Tag Archive for: District Attorney

DA Reminds Students to Report Suspected Abuse in Schools

As a new school year begins across the county, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan is reminding parents, teachers and students of a DA website where they can report suspected sexual or physical abuse directly to the District Attorney’s Office. The online reporting system is an additional tool for the public. Once a report is made, members of the DA Student Safety in Schools Systems Task Force will evaluate and investigate the claim. If appropriate, law enforcement will be notified so they can investigate the allegations and families will be connected with trauma-informed resources and support.

“Every student in San Diego County deserves to have a safe and healthy educational environment, free of sexual and physical abuse,” said DA Stephan. “But when that kind of abuse does happen, it’s critical that students, parents and teachers have a trusted way to report it and that those reports don’t fall through the cracks.”

The DA’s Student Safety in School Systems Task Force:

  • Welcomes and receives submissions from any member of the public who is concerned about the safety of students in a school system.
  • Referrals can be reported here on the DA’s public website.
  • Assists any member of the public who is navigating multiple agencies and departments when an incident involving a child has occurred in a school setting
  • Reduces the public’s confusion by giving them direct access to the District Attorney’s Office so allegations and complaints can be tracked.
  • Cross references allegations and complaints with law enforcement, Child Welfare Services, and educational institutions and programs where appropriate.
  • Refers members of the public to services that may be available to those experiencing trauma as a result of an incident that has taken place within a school system.
  • Offers and provides outreach and training to the public on issues and concerns surrounding possible physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by an adult or minor on a student in an educational setting.
  • Criminally prosecutes those who fail to comply with mandated reporting laws where the evidence of such failure is sufficient. Criminally prosecute those who commit physical or sexual abuse if the facts and the law supports it.

Note: This task force does not serve as a substitute for a mandated reporter’s duty to report abuse.  Mandated reporters still must follow their duties under the law to report to the proper authorities under the Penal Code.

Rather, recognizing that gaps existed between the multiple agencies and systems that address abuse, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office created the reporting system in 2019.

The District Attorney’s Office also works closely with school districts across the county to remind mandated reporters of their responsibilities.

“Mandated reporters must make a report when there is any reasonable suspicion of abuse, based on facts,” DA Stephan said. “Mandated reporters typically won’t see the actual sexual abuse, but they often notice “grooming behaviors” that accompany or precede the sexual abuse.”

WATCH: Video Public Service Announcements to report suspected abuse in schools: Video 1, Video 2, Video 3.

Meet DA Investigator Steve Hutchinson

In honor of Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the month of February, the DA’s Office is featuring stories of employees and their contributions to our community. Meet District Attorney Investigator Steve Hutchinson, who is currently assigned to the Special Operations Unit, where his main duties include reviewing officer-involved shootings and following up on hate crimes. Steve has been with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office for approximately seven years. Read more about what inspired Steve to pursue a career in the DA’s Office, below.

Why did you choose a career at the DA’s Office?

“I came to the District Attorney’s Office after spending 32 years at the San Diego Police Department. During those 32 years, I’ve seen the ‘enforcement’ side of the criminal justice system, and being African American, I have seen some of the injustices and unequal treatment served on Black and Brown people outside AND inside of the organization. Once my eyes were opened, I spent the remainder of my career identifying and addressing those issues.

Now at the District Attorney’s Office, I get to see the ‘prosecution’ side of the criminal justice system. It is equally important to me to identify and address, within my assigned duties, the issues of anyone who feels that they were not treated fairly or equitable.”

Why is Black History Month important to you?

“As I appreciate the fact that during the month of February, the contributions of African Americans to this great country are highlighted, recognized, and applauded; the fact of the matter is that these United States of America was built, literally, on the backs of African Americans. However, it saddens me that in this day and age, in prominent states in this country, the true history of Blacks in America is being suppressed and not allowed to be taught in schools for fear of hurting the feelings of some students. History IS history, which cannot be changed. Including the GOOD and BAD. But, if we don’t as a country, teach our country’s TRUE history, we WILL be doomed to repeat it. BLACK HISTORY IS HISTORY and should be told and recognized EVERY day, month, and year.”

Meet Executive Secretary Norlice Smith

In honor of Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the month of February, the DA’s Office is featuring stories of employees and their contributions to our community. Meet Executive Secretary Norlice Smith, who has been working at the DA’s Office since 1997. Read more about what inspired her to pursue a career at the DA’s Office, below.

Why did you choose a career at the DA’s Office?

“In 1994, I started working for the County of San Diego because I wanted to do something in Community Service. I was working as an Office Assistant in Forensic Mental Health. At that time, my only knowledge of a prosecutor’s office was what I had seen on television. I thought it would be a depressing place to work because employees dealt with crime all the time. One of my tasks was picking up DA files from the DA’s office for the psychologists and psychiatrists to review before they evaluated the defendants. Contrary to my belief, I discovered the office actually had high morale. The employees I met had been working there for several years and had no plans to leave. I decided I wanted to serve our community by doing my small part of assisting the Deputy District Attorneys get justice for victims of crime. A bonus would be that I would have a more secure job because this was during the time when our country was supporting Public Safety and doing budget cuts in the mental health field. As soon as I found out there was an opening, I applied and got the job. It has been very fulfilling to have a career that has purpose.”

Why is Black History Month important to you?

Black History Month is important to me because all Americans should be reminded of the contributions our Black citizens have made to this country. We should never forget the sacrifices they have made to make this country a better place for everyone. It is a reminder that we should not take our rights for granted. They can be taken away. We saw examples of this in 2013, when the Voting Rights Act was changed, and in 2022 when Roe v. Wade was overturned. When Black Americans fought for civil rights, all underrepresented groups benefited.”


Meet Office Assistant Kanishia Holden

In honor of Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the month of February, the DA’s Office is featuring stories of employees and their contributions to our community. Meet Office Assistant Kanishia Holden, who has been working at the DA’s Office for a little over one year and is currently assigned to the Priors Unit. There Kanishia drafts letters responding to requests from other law enforcement agencies regarding criminal case status and outcomes, she certifies court documents, and prepares prior packets for Court. Kanishia also assists with reception responding to queries by the public. Read more about what inspired her to pursue a career at the DA’s Office, below.

Why did you choose a career at the DA’s Office?
“I would say the DA’s Office chose me. I was a temporary worker working at the Jacobs Center and I received a phone call for a job interview. I have prior experience working as a security guard. One of my most memorable memories working as a security guard is a post I had in Downtown San Diego, which included working with San Diego County’s Probation Department. Another memorable memory of working security was my job post at Tubman Chavez Community Center, where I was the lead security guard. If anything happened during my shift, I would have to communicate with law enforcement. I remember talking to a police officer and her words were ‘you should work with us.’ Overall, my past work experience of working with Allied Universal influenced/introduced me into the criminal justice field. My favorite part of my job is delivering the completed product to the paralegals and working reception and calling out-of-County agencies.”

Why is Black History Month important to you?
Black History is important to me because it shows history and growth for Black American leaders who have made priceless deposits into history.”

Meet Paralegal Supervisor Shay Savage

In honor of Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the month of February, the DA’s Office is featuring stories of employees and their contributions to our community. Meet Paralegal Supervisor Shay Savage, who has been with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office for over 16 years. She is currently assigned to the Case Issuing/Extraditions, Collaborative Justice, Appellate/Training and Lifer Hearing Divisions. Read more about what inspired Shay to pursue a career in criminal justice, below.

Why did you choose a career at the DA’s Office?
“I developed my passion for the criminal justice system at a young age. Growing up, I loved watching crime TV shows, Law and Order was my absolute favorite. Unfortunately, in my community, the criminal justice system has a negative connotation. I chose a career at the DA’s office because I feel diversity is important. I want to show my community, especially young black girls/women, that representation matters.”

Why is Black History Month important to you?
Black History Month is important to me because I feel it is an opportunity to celebrate and honor the achievements that African Americans have accomplished. It is a reminder of how far we have come despite the history of oppression and racism we still face today. Black History Month is a celebration of diversity and I’m thankful for the sacrifices my ancestors took to pave the way for future generations.”

Meet DA Investigator Donte Kendricks

In honor of Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the month of February, the DA’s Office is featuring stories of employees and their contributions to our community. Meet District Attorney Investigator Donte Kendricks, who has been with the District Attorney’s Office since August of 2021. He is currently a DA Investigator assigned to Superior Court, a division that handles felony cases and homicide trials. As a DA Investigator, Donte supports the Deputy DA’s by assisting with complex cases which require additional follow-up. His duties include serving subpoenas and locating difficult witnesses, writing search warrants for social media, phone records, and DNA, and interviewing witnesses who were either newly identified or unavailable to detectives prior to submitting the case. Prior to coming to the DA’s Office, he retired from the Chula Vista Police Department as a Detective Sergeant. Read more about what inspired Donte to continue his career at the DA’s Office, below.

Why did you choose a career at the DA’s Office?
“I chose the DA’s Office because I believe in the criminal justice system and want to be an asset in bringing justice to the victims of San Diego County. I also believe the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office has excellent leaders who have made a positive influence on San Diego County law enforcement by leading the way in things like de-escalation, while combatting human trafficking, and domestic family violence. We are also a diverse agency with leaders who believe in a diverse workplace, which reflects the community we serve. As a law enforcement professional and former detective, I felt the DA’s Office would be a perfect final chapter in my law enforcement career.”

Why is Black History Month important to you?
“As a child growing up in the 70s, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I had the opportunity to learn in school about positive black figures like Harriett Tubman, Frederick Douglas, and Martin Luther King, Jr. I was also educated by my grandmother, who was born in 1918, about things she saw in her lifetime growing up in the deep South. Black History has always been important in shaping how I see the world and the positive growth that has occurred in my community. As a husband and father of three, I think it’s important to pass along Black History and the history of my family so we never forget the struggles of those who paved the way for today.”

Meet Paralegal Chanté Prettyman

In honor of Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the month of February, the DA’s Office is featuring stories of employees and their contributions to our community. Meet Paralegal Chanté Prettyman, who has been working at the DA’s Office for almost seven years and is a paralegal within the Major Violator’s Team, which is part of the Superior Court Division. Read more about what inspired her to pursue a career in criminal justice, below.

Why did you choose a career at the DA’s Office?

“To be completely honest, I just happened to apply for a Departmental Clerk position after college and the DA’s Office called me for an interview and offered me the position. Once I came on board, I saw how everyone within the office had such a great passion for the safety of San Diego County and ensuring victims were most importantly heard throughout all stages of every single case our office laid hands on. I am beyond thankful and blessed that the DA’s Office has chosen me to be a part of this unstoppable team. The passion that I have developed for victims and their stories, truly touches my heart every single day, knowing that the DA’s Office puts them first is extraordinary.”

Why is Black History Month important to you?

“Black History Month is important to me and should be important to all, because Black History is American history. Therefore, to have a full month dedicated to Black Excellence is truly special, as this is a time to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions our Black Conquerors have achieved throughout history. By honoring historical Black People from all periods of history, within every area of their lives, struggles and successes, shines the necessary light that Black People are truly magical. Black History is being made every single day and it’s amazing knowing that when we come together and celebrate Black History, we are celebrating and amplifying achievements that are everlasting.”

25-year-old Man Charged in Downtown Crime Spree

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that Christopher Torres, 25, has been charged with three counts of attempted murder, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of robbery, two counts of attempted robbery, one count of making a criminal threat, and one count of battery in connection with an early morning rash of attacks in downtown San Diego on Monday.

“This terrible violent attack on innocent people is another example of unacceptable criminal conduct that is making people who live and work in downtown San Diego experience fear for their safety,” DA Stephan said. “Unfortunately, many of these cases intersect with persons experiencing homelessness as perpetrators or victims of these violent attacks. We will not tolerate this conduct and we will enforce the rule of law against anyone who harms our community.”

Torres was arraigned in San Diego Superior Court and pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces 21 years to life in prison plus an additional 26 years. A preliminary hearing in this case has been set for February 7.

“I’m proud of the swift and complete investigation by San Diego Police Department and the work by the DA team, that will ensure justice is obtained in this case,” DA Stephan said. “Public safety is the guiding light of the District Attorney’s Office, and our priority is making sure San Diego continues to be one of the safest urban counties in America.”

Deputy District Attorney Shane Waller is handling this case.


Man who Brutally Murdered Wife and Sister-In-Law Sentenced

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that defendant Juan Carlos Ortega, 38, who was convicted by a jury on December 21 of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of child endangerment likely to produce great bodily injury and one count of arson, has been sentenced to two life terms without the possibility of parole plus 26 years to life in prison.

In 2018, Ortega fatally stabbed his wife Veronica Soto Ortega, 30, and her sister Ana Gabriela Soto, 26, as the couple’s children slept nearby.

“The brutality with which this defendant killed the two victims is horrendous and is sadly a disturbing example of what can happen when domestic violence escalates,” DA Stephan said. “A specialized DA prosecution team worked tirelessly to bring this case to justice, and we are grateful for the jury verdict and sentence in this case. Every year there are more than 17,000 reported incidents of domestic violence with an average of 13 women killed per year by their intimate partner. We will keep fighting to reduce the gut wrenching damage of domestic violence in our community.”

On August 9, 2018, Ortega watched his estranged wife’s apartment in Escondido and waited to enter until just after 3 a.m. Once inside the home, he attacked his wife, stabbing her in the neck twice, then slashed his sister-in-law’s throat, stabbed her in the chest and shot her. He then continued stabbing his wife until she died. After killing his wife, he locked his two children, ages 4 and 5, in a nearby bedroom and covered his wife with a blanket. He stuffed his sister-in-law’s body into the back of his wife’s SUV and drove off, tossing out Soto’s cellphone along the way.

At Country Club Drive and Kauana Loa Drive, just east of Escondido, Ortega poured lighter fluid over Soto’s body, set it on fire, then walked back to his vehicle, which he left at a Park & Ride in San Marcos.

Deputy District Attorneys Patricia Lavermicocca and An Dang prosecuted this case.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, take the first step today to protect yourself and your family and call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233(SAFE) for help and referrals to local resources. Call 9-1-1 if in immediate danger.

DA Reaches Out to Immigrant and Refugee Communities

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that her office is conducting new outreach to immigrant and refugee populations in the county with the goal of allaying fears about reporting a crime and encouraging cooperation with law enforcement if someone is a victim or witness to a crime. According to the County’s Health and Human Services Administration, approximately 21.5% of the county’s population are immigrants, including refugees.

“My office is committed to keeping every child, adult and senior safe from crime in San Diego County and that includes our large immigrant and refugee communities. It is understandable that if you are a refugee from another country, a documented or an undocumented immigrant, there may be uncertainty about reporting a crime to law enforcement,” said DA Stephan. “We want to ease the fears that people in these communities have and encourage them to contact local law enforcement and cooperate with the DA’s Office if they, a family member, or friend become the victim of a crime. We will not ask their immigration status, which is the law in California, and we have services that can help them.”

So far, the DA’s Office has printed cards in English, Spanish, Farsi and Ukrainian, which encourage refugees and immigrants, whether undocumented or documented, who are victims or witnesses of a crime to report the incident to law enforcement. Police departments, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office are only concerned about the details of the crime, not an individual’s immigration status.

The San Diego District Attorney’s Office does not, in accordance with California law, report immigration status and does not tolerate any actions intended to interfere with or retaliate against potential crime witnesses.

San Diego County Supervisor Nora Vargas, who represents District 1, said the outreach is needed as the county’s immigrant population is significant and constantly evolving.

“Regardless of their immigration status, all residents in our county should feel safe about accessing the justice system if they are a victim, witness, or otherwise harmed by a crime — it is their right,” said Vice Chair Nora Vargas, San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “I’m proud to work in collaboration with the District Attorney’s Office and our Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs on this effort to widely distribute information cards to remind refugees and immigrants that they will not be asked about their immigration status when reaching out for assistance to law enforcement.”

Local data provided to the County Refugee Coordinator by local resettlement agency partners shows there were 3,715 refugee arrivals in San Diego County during fiscal year 2021/2022 from 29 countries. The DA is working in conjunction with the San Diego County Office of Refugee and Immigrant Affairs, which is distributing the printed cards to non-profit organizations and other groups that provide aid and resources for immigrants.

“It is essential for immigrant and refugee populations to feel safe and supported in their community,” said Lucero Chavez Basilio, Director of the County Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, Department of Homeless Solutions & Equitable Communities. “We will distribute these cards in the community to help ensure all county residents know their rights and understand they have access to resources that can help protect them and their families, without fear of repercussions or unintended consequences and regardless of immigration status. Reiterating this message is an important step in creating a just, sustainable and resilient future for everyone.”

The DA has also produced videos in English and Spanish which feature DA Stephan and Cardinal Robert McElroy. The videos are being posted on social media and shared by Catholic Charities, through its extensive network, to connect with these vulnerable populations and assure them that their status should not stop them from reporting a crime or seeking victim services. Catholic Charities has programming that works to facilitate an effective and memorable transition experience for refugees through an integrated provision of services: resettlement, employment, acculturation, case management, and health.

“The safety and security of the immigrant and refugee communities is close to the heart of God, and we are blessed that here in San Diego County, a person reporting a crime against themselves or their family or friends will find justice and protection without in any way endangering their immigration status or right to continue to live in this community,” said Cardinal McElroy.

Anyone who has been a victim of a crime and needs assistance can call 619-531-4041. A District Attorney Victim Advocate will speak with you ad determine how we can assist you. Program services are provided free of charge, and there is no legal citizenship requirement to receive assistance. More about the DA’s Victim Services Division can be found here.