An attorney who filed claims against Kern County this week on behalf of two girls allegedly sexually assaulted by correctional officers at Juvenile Hall says he knows of a third victim -- and there may be even more.
Neil Gehlawat of Chain Cohn Stiles said Friday morning he hopes the civil claims he's filed encourage other victims to come forward. Officers at Juvenile Hall are supposed to protect those left in their care, he said, but in this case they violated that trust and left these girls emotionally traumatized.
"These victims have come out (of Juvenile Hall) a lot worse than when they came in," Gehlawat said.
One of the correctional officers, Cesar Holguin Navejar, has been charged with six crimes including sexual battery and assault by a public officer. His next court hearing is May 19.
Court filings say police began an investigation into Navejar on Sept. 30 after a 17-year-old reported he had touched her inappropriately. The teen said Navejar had entered her cell about three weeks earlier to discuss an incident that occurred with another inmate.
At the end of their discussion he hugged her, the girl told investigators, according to the reports. She said several other incidents later occurred where he hugged her and then touched one of her breasts while holding her with his other arm so she couldn't move.
The girl said that on Sept. 29 Navejar again unlocked the door to her cell and told her to get out of bed, according to the reports. She said she complied because refusals to obey Juvenile Hall staff can result in further discipline.
She told detectives Navejar held her with one hand while sexually assaulting her with his other hand, the reports say.
The other officer, whose name has not yet been released, remains under investigation and is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the case. Gehlawat said there are at least three instances of that officer sexually assaulting a minor at the facility.
The attorney said the officer approached another teen in custody, but she rebuffed his advances. That teen reported him to supervisors and also informed them of his assault of the other girl.
Gehlawat said both victims he's representing are in counseling. The claims exceed $25,000 and, if they go to trial, it will be up to a jury to determine how much each girl deserves for the emotional distress they've suffered.
The filing of a claim is a required step before someone can pursue a lawsuit against a public entity.
Brandon Beecher, deputy chief of field and administrative services at the Kern County Probation Department, which oversees Juvenile Hall, has said the department has a strict no-tolerance policy regarding any sexual interaction between employees and teens housed in its facilities or between the teens themselves.