A civil suit filed against the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento this month alleges the facility’s employees were negligent in supervising – and, later, in failing to investigate – a former counselor who had sexual contact with a teenage client.
That former counselor, Theresa Gooch, ultimately pleaded no contest to three felonies in connection with that relationship.
The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Joseph George and Stewart Katz, seeks an unspecified amount in damages for negligence, sexual battery and breach of fiduciary duty. It also names Gooch as a defendant.
In the eight-page complaint, the attorneys allege that Receiving Home supervisors failed to act when alerted by the victim’s sister, who worked at the home as a cook, that Gooch was having inappropriate contact with clients, including her sister.
The older sister relayed to supervisors a conversation in which her younger sister, then 16, said Gooch had gotten her and another client drunk at her own home and supplied them with marijuana. The younger girl also confided that Gooch “wanted a more intimate relationship” with her.
At that point, however, the girl already had sexual contact with the counselor. Though she did not share that with her sister, George said the younger girl was reaching out for help.
He said his client, now 18, would run away from the Receiving Home to meet with Gooch and, at times, stay at her home.
“(Gooch) would coach her on how she would get out … then she’d pick her up a block and a half away,” George said. Referring to Receiving Home supervisors, he added, “It’s going on right under ... their watch.”
The victim’s sister met with supervisors Feb. 26, 2013, to discuss the allegations, according to the complaint. She was told they would investigate, but that she should “keep this confidential.”
Employees later told the victim’s sister that they couldn’t substantiate the claims and that they “did everything they could,” the complaint alleges.
“How would you feel if someone made false claims against you?” one supervisor reportedly told the sister, according to the complaint.
George said he does not know what their “abysmal investigation” entailed, but he said the victim was never interviewed.
Unsatisfied with the response by supervisors, the victim’s sister went to Sacramento police in late spring or early summer. Detectives arrested Gooch in August.
Gooch ultimately pleaded no contest to two counts of having oral sex with a minor and one count of furnishing a minor with marijuana between September 2012 and February 2013. In November, she was sentenced to a year in county jail and five years of probation.
Her defense attorney in the criminal case, Jeffrey Barbour, declined to comment on the civil lawsuit.
In an email to The Sacramento Bee, David Ballard, chief executive officer of the Receiving Home, said he was told about the lawsuit Tuesday and that the matter had been referred to counsel. In the meantime, he said he could not respond to the complaint specifically.
“As the only emergency shelter for those children, we take our responsibilities and our mandates seriously. Any time someone believes we have fallen short of this goal, it’s disappointing for us,” he wrote in the email. “We will continue our concerted efforts to provide services for the children of our community that are in need. Our hearts continue to go out to the victim and the victim’s family involved in this case.”
The Receiving Home, located on Auburn Boulevard at Watt Avenue, is a privately run, nonprofit facility that most commonly houses children placed in protective custody by law enforcement or Child Protective Services from throughout the Sacramento region.
George said his client went to the Receiving Home after suffering physical abuse at the hands of a non-biological relative. Children who end up there can easily fall victim to employees who abuse their relationships with their clients, he said.
“These kids are so vulnerable,” he said. “Anyone could have them eating out of their hands by showing them some kindness and warmth.”
In the complaint, the attorneys say their client suffered “psychological and emotional injury and harm” as a result of her interactions with Gooch. But George said she is getting help and moving forward.
“She’ll wind up on her feet,” he said. “She’s motivated.”