Monica Lam/California WatchTerri Delgadillo, director of the Department of Developmental Services, will testify at a hearing tomorrow.
Ten years ago, news stories about mishandled abuse cases led state officials to debate whether to overhaul a police force at California institutions for the severely developmentally disabled or dismantle it.
The state did neither.
In the decade since, the force, called the Office of Protective Services, has repeatedly made critical errors during investigations of patient deaths, alleged abuse and unexplained injuries. Reporting by California Watch found detectives at the five state-run developmental centers rarely close criminal investigations with arrests and prosecutions.
In response to the California Watch investigation, the state Senate Human Services Committee is reopening questions about the in-house police work during a hearing at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow at the State Capitol.
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“These state centers care for some of our most vulnerable citizens,” Sen. Carol Liu, D-Glendale, the committee’s chairwoman, said in a written statement. “We need to find out what went wrong and how we can protect these patients.”
Board-and-care institutions in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Tulare and Sonoma counties are home to about 1,800 patients with cerebral palsy and profound intellectual disabilities.
The hearing agenda includes an unnamed Office of Protective Services detective. Mareva Brown, staff consultant to the committee, declined to identify the officer before the hearing convenes.
Lawmakers will hear from seven witnesses in all. Among them:
- Ric Zaharia, vice president of an Alabama consulting firm, The Consortium on Innovative Practices, that has been working with the Office of Protective Services to upgrade investigations since July 2010
- Thomas Simms, a retired police chief who reviewed the developmental center police for the state attorney general’s office in 2001. Simms and Loren DuChesne, former chief of investigations for the Orange County district attorney’s office, recommended the institutions keep their police force “as there is no alternative law enforcement agency that would be a viable substitute,” in an 85-page report.
- Terri Delgadillo, who oversees the centers and the police force as director of the state Department of Developmental Services. Delgadillo is scheduled to testify last.
Inquiries by outside agencies repeatedly have found the centers’ detectives and patrol officers poorly trained and ill-quipped. The force routinely fails to collect evidence, and caregivers don’t reliably notify police about crimes against patients.
“The involvement of the police in most cases was an afterthought,” DuChesne said in an interview today. “Nor did (the police) have any authority to do their job.”
The state developmental services department has kept its force and control of most criminal investigations on its grounds despite such failings.
Abuse is endemic among this vulnerable population. Patient abuse and unexplained injury cases at the institutions increased from 2008 to 2010, according to data from the state Department of Public Health, even as the patient population shrank.
In its report, California Watch also detailed mistakes into the investigation of a suspicious patient death at Fairview Developmental Center in Orange County. The patient, 50-year-old Van Ingraham, was discovered on his bedroom floor with a broken neck in the early morning on June 6, 2007. He died six days later.
Police at Fairview did not collect physical evidence from the scene and waited five days to begin interviewing potential witnesses. No arrests have been made in the case.