The families of eight mentally disabled adults on Tuesday sued an El Monte day care center and government agencies for allegedly failing to properly investigate their complaints about verbal, physical and sexual abuse at the facility.
The families said they had complained to managers at the center, formerly known as Healthy Start, and government authorities that their adult children were delivered home late — sometimes with bruises, scratches and skin rashes — and that they had turned sullen, fearful and withdrawn. Some of the disabled clients told their families they had been molested or otherwise abused, according to the suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Earlier this year, a former day care employee, Juan Fernando Flores, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the molestations of three women clients. But the lawsuit alleges that the neglect and abuse extended beyond a single employee and the three molested women.
The lawsuit accuses the day care center of failing to look into the complaints properly and notify authorities as required by law — a charge the center calls unfounded.
"They can't substantiate anything, but they won't stop," said Kimberly Upchurch, program director at the center now known as New Day, who started working there in November. "We have all our documented paperwork that we did contact the different agencies that we were supposed to contact. This whole thing has been a witch hunt."
Upchurch said she has increased supervision, installing security cameras and hosting parent meetings every other month. She said she believes the complaints were stirred by a disgruntled former employee and may be propelled by a desire by the families to enrich themselves through litigation.
The lawsuit was spearheaded by Consejo de Latinos Unidos, a community organization, which received complaints last year from the brother of a 25-year-old man with Down syndrome identified in the suit as "Ruben O."
Ruben O., the suit says, was "subjected to continual abuse by Healthy Start employees … roughly handled and forced into a restroom by an employee." The lawsuit says the restroom incident never was reported to the appropriate authorities.
K.B. Forbes, executive director of Consejo de Latinos Unidos, said the families' primary motivation was to "shut this place down for negligence and for ignoring their concerns," although the lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and compensation for medical expenses.
Rita Walker, deputy director of community operations for the state Department of Developmental Services, said the department received reports about the criminal molestation case from the regional centers that organize care for clients. She said the state placed the day care center on probation after the Flores matter came to light and required it to make changes. Among the changes were increased supervision, according to a regional center official.
"We take all allegations of abuse against any person with developmental disabilities very seriously," Walker said.