EL CENTRO, Calif. - Several alleged victims and parents of alleged victims of sexual assault made impassioned pleas to the Imperial County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday morning.
Margaret Sauza, Sure Helpline Crisis Center of El Centro, said, “To bring in the Department of Justice on a matter. Reason is that I brought in evidence of all the rapes in Imperial County.”
They presented staggering numbers of alleged sexual assault cases.
“We have very many rapes in the north end and in the Calexico, Imperial area. I have them month by month. There was only one rape prosecuted back in 2017,” Sauza said.
Pablo Virgen, family member of an alleged victim of sexual assault, said they’re frustrated with the local District Attorney’s Office.
“Our case is not being heard, is not being taken into consideration, they’re not proceeding with it. It was denied by the D.A.’s Office,” Virgen said.
Virgen’s wife, Celina, said they believe the problem with the D.A. is a combination of incompetence and understaffing.
“It’s unbelievable. Nothing has been addressed. No prior investigation has been done towards the perpetrator. No evaluation has been done. They were not knowledgeable about our case when it had already been denied,” Mrs. Virgen said.
The couple, along with Sauza and other alleged victims at the County Board meeting are demanding the Department of Justice review their cases which they say the local District Attorney has rejected.
“After numerous attempts, phone calls, emails, to be able to arrange a meeting with [District Attorney] Gilbert Otero and not receiving any calls, any email back we’re being ignored,” Mrs. Virgen said.
They claim high numbers of sexual assault cases are not being investigated.
“We know that there are other numerous cases that are similar to this – it’s just heartbreaking,” Mrs. Virgen said.
Deborah Owen, Assistant District Attorney, rejected those allegations and the numbers of cases presented by the group.
“The number of cases that are submitted to us is monitored. In 2017, 23 child molestation cases were submitted to us and 13 were approved for prosecution,” Owen said.
Owen explained that numbers used by the group are actually not numbers of cases at all, but numbers of contacts between Sauza's organization and alleged victims of sexual assault.
“She [Sauza] indicated that six sexual assault victims were served, for example, from January to March. And one sexual assault exam was activated. That means that she’s worked with victims that contacted her department. That does not necessarily mean that those cases were submitted to our office,” Owen said.
Owen said they have to investigate and prosecute responsibly.
“It’s very difficult many times when parents are told that there is not enough evidence to file a case,” Owen said.
The victims at the meeting still believe understaffing and other factors are involved. They want the DOJ to review their cases.
“I believe that it’s a combination of both things,” Mrs. Virgen said.
County Board Supervisors said they needed more information on the cases before they could get the DOJ involved.