A recent lawsuit claims hundreds of cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by probation and detention officers in Los Angeles County juvenile detention facilities against minors, including those at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar.
The lawsuit, filed on Dec. 20 by ACTS Law, claims that the 279 plaintiffs it represents were abused by officers, including allegations of grooming, unsupervised inmate access that led to verbal and physical abuse and inadequate training of employees on proper standards.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs said the county failed hundreds of minors through negligence, including a lack of adequate hiring policies to screen for potential sexual predators, and the county failed to provide the juveniles with necessary supervision to keep them safe from harm.
The alleged assaults, which range from occurring in the 1970s to 2018, took place at multiple LA County juvenile detention centers — Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar was one of them.
In 1997, a juvenile’s breasts and vagina were fondled by an officer. Another juvenile was fondled on his penis in 2002, and another male was raped by an officer in 2005. In 2017, a guard forced themself on another male juvenile, kissing him on the mouth and making him perform oral sex before raping him.
For Douglas Rochen, the lead attorney in this case, this kind of lawsuit is not as uncommon as people may think, citing the October 2022 case when a UCLA obstetrician-gynecologist was convicted of sexual abuse and thousands of women claimed sexual abuse by the doctor.
“When you’ve got a history of decades long abuse within a juvenile facility in which people have not paid attention, then there will be hundreds of victims over the course of, I believe we’ve uncovered, at least 40 plus years of history,” Rochen said.
Rochen could not state exactly how many of the plaintiffs’ claims came from Nidorf — simply saying there were “a lot.”
“It goes on and on and on and on,” Rochen said. “There’s no one [allegation] that’s worse than that, they’re all equally repulsive.”
Although Rochen said that only the county will know the true reason why these allegations of abuse have been going on for as long as they have, he believes that it is a combination of people looking the other way and not paying enough attention.
“You as an institution, whether you’re a corporation or municipality or a county, have a duty to look for known or reasonably ascertainable suspicion of sexual misconduct,” Rochen said. “So you have an affirmative duty, especially in the context of juveniles that were in custody, to keep a watchful eye for those individuals.
“[At Nidorf], they did not have the proper checks and balances in place to protect these victims from sexual predators that were hired by the county without any real background check,” Rochen continued. “Certainly not supervised and certainly not adequately trained in order to guard these children against violent abuse.
“And then the other thing is to the extent that these victims made complaints, whether it was to a supervisor or to another probationary officer, or their social worker, anyone within the county system, those complaints went unaddressed.”
Rochen described how when victims at Nidorf Juvenile Hall did make complaints of sexual abuse, they were transferred out of the facility. No action was taken against their abuser.
Nidorf Juvenile Hall is no stranger to controversy. In August 2022, more than four dozen youth offenders were transferred out of the facility, which was described by then county Board of Supervisors Chair Holly Mitchell as having “a dangerously unhealthy and unsafe climate.”
State regulators even described the facility as “unsuitable for confinement of youth” due to complaints of a lack of rehabilitative services and maggots found in the food.
Based upon months of research, Rochen and his team have found a “fairly significant pattern of abuse” throughout the facilities where minors would be abused by the same individual over a period of years. He said the only way this keeps occurring is if somebody isn’t paying attention to the clear sign, which he described as grooming type behavior.
“Simply being alone with them, giving the opportunities to these abusers to be able to select whatever individuals they wanted in [these facilities] to take into a quiet secluded area to be used for their own sexual gratification is exactly what we try to avoid.
“We as a community need to hold the county responsible for what it should be doing for our children who make mistakes,” Rochen continued. “Instead of providing structure and that parental guidance, while they’re outside of the presence of their own biological parents, we’ve thrown them in the wolves’ den to be victimized.”
Rochen and his team hope that the lawsuit will cause the county to change its system and provide a more protective environment for juveniles, as well as provide compensation to the victims so they can get the resources and receive treatment for their trauma.