LOS ANGELES– A Los Angeles County-run shelter meant to be a safe space for children while awaiting placement in foster homes has for decades been a den of sexual predators among staff — and some residents — who preyed on children as young as 5, according to a complaint filed Thursday by dozens of former residents.
Some of the more than 30 plaintiffs spoke at a press conference and wept and shivered as they detailed the abuse and some victims’ attempts to escape the barbed wire fences and guarded gates to the room. Among the victims was a 6-year-old boy who, in 1990, was assaulted by a male staff member who locked the boy in a closet as punishment for screaming during the assault, according to the lawsuit.
Jonathan Wright, 39, showed off the t-shirt he received when he first attended MacLaren Children’s Center in El Monte aged 8. He said he was sexually abused by a doctor there.
“To this day, I hate being around doctors,” he said, sobbing.
Staff members often turned a blind eye to assaults and misconduct at the facility, where children were routinely placed in solitary confinement, drugged and restrained in chairs, according to the lawsuit.
(Editor’s note: This story includes a discussion of sexual violence. If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656 -4673.)
The Associated Press generally does not name victims of sexual assault unless they give permission.
Octavia Evans said she was 12 when she was abused. She was brave enough to report it to the staff and said they took it to their boss – who was her abuser.
Now 36, Evans spoke to any former MacLaren staff who might have watched the press conference: “We were kids, and we trusted you to take care of us – not to hurt us.”
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages. It is the second to be brought recently against the county in relation to allegations of sexual abuse of adopted children at the facility, also known as MacLaren Hall.
Victims’ attorneys say they have more than 200 clients who claim they were abused at the facility. The lawsuit says county officials inside and outside the room knew or should have known about the abuse and failed to act.
“MacLaren Hall became a dumping ground for the most vulnerable in society, including minors without parents or minors whose parents were unable to care for them,” the lawsuit said. “Children were frequently removed from abusive homes and placed in MacLaren Hall only to be abused again.”
The facility opened in 1961 and was overseen by the County Probation Service, then in 1976 it was placed under the jurisdiction of the County Department of Child and Family Services. More than 20,000 children passed through the hall before it closed in 2003.
A complaint was lodged in May by eight women and four men, including one who was 5 in 1988 when he said he was assaulted by a male member of staff in a bathroom.
Child and Family Services released a statement declining to comment on the lawsuit, but said the allegations “will be thoroughly investigated.”
“Our department has many safeguards in place to protect the children in our care and to hold accountable those who violate laws and policies,” the statement said.
MacLaren was shut down in 2003 after the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and other organizations filed class action lawsuits alleging inhumane treatment by staff and a failure to investigate reports of abuse. An ACLU report described the conditions as “Dickensian”, with children so neglected they amounted to “government-sponsored child abuse”.
Los Angeles County settled the lawsuit with the ACLU and paid compensation to some victims.
MacLaren did not perform background checks on staff until 2001. After checks were implemented, 17 staff members were found to have criminal backgrounds that should have disqualified them from hiring, attorney Adam P said. .Slater.
“It was medieval in the way it was run. … MacLaren Hall had more in common with a children’s prison than a safe place for children, Slater said.
The plaintiffs were able to sue because of a California law that took effect in 2020 that suspended for three years the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue.
The California statute of limitations for filing certain felony sexual abuse charges expires when a child victim turns 40. any criminal investigation on behalf of MacLaren’s victims.
Lawyers for the victims say they are unaware of a criminal investigation involving MacLaren since the mid-1980s, when five employees were arrested on suspicion of child molestation and selling drugs to children, according to the lawsuit.