State lifts license from Davis group home after complaints

Published: Friday, Jun. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Sunday, Jun. 30, 2013 - 12:23 pm

After investigating dozens of complaints – including recent allegations of rape and sexual assault – the state Department of Social Services on Thursday revoked the license for EMQ FamiliesFirst to operate its Davis group home for youths with mental health issues.

"The department is revoking the license," agency spokesman Michael Weston confirmed. "We served them papers."

In its 16-page complaint, DSS alleges violation of personal rights, lack of supervision and inadequate staffing as reasons for revoking the license.

The complaint details numerous sexual assault and assault allegations. Several reportedly occurred at a local park in Davis. Another incident occurred at a hotel. A number of incidents took place inside the group home, the documents allege.

Weston said EMQ FamiliesFirst has 15 days to appeal the revocation order before the state shuts down the facility.

In a strongly worded statement, Campbell-based EMQ FamiliesFirst said it would "fully respond" to DSS, noting that it had a "long-standing reputation for programs recognized as some of the finest in California."

"We will defend the agency and its programs which serve some of the most challenging children," EMQ FamiliesFirst's statement said.

The nonprofit operates similar facilities in 33 counties across California.

The state's announcement was greeted with relief by local elected officials who had expressed frustration with their inability to solve a growing problem in Davis.

Mayor Joe Krovoza said he was "pleased that the state has taken the matter seriously." A day earlier, he said the city was hamstrung by what previous administrations had entered into with the state- supervised group home 18 years ago.

"We just don't have the tools. That's what's frustrating here," he told The Bee on Wednesday. "The city's real authority with a development is at the time it's approved."

On Thursday, Krovoza said if another provider wants to take over the group home, it would get a closer look by city officials.

"Given what's happened, if there's talk of another facility, we would certainly approach it with a fresh set of perspectives," he said.

The dramatic turnaround Thursday was set in motion last week when two boys, 13 and 14, were arrested June 5 on suspicion of raping an 11-year-old girl at a public park in Davis. All three minors lived together at the home, a sprawling complex in the 2100 block of Fifth Street.

Since then, police have arrested a third juvenile on an unrelated count of raping a runaway girl from the group home and are investigating about six cases of sexual assault involving children at the group home.

In addition, officials have recently removed more than two dozen children from the group home.

The DSS complaint describes in detail the nature of the allegations its agents investigated. Some of the complaints listed include:

• May 14: A 13-year-old child was sexually assaulted by a nonresident minor after she went AWOL; the 13-year-old was threatened with harm if she disclosed the incident.

• May 30: A 12-year-old child was sexually assaulted by a 14-year-old after the children went AWOL from the facility and were out most of the night, consuming alcohol and smoking cigarettes.

• May 30: Ten children, ages 11-15, caused a disturbance at a local Taco Bell while AWOL and unsupervised. They yelled profanities and asked customers for money, the complaint says.

Weston said EMQ FamiliesFirst could appeal the revoked license before the California Office of Administrative Hearings.

The facility remains "open right now because there is a legal process that has to play out," DSS' Weston said.

If the facility closes down, DSS would remove the children and place them elsewhere, he said.

Aside from revoking the license for EMQ FamiliesFirst, DSS also opted to exclude both FamiliesFirst's clinical director and its executive director from future employment with any facility licensed by the agency.

Even before the rape allegations, the group home had been the target of numerous complaints. A DSS inspector reported in January that a child's arm was broken in two places as a result of being physically restrained – although the child's behavior did not warrant the restraint.

Within the past six months, Davis police have responded to more than 500 calls at the group home.

The home's neighbors expressed outrage at the city's inability to effect change.

"The city is stuck as the baby sitter for this place," said Mike Phillips, 65, who lives a mile away from FamiliesFirst and said he has witnessed its residents "running amok." "We're wasting a lot of money on responding."

Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor said he was "stunned by the failures" of the group home. "Yolo County does not have a legal responsibility, but we do have a moral responsibility," he said.

Last Saturday, EMQ FamiliesFirst CEO Darrell Evora visited the group home in Davis, vowing to "fix the problems." He said no staff members had been fired or suspended in the wake of the allegations.

Since his visit, police calls from the facility continued to pile up in spite of increased scrutiny from authorities. Within the past week, officers were called out for runaways and a report of battery, a Davis police activity log said.

"The range of calls is just great. It would be impossible to do a comprehensive analysis," Davis Assistant Police Chief Darren Pytel said, noting that the city isn't allowed to charge the facility for excessive police calls.

The Yolo County District Attorney's Office said it has filed charges for the criminal investigations, but declined to comment further because the parties are minors.

Thirty-eight children currently live at the Davis facility, down from 63 when DSS began its latest investigation.

During its early years, the group home – first licensed in 1995 – enjoyed considerable support in the community and was praised as a model for the state.

"Everyone recognized the plight of these kids. There was a very strong community relationship between FamiliesFirst and the city of Davis," said state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who served on the City Council from 1990 to 1998.

But now, the facility finds itself a focal point of anger in Davis.

"Whatever has changed, it's a problem," Wolk said. "When you have 500 police calls, that's a red flag."

Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

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