Juv Offenders Sue California County

Five inmates at a group home for adolescent boys are suing San Mateo County, California, and Project 90, the nonprofit subcontractor that was hired to provide rehab services at the Bay Area home, claiming that the county failed to protect them from a sexual predator working for Project 90. The allegations are not in question; according to the San Mateo County Times, “The youth counselor, Cardell Demond Brown, was convicted in August in Superior Court of multiple felony and misdemeanor counts of sexual abuse and sentenced to four years in San Quentin State Prison, court records show.”

Though the allegations are solid, the plaintiffs face a statute-of-limitations challenge. As the Times reports,

Individuals who want to sue a governmental entity, such as the county, must first make a claim before filing suit–and they are required to make that claim within six months of the alleged wrongdoing. Because the teenagers were abused more than six months ago, their attorney was forced to petition the county to file a late claim.

The Board of Supervisors denied the teens’ petition to file a late claim in October. But plaintiffs’ attorney Gundlach is confident that a Superior Court judge will allow him to file the lawsuit, because state law allows minors one year–not just six months–to file a claim against a governmental entity.

The case will be reviewed January 15. I’ll be keeping an eye on it for two reasons: One, if it moves forward, the case will address the pressing issue of whether a county is responsible for the actions of its contractors. And two, following California’s Senate bill SB 81 (passed earlier this year), the state will be handing off as many as half of its wards to county facilities over the next few years. As the population at the county level swells, the attention will shift to their practices and personnel, not to mention their Rolodex of subcontractors. This case could be a one-off or an early warning sign of what’s to come.

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