She was in a hospital emergency room awaiting treatment. She said she fell asleep, in the dead of night, and woke up suddenly to the unspeakable realization that she was being sexually assaulted.
She said a man she didn’t know had draped a blanket over her. She said he slid his hand underneath the blanket and pulled down her shorts enough for him to insert his hand between her legs.
“I never thought that would happen to me in a public place,” said Sierra Janosec.
The assault allegedly occurred on March 21, 2016 in the emergency room waiting area at the UC Davis Medical Center.
“When I woke up to this, I was so embarrassed,” she said. “There were all these people around. I fixed my shorts and then I hit the guy. Then security came.”
Janosec, 37, has sued the Regents of the University of California, and the man she said assaulted her and the hospital system, one of Sacramento’s most prestigious, for negligence. Her suit was filed in February in Sacramento County Superior Court. The man whom Janosec accused, Rudy Lee Garcia, would later be sentenced to nearly a year of incarceration on a felony sexual assault charge.
But for Janosec, true justice has been delayed.
For her and her lawyer, Melinda Guzman, this case is also about basic human dignity that they said was denied Janosec after she was assaulted. And they said the case is about ensuring that the UCDMC becomes safer for the sick and vulnerable as they await treatment.
Edwin Garcia, a spokesman for UC Davis Health, said the health system does not comment on pending litigation.
And Janosec said she never planned to sue UCDMC, until her story came to the attention of Guzman – who has taken on her case free of charge.
Guzman took the case, in part, because she believes that if Janosec had been a professional woman of means, she would not have been handcuffed in front of the man she accused for assaulting her. She would not have been laughed at, as Janosec said she was that night, by hospital security and even some nurses.
By virtue of a turbulent life marked by addiction, Guzman believes Janosec was an easy target for a crime because no one would believe her. But Guzman did.
In and out of hospitals and jail with health issues related to her heroin addiction, Janosec was alone in the world when Guzman approached her. A nurse who had previously treated Janosec called Guzman on her behalf and told Guzman her story.
Guzman is known for representing – and winning – favorable judgments for high-profile clients such as former UC Davis Chancellor, Linda Katehi. She is a former California State University trustee. She was recently honored by the government of Mexico for fostering closer relations between the United States and Mexico.
But this case was different.
“Sierra is not a school girl model,” Guzman said. “She’s had some serious things happen in her life.”
Guzman said Janosec felt she was not worthy, that she didn’t feel she had standing to claim basic human dignity.
“I felt compelled to tell her that just because she is a drug addict, doesn’t mean that she deserves to be treated differently than my 85-year-old mother,” Guzman said.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages but Guzman said she is motivated as much by the hospital admitting mistakes and restoring her client’s dignity.
Janosec was at UCDMC in the pre-dawn hours because her then boyfriend was dying of congestive heart failure.
“I was using heroin at that time and I had an injection site that was really bad,” Janosec said. “It was about 1:30 am or 2 when I went down there. It was really late. I had to be seen. I was really worried about it.”
So she left her boyfriend’s bedside and walked downstairs to the ER and tried to register herself.
She said she felt mistreated and disrespected right away. Meanwhile, she noticed a man trying to place blankets on other women in the waiting room. She said he tried to do that to her as well.
“I said no, I’m OK and he sat across from me,” she said. “I felt uncomfortable and I moved. Security was right there.”
She was wearing her boyfriend’s gray basketball shorts and large, red San Francisco 49ers T-shirt.
“I ended up falling asleep” she said. “I guess that’s when he put a blanket over me.”
When she woke up, she said she was being assaulted.
“I told security what he did and they turned to him and said, ‘Did you do that’”? Janosec said.
“He said, ‘no’ and they turned to me and said, ‘He said he didn’t do anything.’ Security actually started laughing. They started walking away, and I said, ‘No.This guy isn’t doing this. That’s not happening. You guys are going to listen to me.’”
Sacramento Police were called to the hospital. Janosec said she was handcuffed for a time while the man she accused and is named in the suit, Rudy Lee Garcia, initially was not. The case turned, Guzman said, when a hospital janitor told police that Janosec was telling the truth.
“Then they talked to him and they uncuffed me,” Janosec said.
“I think (Garcia) might have had the courage to do what he did because when I first went down to the ER, I could hear the triage nurses talking about me and why I was there (heroin addiction),” she said. “They had a can of Lysol and they were spraying it everywhere I went. They were treating me like I was not even a human being.”
In August of 2016, Garcia pleaded no contest to a felony count of sexual penetration of an unconscious person, according to county court records. Garcia was sentenced in November of that year to a jail term of 325 days, records show. With her case still in the deposition phase, Guzman said she has not yet been able to locate Garcia.
Janosec continued to struggle with her addiction after the incident and also was later in jail before being connected with Guzman. She is in treatment for heroin addiction. Her case has presented an opportunity she didn’t imagine for herself: “I’m restarting my life,” she said.
“That was a really hard time in my life and this incident made it even harder,” she said.
Guzman hopes that the lawsuit will ensure greater safety precautions at the UCDMC emergency room. For Janosec, it’s more personal: “I felt more violated by the hospital than I did the guy,” she said.
“Regardless of what you are as a person, everyone deserves to be treated fairly.”