The Davis Police Department announced Thursday the launch of what officials called a “complex, multi-layered investigation” into alleged criminal activity linked to, and poor supervision practices at, the EMQ FamiliesFirst facility in Davis.
The nonprofit organization offers housing and support services for foster youths from around the region.
Assistant Chief Darren Pytel said two male residents of the facility at 2100 Fifth St., ages 13 and 14, were arrested Wednesday following a report from an 11-year-old girl “that she was held down and forcibly raped by the boys.”
The alleged assault occurred at a nearby park and not on the FamiliesFirst premises, though other youths from the facility were present and their involvement is being investigated, according to Pytel. None had permission to leave the campus at the time, and they were not under the supervision of staff as required.
“During the course of that investigation, we received reports of other incidents of illegal sexual activity” occurring off-site over the past couple of months, as well as allegations of shoplifting, theft and fighting, Pytel said.
Police also have made several felony arrests of FamiliesFirst youths involving serious assault offenses — just some of the more than 500 calls for service coming from the agency since Jan. 1, he added. More than 100 of those calls were to report runaways.
The youths involved in the assault cases, both male and female, ranged in age from 9 to 15. Many of the incidents, Pytel said, “are related to supervision issues at FamiliesFirst.”
Pytel said authorities have met with the agency’s management multiple times in recent months in an attempt to resolve the issues, but “despite recent efforts, we know that minors are routinely leaving the facility, they were not well supervised and were involved in illegal behavior off the campus.”
Police are now working with the California Department of Social Services and the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office to investigate both the alleged illegal activity as well as any possible violations of the agency’s state-issued license.
Yolo County Child Welfare Services also is involved for the purpose of assisting the agencies in tracking down the home counties of the children at FamiliesFirst, Yolo County spokeswoman Beth Gabor said. No children from Yolo County are currently living at the facility, she added.
The campus was quiet on Thursday morning, the only sign that something might be amiss being the presence of Davis police officers in the administrative offices and, at one point, two officers leaving with a boy in custody.
Gordon Richardson, executive director of the capital region of EMQ FamiliesFirst, refused to answer any questions on Thursday, citing the ongoing investigation. But he did issue the following statement: “The Davis Police Department and Community Care Licensing initiated an investigation to ensure that the children in our program are safe. We are fully cooperating with the investigation… we have been answering questions and assisting CCL and Davis PD with conducting interviews with children.
“We are deeply committed to the safety and well-being of all the children on the campus and in the community. Given the ongoing nature of the investigation, we are unable to provide additional information at this time,” Richardson added.
Kristine Austin, director of communications for the EMQ FamiliesFirst headquarters in Campbell, near San Jose, also declined to comment or discuss staffing issues Thursday, citing the ongoing investigation and federal HIPAA privacy laws.
The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office had no comment on its role in the investigation. Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven said there were no new details to release Thursday regarding the rape case.
Both suspects were lodged at Yolo County Juvenile Hall in Woodland following their arrests.
Meanwhile, 10 young residents have been taken into protective custody and have undergone interviews at the county’s Multidisciplinary Interview Center, according to Pytel. The Police Department also plans to make contact with other juveniles at the facility “to make sure they’re living in a safe environment.”
“This investigation is extremely complex,” Pytel said. “It’s going to take time to sort through all of the issues and do a good job to ensure these minors are going to be well taken care of in the future.”
About 60 children typically live on the East Davis premises, though Pytel noted there are currently fewer due to the ongoing probe.
FamiliesFirst was founded in Davis in 1974 as the Praul Center, a small group home serving three emotionally disturbed boys, according to the organization’s website. Its name later changed to FamiliesFirst “in recognition of the central importance of the family in children’s lives.”
The organization has provided treatment programs for troubled youths throughout Northern and Central California for about 30 years, its primary programs including include foster care, adoption, residential treatment, community-based services and school programs.
FamiliesFirst merged with EMQ Children & Family Services in 2009 and currently provides services to more than 18,000 children and their families in 33 California counties.
The state Department of Social Services, which first licensed the group home on Nov. 1, 1995, issued a statement confirming the removal of children from the facility, adding that “steps have been taken to ensure the safety of those remaining.”
“These are very serious circumstances. The safety of all children in the care of the facility is the top priority,” agency spokesman Michael Weston said in the emailed statement.
“Licensing investigators from the Department of Social Services have been at the facility and are working closely with Davis police and the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office in their investigations. The Department of Social Services will take appropriate actions based on the findings.”
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter @laurenkeene. Enterprise staff writer Anne Ternus-Bellamy contributed to this report.