violence 15 times higher
Aggravated Assault 12 times higher
Elder Abuse 10 times higher
Sexual Assault 9 times higher

“Bringing humane and effective solutions to the complex and growing problem of individuals experiencing homelessness in San Diego County requires a shared strategic plan that creates a sea change,” said DA Stephan. “I acknowledge the many public officials, groups and individuals in our cities and county who have been working tirelessly on this issue to bring forward many encouraging efforts. In my role as the county’s top public safety official, my goal is to bring solutions driven by my team’s unique experience where homelessness, mental health issues and substance use disorders intersect with the criminal justice system. This data showing the drastically higher rates of an individual experiencing homelessness becoming a crime victim or offender demonstrate that homelessness is both a humanitarian and a public safety crisis that must be urgently addressed. It is unacceptable to continue to allow individuals to languish in the throes of mental illness, drug addiction and poverty.”

WATCH: DA Summer Stephan released a video message today about the crime data and the proposed plan. Click here to watch.  

The DA released a three-point proposed plan today with the goal of preventing homeless individuals from becoming involved in the criminal justice system by reducing the number of unsheltered people on the street.

First, provide a proven technology solution that can identify shelter or housing space in real time based on the needs of the individual and get that person or family to a shelter, appropriate treatment or housing option. The DA’s plan is to partner with a tech company to create an app similar to the one created with the Safe Shelter Collaborative, which finds shelter beds in minutes for victims of crime attempting to escape violence. Additionally, this model will allow the county to keep real time and accurate data regarding shelter use and availability which can help inform policy decisions regarding future needs and investments.

Second, support the development of a 3 Tier Homeless Enhanced Legal Program (HELP). San Diego currently operates a nationally acclaimed Homeless Court that helps clear warrants, dismiss charges, and eliminate fines for individuals who are already engaging in services with homeless service providers. However, there are not currently other diversion programs or collaborative courts specifically designed to support individuals experiencing chronic homelessness and co-occurring disorders of substance abuse and mental health. The HELP program is a 3-tier approach to assist homeless individuals who intersect with law enforcement or the criminal justice system.

  • Tier 1 will be a field authorized diversion program that focuses on low level offenses.  Successful participation will result in no charges being filed.
  • Tier 2 will be a post-file diversion program that will be a specialized track of the DA Community Justice Initiative (DA CJI) that focuses on homeless specific services. DA CJI is a District Attorney led misdemeanor diversion program developed in 2018, similar to a program developed by the San Diego City Attorney’s Office.
  • Tier 3 is a proposal of an expanded or additional Collaborative Court addressing the intersection of homelessness and crime for non-violent felonies and serial misdemeanants. The goal of this collaborative court is to serve high-risk and high-need individuals experiencing homelessness by addressing the root causes that contribute to the individual being homeless, including mental health and substance use disorders, to build stable, healthy, and housed individuals. The San Diego Superior Court has been a national and statewide leader in establishing specialized collaborative courts that address specific challenges such as Veterans Treatment Court, Drug Court, Behavioral Health Court and Reentry Court. The Court would ultimately determine the viability of a HELP Collaborative Court.

Third, as many other states of have done, support a change in the law to allow the involuntarily commitment of an individual for up to 72-hours based upon a finding of a psychiatric deterioration by a licensed mental health practitioner. Under current law in California, the only way anyone can be involuntarily held for psychiatric treatment is when the individual presents as a danger to themselves, a danger to others, or is gravely disabled. Existing law does not allow family members, caregivers, a public defender, a prosecutor, a court associated treatment team or law enforcement to get a person treatment, despite the individual’s well-documented chronic history of episodes of psychiatric deterioration. Early intervention can be life-changing for a person living with mental illness and helps prevent the person from becoming criminal justice involved. It helps to alleviate the number of times a person is placed on a 72-hour involuntary psychiatric hold and can help the individual receive services, treatment, and medication.

This  new proposed three-point plan builds on work already being done by the District Attorney over the past few years to improve outcomes for people in our communities who are grappling with mental health issues and homelessness.

Beginning in 2018, DA Stephan convened two stakeholder symposiums to address the intersection of criminal justice, mental health, and homelessness. The results were documented in the Blueprint for Mental Health Reform: A Strategic New Approach Addressing the Intersection of Mental Health, Homelessness and Criminal Justice in San Diego County.

Since then, collectively with the Board of Supervisors, law enforcement, Behavioral Health Services, and many partners with lived experience including the National Alliance for Mental Illness NAMI, the county has made great progress in making recommendations set forth in the Blueprint become a reality, including Community Based Crisis Stabilization Centers, Mobile Crisis Response Teams, De-escalation Training for more than 3,000 police officers, a 911 card for families calling about a loved one in distress, and expanded access to Behavioral Health Court and Mental Health Diversion.

DA Announces $3.25 Million Settlement with Brookdale Senior Living

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today joined a coalition of District and City Attorneys and California Attorney General Rob Bonta to announce a $3.25 million settlement with Tennessee-based Brookdale Senior Living, Inc. (Brookdale), the nation’s largest senior living operator. The settlement resolves allegations that Brookdale’s ten California skilled nursing facilities failed to adequately notify and prepare residents for both transfers and discharges and misrepresented its quality of care to the public by reporting false information, including over-reporting the number of hours that nurses provided care to residents, to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS). Brookdale ran two senior living facilities in San Diego County which have since been sold.

“This case demonstrates that we will hold senior living facilities accountable to follow the rules regarding proper notification before release or transfer of an elderly person in their care. Family members need to be able to count on their loved one will be cared for and the law will be followed,” said DA Stephan. “This lawsuit exposed the kind of misrepresentation that won’t be tolerated when it comes to protecting some of the most vulnerable in our community. Brookdale’s actions put seniors and people with disabilities at risk. I’m gratified to join my fellow District Attorneys, Los Angeles City Attorney and the Attorney General in this settlement and appreciate the hard work of the San Diego DA’s Consumer Protection Unit.”

Today’s settlement resolves allegations that Brookdale failed to properly notify its residents and families of transfers and discharges. Skilled nursing facilities are required to give notice of transfer or discharge at least 30 days in advance, or as soon as practicable. Brookdale failed to timely provide this required notice to its residents, with a copy to the local ombudsmen. Brookdale also failed to properly prepare its residents for transfer or discharge. As a result of these actions, Brookdale endangered the health of its residents and also left families scrambling to find other places to care for their loved ones.

The settlement also resolves allegations that Brookdale misrepresented the quality of its care to the public by reporting false information to CMS. As a means of helping the public to choose a skilled nursing facility, CMS rates facilities on several quality measures on a scale of one to five stars, which are then posted to the CMS website for members of the public to view. The false information that Brookdale provided to CMS was used to award “star ratings” to each of Brookdale’s California facilities, ratings that were used by consumers as a means of selecting a quality skilled nursing facility. Specifically, Brookdale over-reported its nursing staffing hours to CMS, and by doing so, was awarded undeserved four-and five-star ratings. Through its misrepresentations to CMS, Brookdale fraudulently increased its star rating in several categories to attract prospective residents and their families.  By partaking in these unfair business practices, Brookdale violated both the Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law.

Today’s settlement is a stipulated judgment that resolves the People’s lawsuit against Brookdale.  As part of the settlement, Brookdale will be required to:

  • Stop engaging in the illegal practices alleged in the complaint;
  • Appoint a monitor to oversee compliance at its Kern County Facility; and
  • Pay $2.4 million in civil penalties, $550,000 in costs, and $300,000 to the Kern County Long Term Care Ombudsman.

In today’s announcement, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office is joined by Attorney General Bonta and the District Attorneys of Kern, Alameda, and Santa Cruz Counties, as well as the Los Angeles City Attorney.

Deputy District Attorney Thomas A. Papageorge, head of the DA’s Consumer Protection Unit, and Deputy District Attorney Colleen E. Huschke handled this case for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.