YOLO COUNTY NEWS

Crime, Fire + Courts

State aims to shut troubled Davis group home

By From page A1 | June 14, 2013

At least five children from the FamiliesFirst group home in Davis were raped and two others assaulted in less than a month this spring, according to allegations from the state Department of Social Services.

The agency moved Thursday to revoke EMQ FamiliesFirst Inc.’s license to run its Davis facility following the arrests of three boys last week on suspicion of sexual assault.

The state also wants to bar the facility’s clinical director and administrator, Audrie L. Meyer, and FamiliesFirst’s regional director, Gordon Richardson, from working at licensed group homes.

Under their watch, the state alleges that the 2100 Fifth St. facility lacked adequate, competent staffing; two staff members broke a boy’s arm; and children often walked off without permission or, in increasing numbers, ran away.

FamiliesFirst plans to fight to keep the group home open. It has until June 27 to appeal to an Office of Administrative Hearings judge.

Last week, Davis police arrested two boys, ages 13 and 14, who lived at the facility. A third, aged 17, who was not a resident, was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a girl who lived there. The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office declined to say Thursday whether charges had been filed against them.

About six cases of sexual assault are under investigation, according to Davis police.

The 16-page Social Service document lists about a dozen recent incidents of alleged law-breaking (it lists only the ages of children and only rarely their genders).

According to the state:

* On June 1, a 14-year-old, called Child No. 1 in the document, assaulted an 11-year-old, resulting in injuries, at a local park. Five other children were at the park, and all were absent from the facility without permission and unsupervised.

* On May 31, also at the park, Child No. 1 assaulted a 15-year-old, before two people from the community stepped in to stop it. This time, nine other children also were there.

* Also on May 31, a 14-year-old, Child No. 3, raped an 11-year-old at a local park. Four other children “assisted”; a fifth was present. After going missing for six hours, the victim returned to the facility on her own. FamiliesFirst did not report what happened.

* On May 29, Child No. 3 had sex with another child “who did so out of fear because Child No. 3 had a temper and was reportedly physically abusive.”

* On May 30, Child No. 1 raped a 12-year-old after they went “AWOL” — absent without leave —  from the group home, spending most of the night drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. FamiliesFirst failed to report the incident.

* Also on May 30, about 10 AWOL children from FamiliesFirst yelled profanities at Taco Bell employees and hassled customers, asking for money.

* On or about May 14, a non-resident minor raped a 13-year-old resident of the home after she went missing. A second child was threatened she’d be hurt if she told anyone what happened.

* Between May 10 and May 20, children ages 13 and 14 had sex with a 14-year-old, Child No. 13, because they were afraid of him. Child No. 13 had sex with at least two other children from the home (ages 15 and 17) while away from the home without permission, one of whom requested a pregnancy test from staff.

* Between May 7 and May 22, a 13-year-old girl from the facility met a non-resident male at a park. He gave her alcohol and raped her several times at a local hotel.

During the same period of about two weeks, the victim also had sex with Child No. 3. Another boy from the group home also attempted to have sex with her.

The state says that those running the group home didn’t keep the kids from leaving, didn’t know things they should have about what was going on with the children, and often didn’t properly report what they did know.

From January 2012 to June 2013, Davis police responded to 560 calls for service from the facility, where children are placed by their families or the courts.

CEO responds

Darrell Evora, president and CEO of EMQ FamiliesFirst, said in a statement that “nothing is more important to FamiliesFirst than the safety of the children in our care and our long-standing reputation for programs recognized as some of the finest in California.”

The nonprofit organization plans to “fully respond,” he said. “We will defend the agency and its programs which serve some of the most challenging children.”

Since February 2012, the state alleges, Meyer and Richardson failed to employ sufficient staff and to properly employ those it did.

Children were often unsupervised or walked away from the facility. Once away from the group home, they “engaged in illegal activity such as shoplifting, theft, fighting, loitering, panhandling, consuming alcohol, smoking cigarettes, doing drugs and other self-endangering behavior,” the state alleges.

On one occasion, a child left the facility, bought or stole knives, then came back and threatened staff with them.

Between February and December 2012, there were about 24 reported instances of kids running away; since January 2013, that number shot up to about 80.

Over an eight-month stretch, one boy was absent from the facility more than he was present, according to the document.

The facility’s supervisors ignored their own plan of operation and emergency intervention plan, the state alleges, including guidelines for preventing and coping with runaways.

In October 2012, two staff members improperly restrained one boy, breaking his arm in several places, when his behavior didn’t warrant it, the state alleges. One of the staff members involved had been suspended for another unjustified restraint months earlier.

A surgeon used two metal plates and seven screws to repair the broken arm. FamiliesFirst did not report the treatment, only the restraint, according to the state’s allegations.

Staff members often didn’t shadow children who bolted, state documents say. Instead, police found them throughout California — including one found on the freeway by the California Highway Patrol. Some allegedly assaulted officers while being taken into custody.

At least one child walked to the police department, asking to be placed on a mental health hold.

— Enterprise staff writer Lauren Keene contributed to this report.

Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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