In appeal, Davis group home denies responsibilty for youth crimes

Published: Saturday, Jun. 22, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Jun. 30, 2013 - 12:23 pm

EMQ FamiliesFirst, owner of a Davis group home that cared for two teenagers arrested on suspicion of raping a girl in a nearby park, said Friday it bears no responsibility for what its children do beyond its campus.

The state Department of Social Services moved to revoke the home's license last week, citing among other things a lack of supervision that allegedly enabled residents to commit serious crimes in the Davis community.

But in a four-page appeal The Bee obtained Friday, EMQ FamiliesFirst attorney Linda Randlett Kollar denied the allegations and called the agency's actions "an arbitrary and discriminatory application of regulations and laws."

"The alleged acts which constitute the basis for the accusation did not take place at the licensed facility," Kollar wrote. "The department does not have jurisdiction over events that occur outside the licensed facility and such events cannot be the basis for the accusation."

She also argued that the group home could not comply with some regulations it allegedly breached because staff members are not allowed to stop children from leaving the facility under state law.

Department of Social Services spokesman Michael Weston said he couldn't comment on the appeal because it is part of active litigation.

The appeal sets up a high-stakes showdown between state regulators and EMQ FamiliesFirst, one of California's largest providers of youth services with operations in 33 counties.

Carroll Schroeder, executive director of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, said the Davis case could set a precedent for facilities that house foster children and youths with behavioral problems.

He called the potential implications of the case "chilling."

The advocacy group has 120 member organizations – including EMQ FamiliesFirst – that serve vulnerable youths across the state.

"You can't restrain the child from leaving. But if the child leaves and hurts somebody, you're going to be responsible," Schroeder said.

EMQ FamiliesFirst entered the spotlight June 6 after two boys, ages 13 and 14, were arrested on suspicion of raping an 11-year-old girl at a nearby park. All three minors lived at the nonprofit's Davis group home on Fifth Street.

The state's 16-page complaint describes in detail the allegations its agents investigated, including several incidents that reportedly occurred off-campus:

• On May 30, a 12-year-old child was sexually assaulted by a 14-year-old after the children left the facility without permission and were out most of the night, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes.

• Also on May 30, 10 children, ages 11-15, caused a disturbance at a local Taco Bell while unsupervised. They yelled profanities and asked customers for money, the complaint says.

The California Office of Administrative Hearings will hear the case within 90 days. If a judge sides with EMQ FamiliesFirst, the Department of Social Services could reject the ruling and close the facility anyway, according to Weston.

At that point, the Campbell-based nonprofit could sue the department in civil court.

Besides contending that EMQ FamiliesFirst should not be held responsible for actions outside the group home, Kollar wrote that the nonprofit wasn't given time to correct problems before the state acted to revoke the license.

EMQ FamiliesFirst will continue to operate the facility during the appeal process, according to Weston.

As of last week, 38 children were living there, down from 63 children when DSS began its investigation. Most were removed for their own safety.

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

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