Tag Archive for: domestic violence

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50 Years-to-Life in Domestic Violence Case

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that defendant Arturo Ulloa, 43, has been sentenced to 50 years-to-life in prison for brutally attacking his girlfriend, strangling her and then stabbing her repeatedly. The sentence was handed down in San Diego Superior Court in Vista this afternoon. During a jury trial in January, Ulloa was found guilty of premeditated attempted murder, aggravated mayhem, attempted carjacking, and child endangerment. The defendant has 11 prior convictions for armed robbery. Deputy District Attorney Jessica Stehr prosecuted the case.

“This was a vicious crime, committed in front of the victim’s children,” said DA Stephan. “It’s incredible that she survived the attack and a testament to her resiliency and bravery that she was able to testify during the trial. Today, a measure of justice has been delivered.”

The victim was awakened at about 5:30 a.m. by the defendant who was strangling her. He stopped and then started strangling her again, this time for about two minutes. The victim tried to get away and defend herself, but Ulloa then began stabbing her with steak knives. He stabbed her more than 20 times using five different knives. Her children, ages 4 and 7, witnessed the attack and ran to a neighbor for help. After stabbing his girlfriend, the defendant fled and attempted to carjack a separate victim.

Strangulation is common in domestic violence incidents and law enforcement in San Diego County has a coordinated community response on how to handle such cases. Studies have shown that episodes of non-fatal strangulation have a greater likelihood of leading to homicide. The county’s Strangulation Protocol put into place a system of uniform detection, documentation and response so victims receive consistent treatment across the county. Since strangulation often does not leave obvious signs of injury, it is important for victims to report it and receive appropriate medical care.

Domestic violence has many forms including physical aggression, sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, stalking, or financial abuse. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, frighten, terrorize, injure, or wound someone.

If you or someone you know is being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233. More resources can be found on the District Attorney’s website.

In addition, One Safe Place: The North County Family Justice Center provides free support services all under one roof to anyone who has experienced child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, hate crime, elder abuse, human trafficking, violent loss, family violence, or other abuse or victimization. For more information, visit OneSafePlaceNorth.org.

DA Weekly News Update with DA Summer Stephan 10-05-23

In this week’s DA News, District Attorney Summer Stephan discusses Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is observed throughout the month of October, and the important resources available to those who are in an abusive relationship. Read more about DV Month and resources, here.


DA Marks the Start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month

An average of 13 people are killed every year by an intimate partner in San Diego County. Today, the District Attorney’s Office joined the San Diego Domestic Violence Council, county officials and other social service agencies to launch the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month at a ceremony in Balboa Park. The event is meant to empower survivors, award those who work with victims and remember those whose lives were taken in domestic violence incidents during the previous year. This year, the event theme was “Let Today Be the Day You Move Forward!”

In 2022, 10 people were killed by a current or former intimate partner and there were four additional homicide victims, such as a family member, new boyfriend, or bystander, who died during domestic violence related incidents. In addition, five offenders committed suicide. See a list of domestic violence homicide victims not to be forgotten, here.

“In San Diego County, we are fighting every day to save lives from the destructive cycles of domestic violence,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “I want to thank the San Diego Domestic Violence Council and Claudia Grasso for the partnership in protecting families from violence. Domestic violence not only harms the direct victim but also has a devastating ripple effect on children, families, and communities. This is why at the DA’s Office we work every day to prosecute the offenders and provide resources to victims so they can safely leave their abusers and move on with their lives. Domestic Violence Awareness Month is one more chance to empower women, children, and survivors to know that there are resources to help them get out of a dangerous relationship.”

Each year there are more than 17,000 domestic violence incidents reported to law enforcement across San Diego County. Last year, the figure was 17,472 and the District Attorney’s Office filed charges in 2,393 domestic violence cases.

During the Balboa Park event, which included a resource fair and a candlelight vigil ceremony honoring homicide victims, Ivette Kuyateh, who lost her mother to domestic violence when she was a child shared her personal story.

“Events like these give us a platform to expose the darkness in our society and say the words that victims often can’t,” Kuyateh said. “Yet every advocate knows our work continues past the month of October. It is year-round. As long as people still ask, ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ we have work to do to educate others on the complexities behind the answer to this question.”

Also at the event, Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez, who is a marriage and family therapist, was named the new President for the San Diego Domestic Violence Council. The domestic violence council is a collaboration of organizations and community members who seek to reduce and prevent domestic violence. Partner agencies include the District Attorney’s Office, San Diego County Health and Human Services, the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, and other law enforcement and social services agencies.

Over the last year, the DA’s Office coordinated trainings for hundreds of professionals across the county on domestic violence, firearm safety, stalking, and how to be more inclusive when working with victims.

“We are so proud of how the San Diego Domestic Violence Council has brought county organizations together to help connect victims with resources and support service providers with tools to consistently restore hope to those who have lost it,” said Claudia Grasso, the outgoing President of the SDDVC and Executive Director of One Safe Place: The North County Family Justice Center. “I am grateful to District Attorney Summer Stephan, who for my entire four-year term as SDDVC President, was a constant source of encouragement and support.”

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 planning for safety. More information and resources can be found on the DA’s website here. See the calendar and flyers of additional domestic violence awareness events that will take place throughout the month of October, here.

San Diego DA Sounds the Alarm About Assembly Bill 1028

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today strongly criticized pending legislation that would remove the requirement that healthcare workers make a report to law enforcement when they suspect a patient has suffered physical injury caused by abusive conduct. Under the proposed new law, domestic violence victims who are bruised, attacked, stabbed, strangled, tortured, or maimed or are injured with weapons other than firearms, would not receive the current protection the law affords. Stephan is urging lawmakers to vote against Assembly Bill 1028 when it comes in front of the Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, July 11.

“This ill-conceived bill reverses critical, long-standing protections that currently exist for victims of serious crimes including domestic violence,” said DA Stephan. “Mandated reporting is a link in the chain to a victim’s safety and can be the difference between life and death. Health care providers serve as gatekeepers to identify and report abuse where the family members and the abused themselves may not. These reporting laws ensure that a victim is protected, even if the abuser stands in the lobby of the hospital, demanding the victim lie about the abuse. A physician is duty bound to report suspicious injuries under the current law if they reasonably suspect the injuries were the result of abusive or assaultive conduct.”

Current law requires a health practitioner, as defined, to make a report to law enforcement when they suspect a patient has suffered physical injury that is either self-inflicted, caused by a firearm, or caused by assaultive or abusive conduct, including elder abuse, sexual assault, or torture.

Victims’ rights groups are also opposing the bill.

“As someone who almost died at the hands of my abuser and had to be taken to the hospital, I know firsthand how dangerous it would be to take away a doctor’s important responsibility to report suspicious injuries,” said Isabel Rosales, a survivor of domestic violence who was stabbed by her ex-husband. “Doctors reporting domestic violence absolutely saves lives.”

California has long protected it’s most vulnerable by legislating mandated reporting for domestic violence and child abuse, and more recently elder abuse. This bill eliminates physician-mandated reporting for any physical injury due to domestic violence other than the small percentage of domestic violence cases that result in injuries from firearms. This means that domestic violence victims who are bruised, attacked, stabbed, strangled, tortured, or maimed or are injured with weapons other than firearms, would not receive the current protection the law affords.

“This bill takes us backwards 30 years and has unintended consequences that will put victims in even more danger,” said Karen Marcus, a retired forensic nurse in San Diego County. “Healthcare professionals are one of the most important protectors for injured victims of crime and provide the victim important access to culturally competent community resources.  Removing health care’s duty to report decreases the health and safety of victims and increases the risk of continued or worsening violence.”

San Diego County has roughly 17,000 domestic violence incidents reported per year, and a subset of those only come to law enforcement’s attention because of the good work of health care providers doing their duty to report suspicious injuries. Domestic violence is already one of the most under reported crimes because of the dynamics of power and control within an intimate partner relationship.

“AB 1028 is not supported by any California-based research and ignores the polling in California showing that advocates and survivors favor the existing Suspicious Injury Reporting Law,” said Casey Gwinn, President and Co-Founder of Alliance for Hope International. “If this bill becomes law, terrified, seriously injured victims will have the responsibility to decide if their abusers get reported to the police. More women, men, children, and police officers will die if AB 1028 becomes law. The only state to end all reporting in the last ten years has seen more than a 100% increase in domestic violence-related deaths.”

Research shows that cases where the abuser strangles their partner, cutting off airflow and blood flow to the brain in the attack have been associated with a seven times greater likelihood of being murdered by that same abuser. This bill would send that strangulation victim, seven times more likely to get murdered when she or he walks out the door, into a deadly risk this legislature should not be willing to take.

DA Stephan urged constituents in San Diego County and across the state to contact their State Senators and voice their opposition to AB 1028.

The Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee is Senator Aisha Wahab, (916) 651-4410.

State Senators representing districts in San Diego County are:

Sen. Toni Atkins, Central San Diego County (916) 651-4039

Sen. Steve Padilla, Chula Vista/South Bay (916) 651-4018

Sen. Brian Jones, El Cajon and Escondido (916) 651-4040

Sen. Catherine Blakespear, Encinitas/North County (916) 651-4038

Read the DA’s letter sent in opposition to AB 1028 here.

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-Sponsored Bill That Gives Life Saving Medical Access to Domestic Violence Victims Signed into Law

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that a bill her office sponsored, giving victims of domestic violence assault equal access to comparable forensic exams that sexual assault victims receive, has been signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom.

Assembly Bill 2185, authored by Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber and sponsored by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, codifies the gold standard of forensic medical examination and documentation, and brings equal access and parity to all victims of domestic violence in California. The new law will promote access and enhance positive health outcomes for domestic violence survivors.

“This new law can save lives,” DA Summer Stephan said. “The law provided for sexual assault victims to have access to medical forensic exams and treatment at no cost, but not for domestic violence victims, even though both are at risk for life-threatening injuries. We know that these domestic violence medical evidentiary examinations can be critical, especially in cases of strangulation. I want to thank Assemblymember Akilah Weber, M.D., who immediately saw the great benefit that this law can provide through her unique physician lens, and fought to make this law a reality for vulnerable victims.”

Strangulation injuries are often internal with no external visible injuries; making life-threatening injuries easy to miss without proper training for examiners, and immediate assessment, accurate diagnosis, and treatment. Research shows that a victim strangled even one time is 750% more likely to be killed later by her abuser compared to a domestic violence victim who has never been strangled. The percentage is higher if there are multiple strangulation assaults or altered consciousness.

“In San Diego County, the District Attorney’s office implemented a countywide pilot program with trained forensic nurse examiners to document strangulation and other injuries from domestic violence assaults through medical evidentiary exams,” said Assemblymember Akilah Weber, M.D. “The evidence proved that the exams coupled with early intervention with counseling and resources for women and families resulted in saving lives. This is why I authored AB 2185 to scale the pilot program statewide and expand access to medical evidentiary examinations for survivors of domestic violence assault to all Californians. AB 2185 will also create a funding system to reimburse qualified healthcare professionals for administering these exams. I appreciate Governor Newsom’s signing the Legislative Women’s Caucus priority bills which underscores California’s commitment to achieving equitable policies for all women.”

In 2016, experts from San Diego County recognized that domestic violence examinations were not being utilized throughout California. In 2017, as part of Cal OES XC grant, San Diego County piloted a program where specially trained forensic nurses were dispatched to law enforcement scenes to better document domestic violence strangulation cases. The purpose of the pilot was to enhance the collective coordinated community response to victims of abuse related assault, to provide those victims with evidentiary exams, and to document strangulation and other injuries free of charge to victims. These examinations increased access to victims and provided awareness about the medical dangers of strangulation incidents. For example, one victim of a serious assault suffered a fractured larynx but didn’t realize it until a forensic nurse performing a medical evidentiary exam, screened her and referred her to the emergency room. The victim could have died had it not been for this intervention.

Specially trained forensic nurses examine the patient/victim, take additional photographs, encourage the victim to seek emergency medical care when necessary, and connect them to local advocacy resources and supportive victim services.

Over 1,000 victims and survivors of abuse across San Diego County have benefitted from forensic domestic violence assault exams, at no cost them. Since the pilot program went into effect, domestic violence homicides dropped by 15% between 2017 and 2020 and those resulting from strangulation also dropped substantially. (San Diego Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team).

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

One Safe Place– The North County Family Justice Center

We provide free support services all under one roof to anyone who has experienced family violence, child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, hate crimes, elder abuse, human trafficking, violent loss, or other crimes. At One Safe Place—the North County Family Justice Center— we provide comprehensive help in a safe and judgment-free environment that empowers people to move forward with their lives. Visit www.OneSafePlaceNorth.org for more information.

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.