A law firm has launched an investigation partly involving one of Kern County’s most notorious urban legends, the Lords of Bakersfield, after one of the men said to be victimized by the alleged underage sexual trafficking ring initiated legal action against the county.
Robert Mistriel, who spent 38 years in prison for his role in the 1981 murder of Kern County Human Resources Director Ed Buck, filed a general liability claim on Sept. 30 alleging he had been a victim of a human trafficking ring as a teenager, and the county neglected to stop the abuse when he told his probation officer.
Dordulian Law Group, which specializes in cases involving sexual abuse, is representing Mistriel. The firm’s investigation could dig up some long-buried truths that Kern County law enforcement appeared reluctant to look into when they were first brought to light in the 1980s, according to previous reporting.
“Little to almost nothing was done to protect him,” Samuel Dordulian, owner and president of the firm, said of Mistriel’s circumstances in the late 70s and early 80s. “We are investigating to determine how much, and who knew. And we are conducting that investigation as we speak.”
In addition to taking a look into the case on its own, the law firm has made a recent report to the Bakersfield Police Department on its findings, opening up the possibility that the department has begun its own investigation into Mistriel’s claims.
When asked, BPD spokesman Robert Pair could not confirm the existence of the investigation.
“Per our policy, anything that may jeopardize the successful completion of an investigation isn’t subject to release,” he said.
Kern County officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Mistriel’s story has been the subject of heated fascination in Kern County on and off for decades. The 1983 trial in which Mistriel was convicted of first-degree murder had to be moved to Riverside due to the overwhelming publicity generated by the case. In 2003, a story in The Californian that investigated the apparent links between powerful Kern County men who seduced and were then killed by far younger men — in some cases minors — stirred up the public’s imagination once again.
And when Mistriel was granted parole in 2018, more attention was focused on the circumstances behind his conviction. Members of the parole board told Mistriel his case would have been viewed much differently if it were prosecuted today, The Californian reported at the time of the hearing. One commissioner even said Mistriel’s exploitation by powerful adults presented him with a catch-22 situation.
According to previous reporting, Mistriel first came into contact with Buck in 1979 at Beach Park, which was then a notorious place for gay men to meet. Mistriel was 15 at the time, and at that point already engaged in prostitution for around four years, The Californian has reported.
At some point in their relationship, Buck, who was in his 50’s, urged Mistriel to participate in a pornographic video with a younger boy, a proposition Mistriel refused, previous reporting says.
But Buck didn’t give up, The Californian has reported, and after being pressured into performing in the video, Mistriel devised a scheme to kill the older man. He recruited 18-year-old Roy Matthew Camenisch, and after driving to a secluded spot late at night with Buck, Mistriel sat in Camenisch’s car as his companion stabbed and hammered Buck to death.
Mistriel later testified as having tried to talk Camenisch out of the murder, apparently unsuccessfully.
Camenisch later received a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
“This case ranks as one of the saddest I’ve ever heard,” said Moses Castillo, senior detective at Dordulian Law Firm. “Hopefully we can prevail in getting some sort of civil justice for Mr. Mistriel.”
The claim alleges Mistriel was a victim of human trafficking from the ages of 12 to 17, and the perpetrators included judges, politicians and others.
The list of potential perpetrators seems to point to the Lords of Bakersfield legend, which purports that a shadowy group of powerful men in Kern County preyed on young men and boys while protecting each other from consequences.
According to the claim, Mistriel was assigned a probation officer named Sally Rockhold after running away from the prostitution ring, whom he told about his victimization. The claim says Rockhold testified in court that she knew Mistriel had been sex trafficked.
The law allows victims of childhood sexual assault to sue for damages any person or entity whose duty it was to care for the plaintiff, yet failed to prevent further abuse, the claim says.
A claim is usually a precursor to a lawsuit. Once filed, the county has 40 days to respond.
Dordulian said the firm was very early into its investigation, with more information likely to come in the future.
The claim does not include a dollar amount associated with damages to Mistriel.
"There’s a lot of information out there about this case," Dordulian said. "And we’re just going through all of that right now."