May 14, 2021
In November 2020, broad restructuring efforts within local law enforcement organizations were announced, including a $150 million cut to the Los Angeles Police Department’s budget. Local NBC 4 News reported that the budget cuts would include a plan to move a total of 234 officers back into patrol, reduce desk hours at various LAPD stations, cut special deployments, and stop staffing teams that cover homelessness issues. Additionally, NBC 4 reported that a type of ‘SVU’ team within the LAPD (similar to the “Special Victims Unit” from the popular “Law & Order” TV series) would be dissolved under initial reorganization plans.
The Sexual Assault Unit at the LAPD’s Robbery Homicide Division will reportedly be shuttered, with its 12 detectives and one lieutenant reassigned. High-profile sex crime investigations such as the Harvey Weinstein case, the Ron Jeremy case, and the case involving former USC physician, George Tyndall, were all headed by the Sexual Assault Unit. According to NBC 4, the LAPD has confirmed it will attempt to keep detectives and officers with “unique skills working within their areas of expertise as the department reorganizes in response to current and anticipated budget cuts.” But the report also indicated that some officials have expressed worry over a potential loss of knowledge in handling certain delicate or complex cases, namely sex crimes.
The NBC 4 report noted that the Robbery Homicide Division’s (RHD) Sexual Assault Unit has successfully investigated “complex matters, sometimes involving serial acquaintance rapes, previously unsolved cases with new DNA leads, and stranger abductions.” Moreover, the report highlighted the fact that these specially trained detectives typically “have had more time to dedicate to each investigation than those assigned to neighborhood police stations.”
“I hope it doesn’t have a negative effect,” Yvette Lozano told NBC 4. Lozano is the chief programs and operations officer with Peace Over Violence, a non-profit in L.A. advocating for survivor-victims of sexual and domestic violence.
“The specialist detectives at RHD have had additional training and often many years of experience that helps them connect with crime victims and insure they feel safe in interviews and in court,” Lozano said. “My concern is that victims do not get discouraged and know they can still report assaults,” she added. “I wonder if they will get the same response if there’s some serial rapist out there. Will the case be solved as quickly as it was with the dedicated unit at RHD?”
As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, proving a rape case against a former boyfriend or acquaintance can be difficult as a civil matter. As a criminal matter, where the burden of proof is much higher, proving an acquaintance or serial rape case can be overwhelmingly trying and complex. At Dordulian Law Group (DLG), we represent sexual assault survivors every day. Given the news of sweeping budget cuts, and the potential impact they could have on sexual assault survivors, this piece is an effort to examine the subject more closely and provide readers who may be concerned with as much information as possible.
DLG’s founder and president, Sam Dordulian, began his career as a sex crimes prosecutor, serving as Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County. Dordulian finds the news of the budget cuts – relative to their effect on sex crime investigations – to be troubling.
“This is a unique type of crime that requires a specially trained professional – someone with a specific disposition, but also with a passion for working with survivors. Rapes, child abuse, human trafficking cases – these aren’t the kinds of crimes that should be handled by just anyone. Experience is essential,” Dordulian says.
DLG’s Chief Investigator, Moses Castillo, recently retired as a detective with the LAPD. Castillo spent the bulk of his nearly 30-year career in the department’s elite Abused Child Unit, which is essentially ‘SVU,’ but with a strict focus on investigating childhood sex crimes.
“It’s senseless,” says Castillo. “Cutting the budget with a scalpel, with attention to detail is one thing. But they’re taking a cleaver to it without considering the impact on crime victims – specifically sex crime survivors,” he adds.
Both Dordulian and Castillo have spent years handling some of the city’s most notorious and truly odious sex crime cases. They’ve seen what it takes to successfully investigate that type of crime, develop a legal strategy, and convict serial rapists, child predators, human traffickers, and more. And they’re not the only ones concerned with the potential ramifications of these budget cuts for sexual assault survivors – both in terms of handling current crimes and helping to prevent future assaults.
In January, the Los Angeles Times reported on a Police Commission hearing where police officers with first-hand accounts of “rescuing children from sex traffickers” called on the City Council to protect the LAPD’s anti-trafficking efforts from budget cuts.
“Anything less, in my opinion, is an abdication of our responsibility as a city,” said Vice President of the Police Commission, William Briggs, during the panel’s weekly virtual meeting.
In an exchange that included Briggs expressing himself passionately (with “anger” according to the L.A. Times), his frustration over the lack of resources being allocated to law enforcement fighting the buying and selling of children was palpable.
“It outrages me that it is still going on and [that] we would have those who would say, ‘Oh, don’t allow the police to go in and help the victims,'” Briggs said. “That simply outrages me to no end.”
At Briggs’ urging, the panel voted unanimously to submit a report to the City Council detailing the impact of recent budget cuts on the LAPD’s anti-trafficking work. A letter directly requesting that the council ensure that funding is “restored and protected” will also be submitted, according to the Times. And law enforcement officials were not alone in urging such action. Sexual assault advocates as well as survivors of sex crimes came forward to make their own personal pleas.
As the Times reported, local resident, Oree Freeman, described being pushed into sex work at age 11 in South-Central L.A. She detailed horrific accounts of being raped “seven to 15 times a night” and struggling for years to break free before “connecting with mentors in the police department who helped her get out.”
“It’s a very hard journey to not just survive in the life but… to get back on your feet and keep going,” Freeman said. She also recognized the LAPD for “shifting its focus away from thinking of teenage sex workers as ‘prostitutes’ to defending them as ‘victims and survivors.'” She implored the City Council to realize that the “highly trained officers in the LAPD’s anti-trafficking task forces … get to know kids caught up in trafficking – and eventually get them out,” and that the budget for this type of law enforcement “must be protected.”
The Times also reported that a case manager with the Saving Innocence organization, Jasmine Edwards, said she has had “countless interactions with LAPD in rescuing children” in recent years, and sees those officers as “the ignition point” for connecting children in the sex trade with critical resources that can help change their life trajectory.
“Law enforcement plays a pivotal role in the rescue and recovery of our children,” Edwards said.
According the Times, local officials said Los Angeles is “a hub for sex trafficking nationally,” noting that a joint local and federal investigation led by these specially trained officers recently rescued 33 children in Los Angeles from the abhorrent sex trade.
In June of last year, after the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors approved a $34.9 billion revised budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year (including 655 potential layoffs), L.A. County Sheriff, Alex Villanueva, cautioned that there would be a negative impact on sex crime cases.
“The Board has the ability to fund all of the county government operations, and they need to prioritize public safety,” Villanueva said, according to CBS 2. He also warned that the defunding would specifically eliminate the Sheriff Department’s Special Victims Bureau, which investigates physical abuse, sexual abuse, and rape against women and children.
“It’s unconscionable,” Villanueva said. “These are the major detective units of the entire department. They serve the entire county of Los Angeles. Those four units… are the cream of the crop of investigative units throughout the entire nation, and as the largest county in the nation, I cannot see how we move forward without these four units,” he added.
While budget cuts to law enforcement have received a lot of media attention of late, the impact such cuts have on individual cases does not. Reducing resources such as specialized units within the LAPD and Sheriff’s Department could mean sex crime cases aren’t investigated properly, and predators are never prosecuted.
“The community absolutely has a right to be enraged, as well as afraid. And I think sexual assault survivors in particular are susceptible to trauma when hearing about sweeping cuts like this – especially if they have an outstanding case,” says DLG’s Sam Dordulian. “We talk about it all the time, but it never seems to register with public officials – when a predator remains at large, that impacts survivors every single day, knowing that they’re still out there and able to do harm. Sex crime cases require an enormous amount of specialized resources in order to be closed properly. I really think this is a huge disservice to the entire community,” he adds.
The aforementioned budget cuts will undoubtedly impact criminal investigations following sex crimes. However, survivors still have the ability to pursue a civil lawsuit to recover financial damages. DLG is the premier sexual assault law firm in California due to the depth and breadth of experience we provide through our unique and all-encompassing SAJE Team (Sexual Assault Justice Experts).
Sam Dordulian established the Sex Crimes Division at DLG through the belief that survivors require more than just expert legal representation. At DLG, our clients have access to four tiers of support through the SAJE Team.
Sam Dordulian and his team (including a second former sex crimes prosecutor from the L.A. District Attorney’s office) offer proven experience and a type of dedication to these sensitive cases that simply can’t be found at other firms. Dordulian has successfully handled over 100 jury trials – a level of experience that is truly rare among civil attorneys. Dordulian and his team use their first-hand knowledge and experience to ensure sex crime predators are brought to justice, and survivors recover the maximum financial damages they deserve.
Retired LAPD detective, Moses Castillo, leads an in-house investigative team at DLG that is tirelessly dedicated to recovering every piece of critical evidence available that will help prove your case. In civil lawsuits, sexual assault can be challenging to prove. But as we’ve demonstrated through a consistent track record of results, even the most difficult of cases – such as a rape by a former boyfriend met via a “sugar daddy” website – can be won when the DLG investigative advantage is applied.
DLG employs an in-house licensed clinical therapist with 15 years of experience working to help survivors of sexual assault. DLG clients are able to take full advantage of all our SAJE Team members 24/7.
DLG offers two in-house victim advocates – licensed and nationally accredited – who have devoted their lives to helping survivors navigate both the legal process and the emotional journey that coming forward to report a sex crime can entail. At DLG, survivors have options for help that span various levels – legal, psychological, emotional, etc.
That’s what makes DLG the top-rated sexual assault firm in California. We offer a type of all-encompassing representation that simply can’t be found elsewhere.
While budget cuts will continue to impact all of our lives, DLG is here for survivors when the time is right to take that first step and come forward with a civil claim. We’ve successfully maintained a 98% success rate while recovering over $100,000,000 for our clients via settlements and verdicts.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.