Chaos at Los Padrinos Youth Hall—while drug investigative team is still removed from duty

Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall's updated entrance, photo courtesy of Los Angeles County Probation
Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

This month, conditions appear to be going from bad to worse at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall.

LP—as the Downey-located youth facility is known for short—is where, in July of this year,  LA County Probation moved approximately 300 young people who are in probation’s care, in order to get those youth out of the county’s other two highly troubled youth facilities, Central Juvenile Hall, and Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week (November 13 and 14), multiple fights broke out  at LP.

One of the fights that erupted on Monday began in an outdoor grassy area when a kid found some dog poop on the ground, picked it up and threw it at another kid. Things reportedly blew up from there.

(We are told that the poop in the facility’s yard may have been the product of one or more of the working dogs that have been brought in to do drug searches. Either that, it was an artifact of ne of the dogs that volunteers occasionally bring to interact with the kids. Whatever the case, a fight resulted.

On Tuesday, there were reportedly more brawls. 

Yet, while Monday’s and Tuesday’s fights were not terribly serious, according to staff sources, they appeared be symptoms of other, larger problems that had recently been showing themselves at the youth hall.

At the beginning of the month, for example, there were two incidents at Los Padrinos, in which multiple staff members were injured, and one underage youth attempted an escape, the second such attempted escape from Los Padrinos in recent months.

Here’s the deal:

On Friday,  November 3, WitnessLA  got the first of an ongoing series of text messages from staff sources letting us know that things were going wrong at LP.

Late on Friday, we were able to confirm that a young and not very experienced Detention Service Officer (DSO) had been attacked by a group of at least three young people.  We don’t know anything about the attack’s cause, other than it occurred when a group of youth were being moved from their unit to a classroom elsewhere in the facility.

The young DSO who was on the receiving end of the attack had reportedly been on the job for less than a month.  Matters were made more dangerous by the fact that there were no other staff members nearby to provide back-up when the inexperienced officer was jumped.  

As the new staff member struggled, outnumbered, to head off the attack, a female teacher reportedly helped pull the kids off the officer, whose clothing was streaked with blood, although he was reportedly not stabbed or cut.

Those familiar with the situation said that the DSO was traumatized by the attack, and the lack of back-up. The teacher who acted quickly to defend him was also reportedly traumatized.  

Matters were reportedly not help when, immediately after the incident, the battered young officer was put in a nearby room with an Industrial Accident packet to fill out.**  While filling out the packet was evidently a necessary task to complete in order for the DSO to get his workers comp claim going, it was not clear that being shoved precipitously post-beatdown into a room alone was either necessary or wise. It was also unclear if any sort of crisis counseling was offered—official or otherwise. 

“I hope he sues the county, “ said one of our probation sources, who was familiar with the details of the incident.

That was Friday, Nov. 4, at Los Padrinos.

On Saturday, Nov. 5, at 7:53 pm, six youth in residence at LP assaulted several staff members.

The Saturday assault turned out to be part of a plan to distract staff members so that that one of the kids in the unit could escape the facility.

The kid, whose name we are withholding because he’s under 18 years old, was reportedly a “low level offender.”  But, for whatever reason, he was determined to get out of youth lock-up.

With the distraction of the attacks on staff members, the fleeing kid was able to briefly escape LP, where near the facility’s perimeter, an older “female accomplice,” was reportedly waiting in her car to pick him up.

Yet, before the escapee and accomplice could vanish, they were arrested.  According to the official statement on the incident, Probation’s Special Enforcement Operations officers, together with the South Gate and Downey Police Department, apprehended escapee and driver both

While probation investigated the actions of the six youth involved in the escape incident, the approximately 294 other kids and young adults living at LP had their visiting hours canceled, and were placed on a lengthy “lock-down,” meaning they also had no activities, classes, or anything else to fill their time, nevermind that the majority reportedly had exactly zero part in the incident.

This facility-wide cancellation of visiting and any kind of activities was a plan that some of the probation staff we spoke to did not consider wise, as it needlessly punished the youth who had stayed out of trouble.

The above incidents at LP, all occurred in November.

But, as we reported earlier, this month’s incidents at Los Padrinos were preceded last month by two serious drug overdoses.

On October 18, a kid in residence at LP overdosed on fentanyl.  

The young man didn’t overdose on the synthetic opioid at Los Padrinos.  Instead, he took the drug while he was in a holding tank for a local court, waiting to go before a judge.  

Fortunately, an LA County Sheriff’s deputy who was observing the young man from outside the holding room, saw the kid’s distress and was able to administer three-doses of Narcan to stabilize the youth to the point that he could safely be transported to a hospital.

It wasn’t the first time the young man took a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl. He also overdosed approximately three weeks prior to the court-located overdose, and again was saved by a probation staff member and Naloxone, the generic name for the life-saving medication that can reverse an overdose from opioids.

Meanwhile, at Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall, during the same general late October/early November time frame at the Sylmar-located facility, narcotics continued to arrive.  

Some continue to enter the property in creative ways, including via a football, which was thrown over the fence of the the Secure Youth Track Facility (SYTF), which houses the 40 or so young people who, in previous years, would have been placed in the state’s chronically troubled Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

It’s not clear how the narcotics are getting into LP. 

So why are the county’s youth halls still so out of control, even after, the state oversight commission, The California Board of State and Community Corrections, or BSCC, told the county that they had to get their act together.

20 percent of staff & the missing investigative team

Part of the cause of the problems at Los Padrinos still pertains to the fact that the youth hall is still reportedly running on only 20 percent of the staff it needs to function.  The other 80 percent are either out on worker’s comp, or calling in sick.

Another potential cause is the fact that, early last month, three of probation’s in-house investigators were removed from duty and sent home on an “ordered absence.” for reasons that are still unclear.  

This was the team who appear to have made dramatic and measurable progress in locating  the sources of the fentanyl that had been showing up in significant amounts since the beginning of the year in Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall—and later at Los Padrinos.

Just prior to their removal from duty, the team reported that they’d learned from one of the prolific youth dealers inside Barry J. Nidorf that, for two years, he’d been getting his drugs from a staff member, and a teacher both of whom reportedly still work at Barry J.

To date, the team has yet to be returned to duty.  But they now have an attorney and have become whistleblowers.

(For more on the whistleblower’s case, see WLA’s story here.)

In the meantime, the job of getting drugs out of LA County Probation’s youth facilities has fallen to newly-appointed Chief Safety and Security Officer, Eric Strong, of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

(As readers may remember, Lt. Strong was among those who ran for LA County Sheriff against former sheriff Alex Villanueva in June 2022.) 

On November 9, at last week’s Probation Oversight Commission meeting, Strong gave a lengthy presentation in which he described the people outside probation he wishes to hire, in order to stop the inflow of drugs to the two youth halls, with the accompanying overdoses, one of which, last spring, ended a young man’s life.

Strong told the commission that his boss, probation chief Guillermo Viera Rosa, told Strong he wanted a team that would partner with members of law enforcement agencies, who would have the expertise and technology to “track down the sources of the drugs and hold them accountable.”

As luck would have it, based on WLA’s probation sources, and online exchanges we’ve reviewed, most of the tasks Strong named in his 23-minute plus presentation to the POC,  seem to match what the department’s investigative team of Supervising Deputy Probation Officers were already doing.

At least, that’s what the team of SDPO Torres, SDPO Corona, SDPO Sakoda, and those who worked with them, appear to have been doing before its main members were placed on administrative leave on Oct 4, after a “debrief” with newly named Deputy Director of Internal Affairs, Luis Dominguez, plus newly named Chief Safety and Security Officer for LA County Probation, Eric Strong.  

More as we know it. So…stay tuned.

**Correction 6:08 p.m., 11/15/23: WLA wrongly assumed that the “IA” packet that the young DSO was asked to fill out—when he was still shaken by being attacked—stood for Internal Affairs. We learned from a smart commenter that, in this instance, IA referred to an “Industrial Accident” packet, which is the paperwork needed to start a workers comp claim. Thank you again, “Former DSO.”


  • The probation department has a number of long-standing issues. This comes as no surprise. Having worked there for a year under former LASD assistant sheriff, Ray Leyva, I saw firsthand the dysfunction that permeated the department. In spite of Ray’s best efforts, it was abundantly clear that there were a number of management level employees who were disinterested in reforming the department and taking on the tasks they were assigned.

    You can also tell that there continues to be a huge morale issue with line personnel, due to the fact many of them are out on long-term IOD, or are simply calling in sick for shifts. This fact points directly to the management of the probation department. Line personnel feel abandoned and neglected by their managers. I wish them luck, but it is going to be a huge uphill battle with the way things operate now.

  • When you say that this officer was put in a room immediately after the incident to fill out an Internal Affairs packet I believe you are incorrect. The IA packet that this officer was told to fill out was the Industrial Accident packet, the paperwork necessary to start a workers comp claim. It is still wrong that they had the officer complete it while the trauma from this incident was fresh but you have mixed up one of the endless county acronyms and it does change the context of the departments actions in response to this incident.

  • Editor’s note

    Dear Former DSO,

    Thank you for the correction. You’re absolutely right. My interaction with two sources on that part of the story was done via text and I wrongly assumed that IA stood for internal affairs, as I’m unfamiliar with the other acronym. That it is a workers comp claim makes much more sense. I’ll make the correction.

    Thanks again. May your holidays be good ones.


  • For those of you not in the know,
    Let’s tell a story about [WLA edit] Luis Dominguez. [WLA edit]Louie was promoted (pulled) through the ranks and in turn took care of his “people” bringing them all the way up with him, the problem is that all of his “people” were all of a certain race. Louie likes think of himself as a big tough shot-caller and holds grudges against any who he feels disrespected him. In fact anyone who worked at CMYC will tell you that Louie had his little crew of Hispanic males that got away with whatever they want and ran his camps like the Mexican Mafia. Well, I’ll have you know that Reggie Torres and his buddies in the union publicly called out [WLA edit] Louie for the incompetent punk that he is and [WLA edit] he has been nursing a grudge going back nearly 10 years. You see the reason why Louie has been left standing untouched by scandal during this administration is that the past management recognized how incompetent and petty he is and they quietly hid him away in the “Accountability” bureau and put all of the department’s “problem” managers under him to hide them away too, (you know the ones that they can’t get rid of and are too dumb to do any actual work.) Now that the bigger big shots have fallen from grace, [WLA edit] he has been put back into a position with some responsibility. Now, true to his nature, as the petty little tyrant that he is, his first action is to settle his grudge against the union by targeting Torres. [WLA edit] he has proven himself incompetent yet again, taking out of commission one of the special units in Probation that is actually doing something useful. Doesn’t matter if one of the little angels overdoses or if staff are bringing in contraband, as long as Louie gets his revenge against anyone who would dare insult his ego, he feels like he won; Strong must feel like a dumbass now from taking his advice. I honestly feel bad for poor Rosa, Strong, and all of our other executives that come from the outside: the department leadership is corrupt to the core and nobody in management is to be trusted. Our department has fostered such a culture of cronyism and nepotism for so long that the ranks are our executives are filled with know-nothings who are incapable of making a decision or having an independent thought, because they were “pulled” up through the ranks by people like Louie who valued their loyalty far more than they valued their ability to do the job or lead others.

  • This biggest problem is the youth advocacy groups preaching for more power and better treatment for these [WLA edit} kids who have no respect for any type of authority figures or anyone else on this planet. The punishment in the halls needs wayyyyyy more strict. There needs to be actual real consequences to there bad behaviors.

  • Editor’s note:

    Dear “Truth Hurts” and “Former DSO,”

    Rather than spike your individual comments for their glaring violations of WLA’s rules for commenting, WLA instead edited your comments.

    “Former DSO,” if you want to criticize the department’s policy re: the youth in the county’s care, that’s fine. We value your opinion. But, in the future, if you refer to those youth as “demonic and evil criminal(s),” or similar terminology, your comment will simply and deservedly be tossed in the trash.

    “Truth Hurts,” even with WLA’s numerous edits, your comment skates perilously close to a pure ad hominem attack that does not belong on WLA. Yet, amid the adolescent mud-slinging you appear to have a serious point to make. We welcome your commentary. But we do not welcome the character assassination.

    Thank you both in advance for your cooperation in the future.

    Have a happy Thanksgiving.


  • Celeste, you seem to have an obsession with our department based on your past editorials. Put down your pencil and put on a badge. Make the difference you’re so passionate to write negatively about or find a new passion to write about and one that you’re willing to participate in. Become part of the solution, or you’re just part of the problem. I want to see you walk in to a unit and make it how you write about how it should be. When you make your thanksgiving prayer this week, make it how blessed you are to write about it and not work in it because you won’t ever be able run a unit how you think it should be run. Celeste, you want to hear about the times probation was fulfilling and affecting change in youths lives I will talk to you about it and why that has all changed. I am currently working on my 34th year in this department

  • Celeste, former badge wearing members called the population demonic and criminals and you want to silence them. They are professionals who have worked in the environment but you dismiss their evaluation and assume yours is correct yet you have no experience on the subject only thoughts and feelings. Why do you think your opinion is more morally correct when you have no experience dealing with that population. Perhaps it’s you that should be silenced with your lack of experience on the subject

  • Editor’s note:

    Dear Kevin,

    If your comment doesn’t go up right away, it means that I haven’t yet looked at the comments. Although I try to get to them in a timely fashion, if I’m particularly busy sometimes it can take me a full day.

    Have a good Thanksgiving.


  • Ms. Celeste Fremon

    I’m interested in evaluating your progress doing the work of the DSO’s at these locations.
    I would like to see you talk/care fore these youths that make weapons out of anything they can and physically assault cleaning staff trying to do their job (40+ y.o. old ladies) as well as assaulting DSO’s. It’s easy to blame and critic behind a keyboard. Please walk to the front line and help these overworked heroes.

  • Mr. Martinez,
    First, this online publication- Witness la, knows exactly what their role is and how they’re guided down a certain path when reporting and printing their stories.

    I get it.
    Second, Most of their stories shed light on alleged lack of service or some sort of operational violation and sometimes those facts rang true. However, Like most of the WLA’s stories, they always have a one-sided approach that always makes Probation look like the public’s horrible nightmare. All, by disregarding the majority of good men and women who do a great job with these minors.

    But, no one dares to write a story on the minor’s destructive behavior in our “current” juvenile hall setting that creating short staffing, frequent callouts, assaults on workers, riots, destruction of county property, refusing to attend school, refusing to eat at designated meal times, and refusing to participate in these”So-Called County Sanctioned Programs “ to help a minor develop coping skills and tools to help him stay out of trouble when he’s released back into the community.
    I agree. You hide behavior keyboard, getting fed bits and pieces from the inside just to do a story that mostly doesn’t tell everything that’s going on.
    Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s easier to focus on all probation because of the community trust. But this publication and the public paint is all with one brush stroke because of a few bad apples who don’t deserve to wear a badge or work with juveniles.

    We say it all the time:
    You don’t know the real conditions until you put on a blue shirt and khakis and come to a unit and run the Board for a week. Realistically, we know that’s not going to happen unless you have the credentials.
    Even the hire ups; MGR’s won’t step foot in the facilities without their suit and tie on and/ or their power dress skirts and heels on.

    The kids have to want to change in order for them to receive the programming that the county promised they’d receive in order to be better young people upon release. I don’t care how many people pull up with their PhD’s and MBA’s or Psychology doctorate degrees to administer programs and mental health services. You can have ratios of 1 staff to every 3 minors which is a win- win. But no services will be provided if the kid’s disruptive behavior interferes with any positive outcomes.

    But today, it’s just easier to point a negative finger at probation and say they’re not doing there job.

    So, if LPJH finally close because of noncompliance. Where do the kids go? Maybe the millionaire supported nonprofit groups are waiting in the wings to finally get their community group homes up and running to house these juveniles and take over a large portion of the state’s budget.

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