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Child abuse investigation leads to law banning faraway treatment programs

A building with a clock tower
The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper building in 2009.
(Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, July 29. I’m Justin Ray.

I wanted to highlight an investigation that had a big, positive impact on vulnerable youths in the state.

This month, California banned the practice of sending foster kids and teens charged with crimes to distant residential treatment programs. Assembly Bill 808, which was introduced by Santa Cruz Democrat Mark Stone and integrated into a larger budget bill, was created after an in-depth investigation by nonprofit news outlet the Imprint and the San Francisco Chronicle.

The investigation found that state officials sent more than 1,240 kids to such facilities in the past six years. The treatment centers were run by Sequel Youth & Family Services, a “for-profit, $500-million company backed by Bay Area investors.”

While many kids attended Sequel programs unharmed, several children at institutions in Michigan, Iowa, Wyoming, Arizona and Utah “who were disproportionately Black, suffered everything from broken bones to sexual assault at the hands of employees,” the investigation found, citing police records, lawsuits and interviews with former residents, staff members and youth advocates.

In response to the investigation, California’s social services department “decertified all out-of-state residential treatment programs in December, temporarily ending the practice of shipping foster children to distant facilities,” according to the news outlets. When Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the budget bill this month, he “effectively made the ban permanent starting July 1, 2022.”

The California Department of Social Services declined to comment on the new law to The Times, but pointed to a page on its website showing updates on placing youths out of state. The latest report shows that no kids are in facilities outside California.

Three requests for comment emailed to Sequel Youth & Family Services were not returned in time for publication. A call to Sequel’s “integrity and ethics hotline” was answered by a representative who said she would pass along the request for a response to the emails, but none was provided by the company.

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A response from Sequel officials was included, however, in the Imprint/SF Chronicle investigation, via a crisis management director at a public relations firm.

“Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we do not live up to our high standards,” Sequel officials wrote in the emailed statement. “But there are also many, many successes at Sequel — and we will continue to find our purpose, energy and passion in the stories of those we will help, while working hard to improve in areas where we fall short.”

A fatal confrontation at a Michigan facility managed by Sequel made national headlines in 2020. Seven staff members piled on top of Black teen Cornelius Fredericks after he threw a sandwich in a cafeteria at the Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo. The 16-year-old cried out, “I can’t breathe.” The teen died of cardiac arrest two days later. The attorney representing the Fredericks family released video of the incident.

Two of the academy workers were charged with involuntary manslaughter, while a third was charged with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse. At the time, one-third of the roughly 120 children at Lakeside were from California.

Sequel fired Lakeside’s executive director and all of the staff members involved, the company said at the time. It also said it was cooperating with investigators.

“We strongly support the decision of the prosecutor’s office to bring criminal charges, which was based on a very thorough law enforcement investigation,” Sequel told the New York Times at the time. “We will continue to fully cooperate throughout this process to ensure justice is served.”

I would encourage you all to read the full stories above, which include a lot more information.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California.

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

California urges wearing masks indoors as coronavirus spike worsens. Health officials are urging fully vaccinated Californians to resume wearing masks in indoor public settings. “This adds an extra precautionary measure for all to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, especially in communities currently seeing the highest transmission rates,” the guidance states. Los Angeles County on Wednesday sent an alert to residents saying COVID-19 cases were rising rapidly and urging people to get vaccinated. Los Angeles Times

A Pasadena startup got billions selling COVID tests. Then came questions. Innova Medical Group, a company that formed at the start of the pandemic, became an unlikely global supplier of COVID-19 tests. It was founded by Charles Huang, a 57-year-old former Chinese auto executive who settled in the San Gabriel Valley. Innova secured multiple government contracts estimated to be worth at least $2.7 billion and has sold more than 1 billion tests worldwide. But the company has been dogged by controversy. Los Angeles Times

A worker holds boxes
A nursing-home worker handles boxes of rapid COVID-19 tests on Nov. 17 in England.
(Hugh Hastings / Getty Images)

L.A. STORIES

L.A. finalizes its anti-camping law, setting the stage for vote-by-vote enforcement. The Los Angeles City Council gave final approval Wednesday to an ordinance outlawing camping around parks, libraries and other facilities, over objections from critics who said it would punish people for living on the streets. The measure, approved on a 13-2 vote, had been billed as a more humane way to clear the city’s sidewalks, alleys and open spaces, with outreach teams offering shelter and services to those who are unhoused. The ordinance now heads to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who previously promised to sign it. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

In Irvine, a battle over a military cemetery has pitted veterans, residents and politicians against each other. In a county often criticized for its “not in my backyard” mentality, Irvine has long railed against anything that doesn’t fit with its idea of a master-planned community. The controversy over a veterans cemetery has been brewing since at least 2014, yet veterans — thousands of whom settle every year in Orange County after retiring from the military — say they’ve largely been sidelined from discussions. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

A 20-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder in a double shooting that killed an 18-year-old woman and badly injured a 19-year-old man in a movie theater in Corona, police said Wednesday. Joseph Jimenez was arrested on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and robbery and was being held in lieu of $2-million bail, Corona police said. Investigators have not identified a motive in the shooting, which appeared to have been “an unprovoked attack.” Police identified the victims as Rylee Goodrich, 18, of Corona, who was pronounced dead at the scene, and Anthony Barajas, 19, also of Corona, who hospitalized in grave condition. Los Angeles Times

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

California fines grocery stores for not giving virus leave. Three El Super grocery stores have been cited and fined for not providing or delaying paid sick leave to 95 employees affected by COVID-19. Some employees had to work while sick, while others were encouraged to apply for unemployment while quarantining or in isolation, and others waited months to be paid, according to a statement from the state Labor Commissioner’s Office. Citations including fines totaling more than $447,000 were issued to El Super stores in Los Angeles, Lynwood and Victorville. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Los Angeles street food vendors hopeful about new cart design approval. Health codes and aggressive enforcement by inspectors have made running a tamale wagon difficult. But in April, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health approved a new cart designed by Richard Gomez, who worked as a street vendor himself and has worked for years trying to develop a code-compliant cart. Capital & Main / LA TACO

Bakersfield gave a hero’s sendoff with a procession for Phillip Campas, the Kern County sheriff’s deputy who lost his life in a hostage standoff Sunday afternoon. “It’s a very sad day but it’s beautiful to see all these officers and everybody out for their support for the law enforcement community,” Paul Martinez, a Bakersfield father, said. KGET

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Get a strawberry margarita for thirsty Thursday, 85. San Diego: One of the BEST breakfasts I’ve ever had in my life was at Gaslamp Breakfast Co. in San Diego. I ordered “The Goat,” which is this omelet with grilled onions, bacon and goat cheese. I also got fruit instead of the home fries. I’m not lying to you, it was so good that when I got home I tried to make it three times and failed miserably every time. It’s gonna be 79, by the way. San Francisco: 67. San Jose: Go for a bike ride! 86. Fresno: 105. Sacramento: 103.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Shelby Coleman:

Long summer days of my childhood are a blur.  Running the streets of Eagle Rock with my siblings. Only one moment stands out in perfect clarity: Our mom was screaming for us to “Get in the house right now!” Normally we would ignore that, but she was adamant. We rushed into the cool, dark house and she was practically hysterical. The TV wasn’t working, so she stood next to the radio and commanded we sit down and listen. It was July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong’s voice crackled through the air, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Wow.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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