A Mountain View couple that sued the city after their young daughter was forced to undergo an invasive sexual assault exam last year has agreed to a $600,000 settlement, according to recent court filings.
Under the agreement, filed with a federal court judge on Feb. 7, the city of Mountain View has agreed to pay the bulk of the costs -- $350,000 -- while Santa Clara County will pay $200,000. A third defendant, private ambulance company American Medical Response (AMR), has also agreed to pay $50,000 for its involvement in the incident.
The civil suit alleges that Mountain View Police Department officers had conducted an "unlawful and unfounded" sexual assault examination on a 5-year-old child in January last year. Three officers came to the family's house on Jan. 28, 2019, and demanded that the girl be examined by a paramedic to see if she had been the victim of sexual abuse.
The child had injured her pubic area three days prior when she fell at a trampoline park, but had since healed, according to the civil complaint. Earlier that day, a staff member at Landels Elementary overheard the girl saying that her vagina had bled or was bleeding, and reported the information to either Child Protective Services (CPS) or law enforcement.
The suit alleges that officers should have recognized the innocuous nature of the injury, but instead they presented the parents with an ultimatum: have a paramedic come to the house to inspect the girl's genitals or drive her to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center for a formal examination.
The suit states that the parents -- Danielle and Douglas Lother -- tried multiple times to offer alternatives, including a trip to a physician to verify the injury was not serious and was healing. Danielle Lother also offered to put officers in contact with witnesses who could corroborate the story that the girl injured herself at a trampoline park.
The parents were reportedly forced to hold down their daughter during the exam the girl was kicking and screaming while a female paramedic examined the child. After two minutes, the paramedic concluded there was nothing apparently wrong with the child's genitals.
A few weeks after the incident, the family filed a claim stating that Mountain View officers, the Santa Clara County social worker and the paramedic all acted improperly, turning an innocent injury into a traumatic event. The claim sought $1 million for severe emotional distress, past and future medical treatment and punitive damages.
The family's attorney, Robert Powell, later filed a federal lawsuit in September alleging that the city, the county and AMR had acted together to violate the family's privacy and due process rights as well as Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable seizure. It also alleges the defendant's actions amounted to negligence, battery and false imprisonment.
Since demanding the lump sum settlement of $1 million last year, Powell told the Voice that he left it up to the city, the county and AMR to fight among themselves over who had the most culpability. But he said it was pretty clear from the start that the police department was primarily responsible for the way the incident unfolded.
"No one thought for apparently a moment that, 'Hey, this is wrong. This is way overboard,'" he said.
When asked about the settlement amount, Powell said he believes the family could have been awarded more money if it went to a jury trial, but that his clients did not want to go through the stress of reliving the incident in a prolonged court battle.
"It was really, really causing a lot of emotional turmoil for the family and so we settled it, I think, considerably lower than what might have been awarded by a jury," he said. "There's a value to resolution."
Representatives from Santa Clara County did not immediately respond to requests for comment. City spokeswoman Shonda Ranson said the City Council is scheduled for a closed session discussion of the case on Feb. 25, and could not comment further.
After deductions and fees, roughly $438,000 of the settlement will be awarded to the parents, $80,000 will be given to the girl who underwent the exam and $40,000 will go to her sibling, who was interrogated during the incident. The money awarded to the children will be placed in separate secured accounts. Powell will receive $40,000 of the total settlement, plus $1,415 in counsel costs.
Powell, who has been handling CPS-related cases since the 1990s, said the incidents typically involve a child protective services agency and a law enforcement agency. This case was somewhat of an anomaly in that an ambulance company was involved and shared in the settlement agreement, he said. Despite the sizable cost of the incident, Powell said he isn't optimistic it will change the practices of anyone involved going forward.
"I have been handling these kinds of cases for around 23 years and I am back suing the same counties for the second, third and fourth time. In the case of Los Angeles County, I'm back suing them for the fifth, sixth or seventh time," Powell said. "Case after case after case of alarming stupidity, alarming abuse of power."