A 15-year-old girl who endured sexual abuse as a child in her El Monte home at the hands of her mother and four men living with them is entitled to a multimillion-dollar judgment against Los Angeles County and the five individuals, an attorney told a jury Wednesday, but a lawyer for the county said his client’s share of the blame is minimal compared to the actual perpetrators.
Plaintiff’s lawyer David Ring and attorney Tomas Guterres, on behalf of the county, made their pitches to a Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing final arguments in trial of the plaintiff’s case.
“This case is about the destruction of a girl’s life,” Ring told the panel. “You heard about how abusive the sexual abuse of (the plaintiff) was.”
Ring called the county’s Department of Children’s Services “the last line of defense for defenseless children” like the plaintiff.
But although two DCFS social workers had reasonable suspicion the girl was being sexually abused because one of the male residents of her apartment had a past arrest record, they did not call the county hotline or notify El Monte police, Ring argued.
“They could have prevented this from happening, they should have prevented this from happening,” Ring said.
But Guterres argued that while it is the DCFS’ mission to keep children safe — calling it a “daunting task” — he said Ring overstated the agency’s responsibilities.
“That front line can’t be placed on the DCFS, it has to be the parents, one or the other,” Guterres said, asking why the child’s father did not show more parental leadership.
The teen’s father is her legal guardian and filed the lawsuit on her behalf in Los Angeles Superior Court in June 2013, alleging DCFS social workers Elbis Severo and Lucia So didn’t take steps to have the girl removed from the Arden Way residence in 2010, despite having a reasonable suspicion that the then-Gidley Elementary School student was being molested.
The girl now lives in New Mexico with her 35-year-old father and will enter her sophomore year in high school in the fall.
Although Ring argued Severo rushed to close the abuse case in November 2010, lawyers for the county maintain that social workers had no grounds to seek removal of the child from her mother until 2012, when the girl confided in her father’s girlfriend at the time that she had been abused.
Ring said one of convicted men, Louis Fluet, moved into the El Monte apartment where the abuses occurred not long after the girl, her mother and her two half-sisters moved there from Temple City because of abuses committed by the mother’s husband at the time. Fluet had a past arrest record for child sexual abuse, Ring said.
Fluet at first had his own room, but he later began sleeping on a separate bed in the same room where the plaintiff stayed, he said. The social workers learned in 2010 that he had been arrested in the past for annoying or molesting a minor, but did not take sufficient steps to ensure he was removed from the apartment, Ring said.
“He continued to molest that girl for basically the next 24 months,” Ring said.
Ring called the male abusers “scorpions and predators” and said the child’s mother allowed her daughter to be abused by them so that she could obtain drugs.
Ring suggested that 65 percent of the responsibility for the girl’s damages be assessed against the county and the rest to the mother and the four men. Guterres said that if the jury is inclined to put any blame on the county, it should be at no more than 5 percent. He recommended the remainder should be assessed against the mother, the four men and two of the girl’s therapists.
Guterres said DCFS social workers choose their type of work over jobs where they could face less pressure and receive higher pay.
“They do it because they have a passion for it,” Guterres said.
The girl’s mother, now 39, and the four men were convicted of sexually abusing the plaintiff. The mother is out of custody, but must register as a sex offender for life.