The father of a 15-year-old girl who endured sexual abuse as a child in her El Monte home testified Tuesday that his daughter still has challenges, but has made progress and is now talking about becoming a cheerleader and eventually an FBI agent.
The 35-year-old New Mexico man is the legal guardian of the girl and filed a lawsuit on her behalf against Los Angeles County. The suit alleges social workers with the Department of Children and Family Services didn’t take steps to have the girl removed from the Arden Drive residence in 2010, despite having a reasonable suspicion that the Gidley Elementary School student was being molested by her own mother and by several men permitted to stay at the apartment.
Addressing a Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing trial of his daughter’s lawsuit, the man said the girl is in ongoing therapy. He said he is doing all he can to help her lead as normal as life as possible while avoiding any steps backward.
“I just don’t want her to end up on the streets,” he said. “I think she is in an amazing place right now.”
The girl’s mother, now 39, and four men all were convicted of sexually abusing her. The mother is currently out of custody, but must register as a sex offender for the rest of her life.
Lawyers for the county maintain that social workers had no grounds to seek removal of the child from her mother until the girl confided in her father about the abuses in 2012.
In his testimony, the plaintiff’s father said he and the girl’s mother met in 2003 while both were serving on the same Navy ship. He said their daughter was born that year and that his then-girlfriend left the service and lived with his parents in New Mexico while he went on an overseas deployment.
But she failed to get along with his parents and eventually left for California with their daughter, he said. He testified that when he was himself discharged, he struggled to make contact with his child’s mother and eventually decided after a weekend visit with her that they should go their separate ways.
Although he told her that he wanted to be part of their daughter’s life, she hinted that he would never see the child again, the father said.
He said Los Angeles County social workers contacted him in 2010 in the wake of allegations of physical abuse of his daughter that were unrelated to the men eventually convicted of sexually abusing her. He said he began having visitations with the child, initially in the presence of a monitor and later unsupervised.
“I wanted to come back and create a connection with my daughter,” he said.
He said the girl was sometimes unclean when she was brought to him and not wearing any of the new clothes he had bought for her. He said that when he complained to Elbis Severo, one of the child’s social workers, she was unsympathetic and replied, “These are kids, they get dirty.”
He said that while undergoing therapy in New Mexico during one of the later unsupervised visits, his daughter began explaining in detail about her sexual mistreatment at the hands of her mother and the men living in the El Monte residence. The girl’s revelations eventually led to the involvement of El Monte police and the arrests of the child’s mother and the other men, including Louis Fluet. Severo testified she had warned the mother that Fluet’s prior arrest on another sexual abuse allegation could be grounds for her being stripped of custody of her three daughters.
The girl’s father said he eventually was given full custody of his daughter and that one of the male abusers went so far as to send him a letter saying he was sorry. But he said the girl experienced nightmares, had poor hygiene, got into cars with strangers and was unusually affectionate with grown men, all apparently stemming from her ordeal as an abused child.
He said therapists believed she used her toy boxes and secluded areas of her bedroom as a bathroom, perhaps because she had previously been too afraid to go outside her El Monte bedroom to the restroom for fear of being sexually accosted.
He said the girl will be a sophomore this fall at her New Mexico high school and that she’s hoping to be a cheerleader and join school clubs. She’s also talking about her career possibilities, he said.
“Now her thing is she wants to be an FBI agent,” he said.
He said he will remain a strict parent and that his goal is to see her enter and finish college. He said her grades have improved and that he has told her that if she wants a boyfriend, she better have a 4.0 average.