Investigation of Taser Use at Sonoma Developmental Center Called For

Sonoma County D.A. Jill Ravitz responds to advocates with renewed investigation into allegations

By Bay City News Service

Advocates for the developmentally disabled Friday called for an investigation into reports 12 adults at the Sonoma Developmental Center near Sonoma were tortured with Tasers a year ago. The groups gathered at the Sonoma County Superior Courthouse, where they met with District Attorney Jill Ravitch late last month.

Members of The Arc of California, the Developmental Disability Council and the Parent Hospital Association for the Sonoma Developmental Center also urged Gov. Jerry Brown to sign five legislative bills that protect developmentally disabled persons from abuse and expedite reporting procedures.

Tony Anderson, executive director of The Arc of California, said advocates for the developmentally disabled asked Ravitch to conduct a concurrent investigation into the reports of Taser use at the Center in Eldridge on Sept. 26, 2011.

In a Sept. 12 letter to Anderson following her meeting with the advocates on Aug. 29, Ravitch said the state Office of Protective Services has reopened its investigation into the Taser allegations.

In the letter, Ravitch said her office rarely initiates independent investigations and that any such request should be made to a local law enforcement agency.

Ravitch said the county sheriff's office previously offered to assist the Office of Protective Services with the investigation. Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas said the OPS declined any assistance.

Ravitch said one of her investigators will help assure the OPS investigation is thorough and complete. She said her office also has contacted the state Attorney General's Office and the FBI.

"A chief deputy district attorney has reviewed the entire case and will continue to evaluate additional reports as they are received," Ravitch said in her letter to Anderson.

"We are encouraged by this progress, but still have concerns about who is doing the investigation and how violent abuse is reported to local law enforcement agencies," Anderson said.

Anderson said the state Penal Code gives state and local law enforcement agencies "concurrent jurisdiction" to investigate elder and dependent abuse and other crimes against victims with disabilities.

According to an article published last month by California Watch, a team of reporters with the Center for Investigative Reporting, an anonymous caller accused caregiver Archie Millora of abusing at least 11 of the severely disabled patients at the Sonoma Developmental Center.

In response to the report, Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Spencer Brady said the Sonoma Developmental Center's in-house police, the Office of Protective Services, found a loaded 40-caliber Glock handgun and a Taser stun gun in Millora's vehicle after it received the anonymous tip.

The Office of Protective Services did an administrative investigation and determined the Taser in Millora's vehicle was not the weapon that was used to inflict the wounds on the patients, Brady said.

Millora was arrested on Feb. 11 on misdemeanor charges of carrying a concealed weapon in a vehicle and carrying a loaded firearm in a public place on Sept. 27, 2011, according to Sonoma County Superior Court records.

He pleaded no contest on April 2 to the concealed weapon charge and was sentenced to three years' probation and 20 days in Sonoma County Jail.

Advocates for the developmentally disabled want Gov. Brown to sign SB 1551, a bill by state Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. The bill requires a developmental center to immediately report a death, sexual or physical assault to local law enforcement regardless of whether the Office of Protective Services has investigated the incident, and to prepare a written report to local law enforcement within two working days.

A bill by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, would require a mandated reporter to inform local law enforcement by phone within two hours of observing, learning of or suspecting physical abuse in a long-term care facility.

Parent Hospital Association President Kathleen Miller, whose son is living in the Sonoma Development Center, said the victims of the Taser use were patients with behavior issues.

"If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere. This is the tip of the iceberg," Miller said.

Joseph Flanagan, who was a resident of the Sonoma Developmental Center between 1955, when he was 12 years old, and 1963, said he saw patients pushed against walls, slapped, hit, knocked to the ground, struck with belts and had their beds tipped over.

"I want people to be safe and the abuse stopped. I want them to have their freedom and rights," Flanagan said.


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