Last Wednesday, October 18, a kid in residence at Los Angeles County Probation’s Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall 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 Narcan.
As it turned out, one dose of Narcan wasn’t enough. It took three doses of the stuff to stabilize the youth to the point that he could safely be transported to a hospital.
According to our sources with knowledge of the matter, it wasn’t the first time the young man took a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl. He also overdosed approximately three weeks prior to last Wednesday’s overdose, and again was saved by Narcan. On that occasion, it was a probation staff member at Los Padrinos who administered Naloxone, the generic name for the life-saving medication that can reverse an overdose from opioids.
While it is very good news that the young man survived, the fact that he was able to acquire the death-dealing substance, makes clear that someone (or several someones) is bringing the drug into the Downey-located youth facility.
LP, as the facility is known for short, was supposed to have been pretty much contraband free since approximately 300 young people in LA County Probation’s care were moved to Los Padrinos in July, having been transferred from the county’s other two highly troubled youth facilities, Central Juvenile Hall , and Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall.
(The transfers were made in response to a May 23, 2023, vote by the members of The California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), who voted unanimously to legally declare LA County Probation’s two main youth lock-ups “unsuitable” for habitation by kids or young adults.
(As it turned out, the “unsuitable,” designation didn’t apply to all the young people at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile hall, but that’s another topic altogether.)
Getting back to the matter at hand, as it turns out, LP is not drug free at all.
Moreover, the double overdose by the young man residing at Los Padrinos is not the only bad news having to do with the struggle to get deadly narcotics out of the county’s youth facilities.
Earlier this month, on October 4, three of probation’s in-house investigators who have reportedly made measurable progress in locating the sources of the fentanyl that has continued to show up all year in Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall—and now LP—have been removed from duty and sent home on an “ordered absence,” for reasons that are still unclear.
Since being sent home, the three have acquired an attorney named Tom Yu, who is representing them in what has become a whistleblower lawsuit against the county.
In the meantime, according to attorney Yu, in the course of their investigation, the team had discovered two longtime and very productive fentanyl sources, who were employed at Barry J Nidorf. They reported their allegations to probation higher-ups. Yet, according to our conversation with Yu, one or both of the two alleged dealers are still at work at the Sylmar facility.
The year of youth overdoses
As WitnessLA has written previously, conditions at Barry J, as it is called for verbal convenience, have been unsafe for both young people, and in some cases, staff.
In early February of this year, five kids overdosed on fentanyl, with one of the five kids overdosing twice. The good news was that, as with the Los Padrinos’ overdosing kid, in each of the February cases, staff members were able to administer Narcan, and the afflicted young people were subsequently transported to medical facilities and survived.
The bad news was that fentanyl continued to make its way into the Sylmar facility, seemingly with little problem.
In early March, the LA County Board of Supervisors responded to the ongoing plague of overdoses at Barry J—along with a couple of stabbings by two different kids that barely missed being lethal—by firing then probation chief Adolfo Gonzales. In the former chief’s place, the board hired his second-in-command, Karen Fletcher, who was soon gone too.
In early April, the board brought in an outsider named Guillermo Viera Rosa, as their next interim chief.
Meanwhile, the drugs kept coming and, on May 9, of this year, the worst happened. An 18-year-old boy in the county’s care named Bryan Diaz died of a fentanyl overdose at Barry J.
“The reports of a young life senselessly lost and young people endangered while in custody are horrifying and unacceptable,” wrote Attorney General Rob Bonta, upon learning the news.
“Bryan Diaz was my mentee,” said Scott Budnick, the justice advocate and film producer who is the founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), and is known for showing up at Barry J to work with kids nearly every Saturday.
“He was an incredible young man. He was on a real path of change,” Budnick said of Diaz. “It was very hard, he said, “to see a coroner’s van come into the facility. And to see my mentee’s body removed sixteen hours later.”
Brian Diaz and most of the other youth who overdosed, albeit non fatally, were part of the group in the Secure Youth Track Facility—or SYTF—which refers to the units at Barry J that house the youth who, in previous years, would have been sent to California’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the state’s youth prison system.
(DJJ, which was a division of the state’s adult prison system, was permanently shuttered this past summer, meaning that the youth who previously would have been assigned to the state system, now are overseen by their respective home counties.)
In response to Brian Diaz’s death by contraband narcotics, Guillermo Viera Rosa, who was, by then the permanent chief of the agency, reportedly asked the small but experienced cluster of probation supervisors who had been investigating how drugs were getting into the youth facilities, to push their investigation harder.
The threesome reportedly did indeed ramp up their probe and made noticeable progress with the support of the new superiors who were installed by Viera Rosa at Sylmar.
But, still the drugs continued to get in. This fact was painfully demonstrated in June 2023, when, over a five-day period, eleven more overdoses occurred at Barry J, all of which required Narcan intervention and in some of the cases, an emergency trip to the hospital.
In July, a female staff member at Barry J (whose name we are withholding) was escorted from the building after allegedly being found to be providing narcotics for some of the facility’s youth.
Yet she didn’t appear to be dealing in any kind of serious quantities, and the group continued to push harder.
There were a few cases of other employees caught on video supplying narcotics and/or other contraband to youth. They were reported turned over to internal affairs.
On August 27, a mother was arrested at Barry J for bringing in120 Xanax pills reportedly laced with fentanyl. And there were other arrests.
Gradually, it seems, the arrests seemed to make a difference.
With these changes in mind, on Saturday, Sept 30, Scott Budnick sent a note (which WLA has as well) to a cluster of probation administrators about the progress he was seeing on his Saturday visits to Sylmar.
“Dear All,” Budnick wrote. “For the first time since I stepped into Barry J Nidorf juvenile hall in February 2004, this morning, EVERY SINGLE YOUNG MAN IN THE FACILITY WAS SOBER. And per staff, the young men have been sober for at least 2 weeks.”
(The enthusiastic caps are Budnick’s, not ours.)
Budnick described the change as “historic,” and a very difficult feat to accomplish in any correctional setting.
He also suggested that when a couple of the youth who’d allegedly been distributing fentanyl to other youth, were sent to county jail by those investigating, this “sent a serious message to the other youth that distribution of fentanyl won’t be tolerated.”
The message communicated by the arrests “has probably saved lives,” several youth in residence told Budnick.
On September 28, of this year, the team of investigators, in cooperation with LA County Sheriff’s arrested another young man who had been in residence at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, and transported him to Los Angeles County Jail.
For some time, the team had been investigating a young adult, whose name is Nicolas Ibarra. They had come to believe he was one of the residents of SYTF who were responsible for sales of fentanyl to other youth residents.
Eventually, according to the sequence of events provided to us by attorney Tom Yu, and confirmed by other sources, the team of investigators allegedly caught Ibarra with a significant amount of fentanyl.
The team of Supervising Deputy Probation Officers (SDPOs) contacted prosecutors from the major narcotics division of the LA County DA’s office, who helped coordinate the investigation of Ibarra, and his eventual arrest on September 28.
Most importantly, during the course of the investigation, Ibarra reportedly disclosed that he was getting his stream of drugs from two men employed by probation, who’d been supplying him with fentanyl inside Barry J for approximately two years.
The two drug sources named by Ibarra, according to an account sent to WLA by Tom Yu, were “an active duty probation officer,” and a college teacher, both of whom work at Barry J Nidorf, and allegedly have been funneling the fentanyl into the facility, where it was then allegedly sold by Ibarra and others like him to SYTF youth.
According to Yu, after the arrest of Ibarra, on Oct 4, the team of SDPO investigators were asked for a debrief regarding the investigation, et al. Luis Dominguez, who had recently been promoted to Deputy Director of Internal Affairs, reportedly requested the debrief. Also present was Lt. Eric Strong, who is on loan to probation from the LA County Sheriff’s Department.
(Lt. Strong, as readers may remember, was one of the candidates who ran for LA County Sheriff in the primary race of 2022.)
The meeting that was described as a debrief turned into something far more aggressive, according to the account the team of investigators later gave their attorney.
At the meeting’s end, all three of the investigative team—SDPO Torres, SDPO Corona, and SDPO Sakoda were placed on administrative leave, where they remain as of this writing.
Yet, while the investigators have been sent home, to date, the probation officer whom the investigative team named as being a primary source of fentanyl at Barry J is reportedly still employed, and still at work inside the youth facility, according to Yu.
In the meantime, now that the team of investigators have been removed from duty, at least for now, it is not clear who is policing the issue of narcotics making their way into LA County Probation’s two youth halls.
Given that a kid living at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall has overdosed twice on fentanyl in the last few weeks, the question is a pressing one.