President and CEO of EMQ FamiliesFirst Darrell Evora, left, spoke at a press conference Friday, June 14, in response to allegations of inadequate supervision and criminal activity at the troubled local group home. He was joined by Neal Sternberg, a residential and youth services consultant. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

Local News

FamiliesFirst fights to save license

By From page A1 | June 23, 2013

EMQ FamiliesFirst is fighting the state’s decision to revoke its Davis group home license, arguing in papers filed Friday that the Department of Social Services does not have the authority to do so since the alleged illegal activity at the heart of the action — multiple rapes and assaults by and against children from the group home — did not occur at the facility.

The department moved June 13 to revoke the group home’s license and bar clinical director Audrie Meyer and capitol region executive director Gordon Richardson from ever working in a licensed group home again.

That action followed an investigation by the department which found as many as half a dozen children from the group home, at 2100 Fifth St., were raped and several others assaulted in the space of a month. Three teenagers, including two residents of FamiliesFirst, have since been arrested in connection with those assaults.

The crimes were alleged to have occurred off campus after the FamiliesFirst children left the facility without permission — a chronic problem according to both the state and the Davis Police Department.

In its 16-page report, the social services department cited some 80 instances just since January when children left the facility without permission, including at least seven instances where a rape or assault is alleged to have subsequently occurred at nearby park, hotel or private residence.

Because those alleged incidents did not happen on the FamiliesFirst campus, attorneys for the facility, as well as for Richardson and Meyer, argued in papers filed Friday that the Department of Social Services lacks jurisdiction in the case.

“The alleged acts which constitute the basis for the accusation did not take place at the licensed facility,” said attorney Linda Kollar, who represents FamiliesFirst and Richardson. “The department does not have jurisdiction over events that occur outside the licensed facility and such events cannot be the basis for the accusation.”

Attorney Robert Sullivan, representing Meyer, offered the same defense.

Both attorneys also argued that accusations that FamiliesFirst, Richardson and Meyer failed to keep children from leaving the facility without permission essentially put them in a Catch-22 situation.

“Under the circumstances, compliance with the requirements of its regulations … would result in the violation of other regulations,” the attorneys argued. “Specifically, clients cannot be prohibited from leaving or departing the facility when to do so would result in violations of their personal rights.”

FamiliesFirst, Richardson and Meyer also claim the state didn’t give them a chance to comply with any regulatory deficiencies before seeking to revoke their license.

At a news conference a week ago, Darrell Evora, CEO of EMQ FamiliesFirst, vowed to fix any problems at the Davis facility.

Joining him at the news conference was Neal Sternberg, a residential and youth services consultant hired to establish best practices at the Davis facility, including training the staff in safety intervention techniques aimed at keeping children from leaving.

State regulations call for imminent danger to be present “before you can place hands on that youngster to stop them, so your best bet is to convince them,” Sternberg said.

Sternberg said FamiliesFirst’s calls to police “have gone down dramatically” since the facility underwent staffing and security increases earlier this month, which the Davis Police Department later confirmed.

“Since we have gone in and started working with the state, the situation has greatly improved from where it was before,” Assistant Police Chief Darren Pytel told The Enterprise at the time. “We still have had a couple of runaways from the facility, which causes us concern. However, it’s not causing the same problems in the community it has previously, and it seems to be isolated.”

Michael Weston, a spokesman for the Department of Social Services, declined to address any of the arguments raised in the papers filed Friday, saying, “since this is an active case, the department cannot comment.”

In its 16-page complaint released June 13, the department alleged multiple cases of criminal activity involving FamiliesFirst children between May 7 and June 1, including public disturbances, alcohol and drug consumption and forcible sexual assault with alleged victims ranging in age from 10 to 17.

The department also claimed FamiliesFirst supervisors ignored their own plan of operation and emergency intervention plan, including guidelines for preventing and coping with runaways; that in October 2012, two staff members improperly restrained one boy, breaking his arm in several places; and that staff members often didn’t shadow children who bolted and, instead, police found them throughout California — including one found on the freeway by the California Highway Patrol.

FamiliesFirst, Richardson and Meyer deny all of the allegations.

The matter now heads before an administrative law judge, who will hear the case within 90 days and EMQ FamiliesFirst will continue to operate the facility during the appeal process.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.

Anne Ternus-Bellamy

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