#MeToo Behind Bars

When LA County Probation Officials Got Repeated Reports that a Staff Member Sexually Assaulted A Teenager, Why Did They Do Nothing?

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

In mid April, 2019, a teenage girl who was a resident at Los Angeles County Probation’s Central Juvenile Hall, one of the county’s two remaining jail-like youth lock-ups, told one of her mental health counselors that a male staff member had, on multiple occasions, engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with her.

According to the girl, a teenager whom we’ll call Althea to protect her anonymity, the sexual advances she received, which allegedly turned into sexual assaults, occurred between November 1, 2018, and January 2019, when Althea was housed at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, located in Downey, California before that facility was permanently shuttered, and she was moved to Central.

The therapist reportedly made a formal report about what the girl had confided.   Then, when a Probation Director at Central Juvenile Hall, became aware of Althea’s complaint, he emailed a group of higher ups at probation, to make sure they knew about the girl’s allegations.  He also sent the email — according to probation sources — to leave a paper trail.

Among those reportedly cc’d on the email were then Bureau Chief of Internal Affairs Jennifer Donnell, Deputy Director Tom Faust, Detention Services Bureau Chief, Mark Garcia, and Deputy Director Dalila Alcantara.

LA Probation titles are confusing, so suffice it to say that most of those copied on the email occupied positions were near the top of the department’s hierarchical ladder.

A notification also came to Probation’s Internal Affairs unit.  Internal affairs, in turn, ordered an interview with the girl.

Althea was officially interviewed about the alleged sexual incidents on April 19, 2019.

The person who conducted the interview was Supervising Deputy Probation Officer Latasha Matthews, who worked on the administrative side of IA, and is reportedly an expert in PREA issues — “PREA” being the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which was passed unanimously by Congress in 2003, with its scope further clarified and expanded in 2012.

For those unfamiliar, one of the main functions of PREA is to establish regulatory standards with the goal of eliminating the longtime scourge of sexual assaults in adult jails and prisons.

PREA also has a set of separate Juvenile Facility Standards, which govern the way to handle the threat of sexual assaults in youth facilities.  Those standards include instructions regarding the kinds of investigations that should follow any allegation of sexual abuse of a kid in a youth lock-up.

According to those whom WLA has interviewed who are familiar with the matter, such standards appear to have been largely ignored when it came to Althea.  Instead of a rigorous and timely probe into what had and had not occurred, according to our sources and documents WitnessLA has obtained, for well over a year following the teenager’s complaint  there was no further investigation at all, save the interview with the girl herself.

“It was swept under the rug,”  said one probation source.

Furthermore, the suspect who had been accused of having sexual interactions with the girl, continued to work at his post at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, where he was transferred after Los Padrinos was closed.

“He remained in a position where he continued to work with minors,” said a probation source.  “Maybe he was innocent.  But maybe he wasn’t.  And you can’t leave someone working with youth while you figure that out.”

One of  those on the email chain, who first knew about the allegations, reportedly pushed for the suspect be moved away from working directly with kids.

“Put him on post,” this official reportedly wrote, jargon meaning that the guy should be assigned to a position away from children.

That advice was reportedly ignored.

The only person who was moved anywhere was the teenager, Althea, the alleged victim.

On April 22, 2019, three days following her interview with the investigator from internal affairs, Althea was transferred out of Los Angeles County to a “placement” facility, a group home named Santa Lucia, which specializes in working with kids struggling with mental and emotional health issues, and is located in the town of Salinas, in Monterey County, California.

Yet, although she was no longer in an LA County facility, Althea did not allow her story to end with the transfer.

Althea tries again

On September 27,  2019, slightly over five months after Althea’s placement in the group home, the girl again told an adult about the staff member and the alleged sexual abuse.  This time she told one of the therapists at her new facility.

Even now, Althea told her therapist, the man continued to contact her via Snapchat.   Then, with her therapist’s help, the girl was able to grab a screenshot of one her of alleged abuser’s Snapchat messages, as hard proof.

Being a mandated reporter, the therapist, whose name is Victoria Shannon, filed what is known as a SCAR with Monterey County’s Child Protective Services, three days later, on September 30.

(A “SCAR” is the acronym for an official document known as a Suspected Child Abuse Report. )

Yet, Althea didn’t stop there.  When no additional follow-up seemed to materialize, on Oct 18, 2019, slightly over two weeks later, Althea told another therapist, whose name is Yesenia Flores.

Flores filed yet another SCAR with Monterey County CPS. This time, however, the SCAR named the alleged suspect, an LA County Detention Service Officer (DSO) named Ray Poole, who’d been on the job for more than a dozen years.

Since sexually abusing a juvenile is a crime,  Monterey Child Welfare notified local law enforcement of the allegation, namely the Salinas Police Department.  The Salinas cops, in turn, contacted the Downey police, which notified LA County Probation (the executive offices of which, are located in Downey, along with the now closed Los Padrinos juvenile hall, where Althea had been housed when the alleged crime had taken place).

This new report, in which the suspect was named, forced LA probation to again take notice of the girl’s story.

And so it was that, on November 5, 2019, a member of LA County Probation’s internal affairs unit again interviewed Althea about her allegations.  The interview was on the phone, and one of Althea’s therapists was also present on the interview call.

The interviewer was again Latasha Matthews, the same investigator and PREA expert who had interviewed Althea over six months before, in April 2019.  Another Internal Affairs investigator,  Supervising Deputy Probation Officer Paula Manning, was also reportedly assigned to the case.

“I remember”

At the conversation’s beginning,  Matthews brought up the earlier interview.

“I don’t know if you remember,” Matthews said, “but you and I talked a few months ago….”

Yes.  I do,” Althea said. She remembered.

After some initial awkwardness, Matthews began questioning the girl.

Althea explained that she had been a resident at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall from mid-October 2018, until January 2019, and that it was during her months in LP, as it was called, that her experiences with Poole began.

She was housed in a “high risk” unit in LP, Althea explained. “I was in the Hope Center.”

Roy Poole did not work directly in her unit, she said.  She came in contact with him because, “ he took me to hospital visits.”

Among his duties, Poole reportedly was one of those staff members who chaperone the kids who reside in the county’s various camps and juvenile halls when the kids must go somewhere away from their living facilities, such as court,  or to see a dentist, or to LA County + USC Hospital for some medical need or other, as was the case with Althea.

During the first hospital visit, according to Althea, Poole contrived to get her alone in the hospital’s lobby where she,  Poole, and another chaperone, a woman, were waiting to be called to see her doctor.

It was when the other chaperone was off on an errand, that Poole reportedly began his overtures, the girl said.  He pulled out his cell phone and began looking through photos.

“He was looking up, like, pictures and showing them to me.”

At first the photos were harmless. Then Detention Service Officer Poole allegedly pulled up some photos that the teenager described as “kind of inappropriate.”  They featured Poole shirtless and “grabbing himself,” she told Matthews.

“I looked away real quick,” Althea said.  But Poole allegedly persisted.

“He started asking me if I, like, liked the pictures.”

She didn’t know what to say, the girl told the interviewer.  “So, I was, like, ‘Sure.’”

Later in the visit, when she and her chaperones were moved to a visiting room, Poole continued to “flirt,” according to Althea.

“He was telling me, like, that I was beautiful, and that I have a nice body.  And he kind of grabbed my ass and things.”

According to Althea, the interaction in the hospital room was made possible only when the other chaperone was again sent on errands by Poole.  “He asked her to go do things.”

The abuse allegedly continued over approximately four or five of her regular trips to the hospital, Althea told Matthews, when Poole continued to be her chaperone,  even if, she said, it meant changing his schedule.

Over time, the DSO’s actions escalated, according to Althea, until they included digital penetration.

“I didn’t say ‘no’ or anything,” the girl told the IA interviewer, “so, I guess…um…I don’t know.”

Kindness or sexual “grooming?”

In between hospital visits, Althea said that Poole visited her in her unit, at which time he brought her chips, candy, and sometimes other food he’d bought at a restaurant.”

“Um, he’d be like, ‘Here’s this for my beautiful girl…'”

At one point, interviewer Matthews asked Althea about her assignment to The Hope Center, which was, at the time,  a very high control unit for kids with emotional issues, such as possible suicidality.

She was there, the girl said, “…because I’m…I have a lot of PTSD.  And I’m very antisocial.”

Althea described how Poole continued to contact her after she was transferred from Los Padrinos to Central Juvenile Hall, although he didn’t physically visit her at the second location.

The contact allegedly didn’t stop after she was transferred to the group home in Salinas, where Althea told Matthews that he contacted her regularly via Snapchat.

The girl and her therapist also told Matthews that they would send the screen shot they had managed to grab on the therapist’s phone showing one of Poole’s alleged communications.

Indeed, records that WLA has obtained show that the Salinas therapist forwarded the “exhibit” to IA investigator Matthews.

Dated May 4, 2019, the preserved Snapchat message reads: “How r u doing Miss you.”

Finally, near the end of the interview, Althea wanted to know what would happen next.

Matthews answered in generalities.

“He’s going to know it’s me,” Althea said softly to Matthews, who had to ask her to repeat her words.

This time she phrased it as a question.  “Is he going to know it’s me?”

The next day,  November 5, the day after the interview, Althea vanished from the group home.

She was located five days later, on November 10, 2019 and “remanded” into Monterey County Juvenile Hall.

The credibility factor

Althea’s September 5, 2019, interview is a painful one.  However, it is not proof of anything.

Nevertheless, sources with direct knowledge of the interview (which was recorded, and also transcribed as a PDF) reportedly found it credible.  WitnessLA’s sources inside LA County Probation, who are familiar with either the girl, or the details of the allegations, also found her story believable.

Several noted that she blamed herself.  And that she was frightened.

But, again, impressions are not the same as proof.  Whatever the case, Althea’s disquieting allegations were worthy of a fair but diligent investigation.

Yet, according to our sources, and documents WitnessLA has obtained, DSO Poole was not interviewed about the allegations of sexual abuse until August 2020 — more than ten months after Althea was interviewed in reaction to the Monterey County generated SCARS, and more than 16 months after her initial allegation in April 2019

Former Chief Terri McDonald was running the LA County Probation during this period,  but WitnessLA has not been able to confirm whether or not McDonald was aware of the allegations of sexual assault made on her watch.

But those on the original email chain did have knowledge of the girls’ allegations, according to WLA’s sources.

Nevertheless, Althea’s repeated attempts to tell her story were reportedly again relegated to under-the-rug status.

Finally, an investigation

And so matters remained until LA County Probation got a new interim Chief in the person of the former second-in-command of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Ray Leyva, who took the reins of the agency in January 2020.

Leyva began making changes right away.  Furthermore, people began telling him things that had vexed them about the previous administration.  One of the festering issues that reportedly came Leyva’s direction, was the never-investigated allegation of a teenage girl who said a staff member had sexually abused her.

“Ray was not at all happy,” said one probation source who spoke to the former chief about the issue.  “Not at all.  Especially when he learned that the staff member the teenager had accused was still working with kids in one of the juvenile halls.”

And so it was that probation’s internal affairs began an investigation in earnest.  In the course of the investigation,  Ray Poole was finally interviewed in mid-August, 2020.

In his interview, Poole  admitted bringing Althea food, and acknowledged having some interaction with her over social media. But he adamantly denied having a sexual interaction with her of any kind, physical or verbal.

In addition, he admitted to having social media interactions with  one other teenage resident of one of the juvenile halls, in addition to Althea.  In both cases, he said the interactions were initiated by the girls, not by him.  As to how girls in a youth jail environment  acquired his Snapchat moniker, which was different than simply his name, he was not clear.

In Althea’s case, he said that he brought her food and reached out to her because she was suicidal, and had no one else in her life.  “Her mother didn’t want her,” he said.

When asked why Althea would make the allegations of sexual abuse, Poole had a ready answer.  “The minor is mentally unstable,” he said. “She’s a Level 3 minor,” he added referring to her high security status.

Those aware of some of the details of the investigation have suggested that it was badly hampered by the passing of time, making potential youth witnesses and others who might have relevant information, largely unavailable, as they were no longer in custody.  (There were, however, a few staff members who were eventually interviewed who said they’d not seen anything suspicious, or words to that effect.)

Post interview, Poole was sent home on what is called ordered absence on August 20, 2020.

The final formal allegations and findings resulting from the investigation were as follows:

*Conduct towards members of the Public – Substantiated
*Employee Conduct – Substantiated
*Sexual Misconduct- Inconclusive
*Employee Client Relations- Substantiated
*Poor Judgment- Substantiated
*Food Service plan – Substantiated  

(The last designation refers to bringing Althea food.)

Ray Poole was terminated from Los Angeles County Probation on December 11th 2020 at 3:30 p.m.  He is reportedly appealing his termination.

However, when the investigation finally occurred, it was too late to reach out again to Althea to clarify issues, or to tell her that there had, in fact, been an investigation.

She ran away again from her Salinas placement on April 29, 2020 and, according to documents that WitnessLA has obtained, no officials in either county know where she is, or if she’s safe.

Meanwhile, experienced law enforcement sources we spoke with suggested that there should have been a criminal investigation into the allegations against the detention service officer.  But it appears that there wasn’t.

In one report, Investigator Matthews noted:  “Criminal matter remains pending due to Minor [girls name deleted here by WLA] absconding and whereabouts continue to remain unknown.”

Harm done

WitnessLA reached out to LA County Probation about Althea’s story, and they told us they could not legally comment on any part of an issue such as this one, involving a minor.

We did, however, also ask two prominent youth experts about probation’s handling of Althea’s allegations, and both expressed concern about her, and about kids like her.

“We know that it’s likely that she arrived in juvenile incarceration having had the kind of traumatic past experiences that make kids vulnerable to this kind of behavior,” said retired psychotherapist Wendy Smith, who is presently a Distinguished Continuing Scholar in Child Welfare at USC’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

“The fact she describes herself as having had PTSD suggests childhood trauma, especially since she uses that terminology,” Smith said. “I’ve worked with many survivors of childhood sexual abuse and one of the most pernicious aspects is that they experience the abuse as something about themselves...as opposed to something about the perpetrator.

And other thing about sexual abuse, said Smith, “is that the abuser makes it clear that it’s a secret, and shameful, and there will be bad consequences for sharing it.  This is true especially, if you’re incarcerated.  You know where the power is.”

Nevertheless, Smith said, “I give her a lot of credit for continuing to report her experiences.”

Shimica Gaskins, the Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund-California, pointed to similar issues.

Gaskin is a specialist in criminal justice reform and children’s rights, who also served as Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy of the U.S. Department of Justice.

“First we have to recognize that the number of young women who come into the juvenile justice system who have already been sexually assaulted or sexually abused is staggering,” Gaskins said. “As late as 2015 it was 31 percent — nearly one in three.

So, we know, she said, “that young women are already disproportionately very vulnerable and have experienced a lot of trauma when they come into custody with the probation department.”

As for Althea’s story, said Gaskin, “this is why we need to continue to push for oversight of probation, and those who are entrusted with the care of our children. to make sure that they are not causing more harm to those who we know have already been harmed.”

Wendy Smith particularly expressed concern about the potential damage done to a  young person who repeatedly makes a report like Althea’s, which then appears to go nowhere.

“You can imagine how traumatizing that would be,” Smith said.  “You bring yourself to say something about experiences that have already been traumatizing.  And then there are absolutely no consequences. How frightening that would be.  And how devaluing.

I think these have to have been crushing experiences, one after the other.”

One of WLA’s  veteran probation sources who worked in Central Juvenile Hall when Althea was in residence, expressed related concerns, noting that, given the dramatic lack of follow-up, the girl would have felt extremely unprotected.

“I mean the DSO’s job was on the line, and he knew where she was,” said the source.

“It’s a terrible thing that this youth did not feel protected by the probation system, either in the halls, or when she got released to placement,” the source said.

“I just hope nothing happened to this child.  We know she’s already been traumatized in her past, and this situation made things worse. She looked for help. But she’s probably not looking for help now.  And that’s sad.”

Accountability 

So, where do we go now with this story? What can we do to help future Altheas?  When we asked these questions, some of our veteran probation sources named accountability as the most critically needed goal at this moment.

“What is the department, and what are the board of supervisors going to do to hold them accountable?” asked one of WitnessLA’s veteran sources who works inside probation — “them,” meaning those in high positions who were informed about the allegations from the beginning, then reportedly and proactively allowed Althea’s case to go nowhere, until former Chief Leyva, came on board and insisted on a very belated investigation.

(Ray Leyva, who was always an interim chief, was replaced after a year in office, by the new permanent chief, Adolfo Gonzales, in January 2021.)

“And I don’t mean a reprimand,” said the source.  “My motto is ‘kids first.’  But that’s not what happened here.  They did harm.  Who’s going to hold them accountable?”

Good question.


Photo at top by Richard Ross from his widely honored book, Girls in Justice.


Post script

As many readers know, WLA has been taking a break from comments.

However after a number of persuasive requests, we have turned the comment section back on for this particular post. We welcome your thoughts.

(Y’all know the rules for commenting. #CivilityRUs. Don’t break ’em.)

9 Comments

  • Nothing is shocking any more. This is disgusting and not who we line staff are. Why do some people get their stuff swept under the rug and others get fired for a judgement call? The whole thing was reported in April 2019 to the head of Internal Affairs yet they didn’t interview the guy unit Aug 2020? Isn’t that a violation of POBAR? Who made the decision to not take him off line? Why was he allowed to have contact with minors? How many execs will get a pass on this one? This article just reinforces everything we already know — its not what you know its who you know. How many times has Alcantara and Donnel been named in shady stuff? I am curious to know how many cases get overturned in Civil Service. How many SCARS was Alcantara/Fragosa named in throughout her career? And they continue to be execs in the Dept. Looks like Leyva had to push to get this investigated. Now that Gonzalez knows is he going to do anything? We have been waiting six months for him to do SOMETHING to show us that things have to change. We continue to beg for leadership at 9150 and at our facilities. How long before something traumatic happens?

  • How many times has something like this happened and it was covered up? This is just another sad illustration of the incompetence at Downey Headquarters. Instead of being proactive leaders and handling this horrible incident promptly they sat on it. The DSO was not promptly pulled off the line while due process took place. Since the investigation was mishandled and the department missed the POBAR date, the DSO will probably be reinstated with back pay and benefits.

    The line staff wait year after year, chief after chief, hoping that changes will take place with the upper management team. Alcantara has skated through so many scandals that we expect nothing will happen to her again. A friend related to me that after this article appeared, Alcantara allegedly asked participants of a management meeting if anyone wanted her autograph. This arrogance and the failure to protect the children in our care must not continue.

    The citizens of the County deserve accountability and transparency and the Board of Supervisors need to support Chief Gonzalez and allow him to make the managerial changes that will finally clean up this organization.

    We are all waiting to see if these changes happen.

  • Alcantara/Fragosa is some how untouchable. She’s the most corrupt manager in Downey and has been for a long time. She should’ve been terminated if she knew about these allegations and “swept it under the rug”. It’s not the first time she’s done this and it won’t be the last.

  • It is inexcusable that this man was allowed to continue working around minors given the seriousness of the allegations made in 2019. It was a mistake for all concerned. It is unfortunate that Probation officials cannot comment re what happened here as it leaves a gap in the facts – but it doesn’t look good. As an aside, it is troubling that a top Probation administrator allegedly made such an arrogant comment (as noted in the post by “Not Expecting Change”). It suggests that a dismissiveness about the seriousness of what happened and a poor example for subordinates. I sure hope that is not true. If it is Probation has some big problems at HQ.

  • Alcantara is rough around the edges and incompetent. How in the world is she still in a leadership position? Sad.

  • Mark Garcia and Dalailah Alcantara are the epitome of “failing up”. In all my years in the Department, I never understood how such incompetent and self-aggrandizing people continue to find refuge in the hierarchy of the department. It is an outrage! The endless revolving door of chiefs makes it easy for bottom feeders to snake their way up the chain of command. Such a pity for the minors, rank-and-file and taxpayers.

  • I also endured this kind of treatment actually being sexually involved with two officers in which I also made the probation department aware and I was ignored made to feel ashamed and called a liar. The probation officers look out for each other in there they all have each other’s back. After I told I was talking to a female staff about it and her response to me was , ” I don’t know why these niggas be fucking with yall cuz they know when yall get mad that’s the first thing yall gone do is tell” she wasn’t even upset that it was going on she was WELL aware of how often it happens just didn’t understand why it was happen but wasn’t looking to make any changes either

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