Mountain View to pay $350K in settlement over forced sexual assault exam of 5-year-old | News | Mountain View Online |

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Mountain View to pay $350K in settlement over forced sexual assault exam of 5-year-old

Family settles with county, city and ambulance company for $600K

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."

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Comments

12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 12, 2020 at 11:21 am

As a resident, I'm quite upset that my taxes pay these damages, and that the officers themselves aren't on the hook for some of this. Yes, I know that police have qualified immunity, which means they're not held responsible for anything they do on the job, but it's not right. They're the ones who did this, not the more abstract "City of Mountain View".


11 people like this
Posted by Thanks Moto
a resident of Bailey Park
on Feb 12, 2020 at 2:16 pm

A big rousing thanks to our 2 over zealous cops doing bad police work which lead to the sexual violation of a 5 year old child.

Kudos to you officers Mark Poirier and Mason Motomura.

Now we all have to pay for your sick power trip, and this is not just msg board bluster, I would and will calmly say that to your faces if I get the chance.
This was 100% terrible on your part!


13 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 12, 2020 at 2:16 pm

The offending Officers should be financially compensating this family with funds from the Police Officer's Pensions or Union. Why the Mountain View citizens are responsible for the Police's egregious mistake is beyond my understanding.


11 people like this
Posted by Anonymous Woman
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 12, 2020 at 2:26 pm

As a woman who was date raped by a policeman - many years ago admittedly - I have long known that (many of) the police in this country are power hungry, ill trained, and lacking in common decency.


4 people like this
Posted by Jake O.
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Feb 12, 2020 at 3:14 pm

I think most of the people are confused that MV citizens will be taxed in someway to pay the $200K. To rest your minds at ease, the city is paying and $200,000 is nothing to the city.

What many of the people bashing the officers and social worker may not realize is that now every future incident that is reported, perhaps not all that can be done, will be done for fear of a lawsuit.


9 people like this
Posted by David B. Karpf, MD
a resident of North Whisman
on Feb 12, 2020 at 3:18 pm

The issue is larger than MVPD, whom I have personally found to be very professional. While the two officers involved should have not assumed guilt and abuse, and taken the time to losten to the explanations of the parents, I think once the preschool reported this overheard comment from the 5 year old the path was already established. In the ideal world, the preschool would have talked directly with the child, and possibly with the parents, prior to making the CPS report. But again, I understand the reality for the preschool, where the penalties for not reporting are high.

The system is certainly imperfect, and the outcome was highly regrettable in this case, and I feel for the involved family, and understand the basis for their lawsuit. And like others, I prefer that our city of MV not need to pay large lawsuits. But I do not think it is right to demonize these two officers for what was likely a lapse of judgement. Most of us make similar lapses on a near daily basis, but thankfully most of our lapses are not nearly as consequential.


10 people like this
Posted by Enforcement - Law - backward
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2020 at 5:49 pm

Shouldn't law enforcement officers learn the law before they engage in enforcement? Does the county District Attorney's Office provide any instruction to officers concerning the law?


13 people like this
Posted by Otto Maddox
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 12, 2020 at 8:42 pm

Please. This is far from a "lapse of judgement". This was a crime. Sadly the police do a terrible job of policing themselves.

Remember this the next time someone is calling cops "heroes".

Just a reminder to never talk to the police. These parents thought talking to the cops would take care of the situation. Instead they were forced to hold down their child while she was sexually assaulted.

If the police knock on your door. Don't open it, don't talk to them. It will never help you.


5 people like this
Posted by Liz
a resident of Slater
on Feb 13, 2020 at 5:33 pm

I wish they had taken it to a jury trial. They would have gotten millions. I sure hope the staff at Landels who called was fired and all other staff retrained on how and when to actually contact authorities for suspected abuse. That was a gross misinterpretation of the mandated reporter statute. Shame on them all. The police and the social worker then tortured a poor defenseless child and her family. I would have awarded them millions.


Like this comment
Posted by Otto Maddox
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 14, 2020 at 12:35 pm

They weren't asking for millions. They were seeking $1 million.

I don't understand why these two cops are still employed. Imagine what they have to do to get fired if this isn't enough.


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