OMG, just pay the woman.
There’s so much wrong with Kern County lawyers trying to hold up a $1 million settlement to a sexual assault victim over a press release that I’m practically speechless.
Word is county attorneys are so adamant about not paying they’re bringing the issue before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
What is going on inside their heads?
This woman was sexually assaulted by a sheriff’s deputy.
Think about that.
A person with a gun and a badge used the power entrusted in him by the public to get his jollies by degrading another human being.
Instead of trying to wriggle out of paying the victim on a technicality, county attorneys should review the Sheriff’s Office hiring practices and see if they need tightening.
The deputy, Gabriel Lopez, pled no contest (basically a guilty plea) to that assault and one other in 2015 and was sentenced to two years in prison.
While one victim sued the county, the other was paid off through what I consider to be a questionable process whereby a sheriff’s employee offered her $5,000 to release the county from liability.
This is apparently commonplace, which the paper will examine more thoroughly later.
Meanwhile, the other victim, who declined $10,000 in hush money from the Sheriff’s Office, sued. That lawsuit resulted in the $1 million settlement.
As part of the settlement, though, county attorneys demanded the victim’s attorneys at firm Chain Cohn Stiles not hold a press conference.
Perhaps the county hadn’t gotten over the dueling press conferences from the previous week that followed announcement of a $3.4 million settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit regarding David Sal Silva. Chain Cohn Stiles was the firm on that case as well.
Silva died in May 2013 after he was awakened by a sheriff’s deputy from where he’d passed out on a sidewalk across from Kern Medical Center. Silva became combative after the rough awakening.
So much so that seven sheriff’s deputies, a sheriff’s K-9 and two CHP officers joined the effort to subdue him, eventually getting him restrained on the ground where he died.
His death was ruled accidental, the result of hypertensive heart disease.
During a press conference about the settlement, Chain Cohn Stiles lawyers repeated that they believed Silva died of asphyxiation caused by law enforcement’s actions and that the Sheriff’s Office had done a shoddy investigation.
Sheriff Donny Youngblood held his own press conference in which he accused Chain Cohn Stiles of trying to drum up business based on lies and reiterated that three separate investigations by his office, the Kern County District Attorney’s office and the FBI did not back up their claims.
It was tense.
So back to the latest settlement against the Sheriff’s Office.
Chain Cohn Stiles agreed to no press conference but asked if a press release would be OK.
According to attorney Neil K. Gehlawat, the county was fine with that.
The release went out, the press reacted, next thing you know, Assistant County Counsel Mark Nations is saying the settlement may be a no-go.
As in, the county may pay the victim nothing.
His stance hinges on this clause: “This settlement will not be publicly disclosed by any party unless required by statute.”
Yes, the county, as a government agency, is required by statute to reveal legal settlements — if asked.
And no, Chain Cohn Stiles is not required by statute to disclose a settlement.
Kern County may think it’s a neat trick to withhold the victim’s money based on such a technicality.
I do not.
First, it tells me the county wanted to keep this settlement under wraps, only revealing it if someone in the know knew to ask.
Second, it would victimize the victim all over again, forcing her to go back to court to enforce the settlement.
Both are appallingly shady and petty actions that the Board of Supervisors should reject out of hand.
Remember what this is all about: An employee representing the county in the most powerful way possible assaulted this woman and at least one other, that we know of.
One of the goals of big money settlements is they inflict enough monetary pain on a government agency that it has a great incentive to make sure the same thing never happens again.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that should be the focus. Not punishing the victim.