Broken Shield: California’s unique police force fails to protect the state’s most vulnerable residents

Ryan Gabrielson, Broken Shield. The Center for Investigative Reporting. California Watch, 23-24 February, 18 May, 31 July, and 29 November 2012. “Broken Shield [is] an 18-month investigation that uncovered systemic failures at the [California] Office of Protective Services…. [It details] widespread abuses inside the state’s five developmental centers. Gabrielson found that the police force charged with protecting some of the state’s most vulnerable wards almost never gets to the bottom of the abuses.”

Excerpts from stories:

California has assembled a unique police force to protect about 1,800 of its most vulnerable patients – men and women with cerebral palsy, severe autism and other mental disabilities who live in state institutions and require round-the-clock monitoring and protection from abuse.

But an investigation by California Watch has found that detectives and patrol officers at the state’s five board-and-care institutions routinely fail to conduct basic police work even when patients die under mysterious circumstances.

Federal audits and investigations by disability-rights groups, as well as thousands of pages of case files, government data and lawsuits dating back to 2000, show caregivers and other facility staff allegedly involved in choking, shoving, hitting and sexually assaulting patients. None of these cases were prosecuted….

Patients at California’s board-and-care centers for the developmentally disabled have accused caretakers of molestation and rape 36 times during the past four years, but police assigned to protect them did not complete even the simplest tasks associated with investigating the alleged crimes, records and interviews show.

The Office of Protective Services, the police force at California’s five developmental centers, failed to order a single hospital-supervised rape examination for any of these alleged victims between 2009 and 2012. At most police departments, using a “rape kit” to collect evidence would be considered routine.

The procedure, performed by specially trained nurses, is widely regarded as the best way to find evidence of sexual abuse. Without physical evidence, it can be nearly impossible to solve sex crimes, especially those committed against people with cerebral palsy and profound intellectual disabilities.

In the three dozen cases of sexual abuse, documents obtained by California Watch reveal that patients suffered molestation, forced oral sex and vaginal lacerations. But for years, the state-run police force has moved so slowly and ineffectively that predators have stayed a step ahead of law enforcement or abused new victims, records show….