A prominent advocacy group for the disabled and parents of Sonoma Developmental Center patients are calling for an outside investigation into stun gun assaults last fall against a dozen patients at the institution.
The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy in California distributed an open letter to Attorney General Kamala Harris yesterday, asking the state Department of Justice to open its own criminal case. The abuse “reveals a sickening picture of serial torture – and the entire law enforcement system’s utter failure to protect people with disabilities from these atrocities or to prosecute the criminals who committed and helped cover up the assaults,” the letter said.
The Parent Hospital Association, which represents relatives of Sonoma center patients, has also asked for a new, independent investigation of the stun gun cases.
Harris’ office declined to comment on the stun gun assaults yesterday, said Shum Preston, a spokesman for the attorney general.
In September, the in-house police force at the center, the Office of Protective Services, received a tip that Archie Millora, a caregiver, had abused several profoundly disabled men with a stun gun. Internal records obtained by California Watch show detectives found burn marks on several patients and, later, discovered a Taser and a loaded handgun in Millora’s car.
After the assaults were discovered, the Office of Protective Services made no arrest, and instead handled it as an administrative matter. At least nine days after the revelations, detectives still had not interviewed Millora, records show.
Terri Delgadillo, director of the state Department of Developmental Services, defended the police force’s investigation as comprehensive. “The investigation also included interviews of over 100 individuals, including the suspect who was interviewed on three separate occasions and terminated from employment,” she said in a written statement.
The department, which operates California’s five board-and-care centers for 1,700 patients with severe intellectual disabilities, fired Millora in November. Millora did not respond to multiple interview requests made by phone and in person at his home.
The Sonoma County district attorney’s office announced this week it would review the matter as a potential criminal abuse case. Previously, the Office of Protective Services had only referred a misdemeanor weapons charge against Millora for possessing a concealed firearm.
Spencer Brady, the county's chief deputy district attorney, said the Office of Protective Services provided prosecutors only an administrative report on the stun gun assaults.
Millora pleaded no contest to the charge in April and received 20 days of electronic monitoring, plus three years’ probation and a $190 fine. Developmental center officials have not responded to requests for additional documentation from its internal police investigation.
California Watch reported the abuse cases in a story published this week, making them public for the first time.
In an ongoing investigation this year, California Watch has detailed how the institutions’ internal police force, created by the state to protect the vulnerable residents at these state homes, often fails to conduct basic police work when patients are abused and harmed.
The Arc argues the Sonoma center victims are only a fraction of the patients who've been abused. "We believe it is likely that the new known victims were merely those whose wounds were still visible when OPS started its new investigation in 2011," the group's statement said.
This story was produced by California Watch, a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting.