Six Los Angeles County probation officers accused of unlawfully using pepper spray on five teenage girls housed at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey pleaded not guilty Thursday to felony charges.
Marlene Rochelle Wilson, 46; Janeth Vilchez, 48; LaCour Harrison, 53; Claudette Reynolds, 57; Maria Asuzena Guerrero, 28; and Karnesha Marshall, 28, are due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom June 6.
Prosecutors allege the six — who work as detention services officers — either were unreasonable when using pepper spray or prevented the teens from being decontaminated after they were pepper-sprayed.
The alleged crimes occurred between April 7 and July 21 of last year.
Wilson is charged with five felony counts of assault by a public officer and three misdemeanor counts of child abuse, and could face up to eight years and eight months behind bars.
Vilchez is charged with one count each of assault by a public officer and child abuse, and faces up to four years behind bars if convicted as charged.
Harrison is charged with one count of felony assault by a public officer and two misdemeanor counts of cruelty to a child by endangering her health, and could face up to four years behind bars.
Reynolds is charged with one count each of assault by a public officer and cruelty to a child by endangering her health, and faces up to three-and-a-half years behind bars if convicted as charged.
Guerrero and Marshall are each charged with one count of cruelty to a child by endangering her health, and each could face up to six months in jail.
When the charges were announced last month, Los Angeles County Chief Probation Officer Terri L. McDonald issued a statement saying the charges stem from a “months-long investigation originated by L.A. County Probation into the unlawful use of force at one of the department’s juvenile halls.”
“As this filing shows, L.A. County Probation has a zero tolerance policy and will not tolerate the improper use of force by staff against any youth in our charge. When we become aware of an allegation of excessive use of force, we prioritize that investigation and refer the case to the D.A.’s office if warranted,” McDonald said in the statement. “The alleged acts by the individuals charged today in no way reflects on the amazing work done by our staff who have dedicated their careers to helping youth and adults change their lives for the better. What this filing does demonstrate is that the excessive or improper use of force by our staff will be thoroughly and professionally investigated, with involved staff being held accountable for their actions.”
On Feb. 19, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Thursday to eliminate the use of pepper spray in juvenile halls and camps, a change expected to be phased in over at least the next 10 months.
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