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Home / Karen Spiegel

Riverside supervisors air frustrations over trying to investigate agencies

A probe to ferret out troubles plaguing Riverside County child and adult welfare agencies, as well as determine how they’ve fallen short seeing to the needs 13 children from perhaps the county’s most notorious abuse case, is progressing but being weighed down by bureaucratic hurdles, an attorney told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

“Because of numerous confidentiality protections and protective sealing orders … we have been required to make and continue to make court appearances,” Hilary Potashner, an associate with the Los Angeles-based Larson Law Group, said. “Our analysis cannot be complete without a review of all documents. The process of acquisition is slow but moving. We’re hopeful records will soon be released by the Superior Court.”

Potashner appeared for the second update on the investigation that the county hired former U.S. District Judge Stephen G. Larson to conduct, at an undisclosed cost, in October. She said that at least three court hearings are scheduled in April, and the objective now is to have a report submitted to the board by May 31.

“We’re confident our report will contain highly relevant factual findings that will advance the goals of the county’s social services programs,” the attorney said.

She said that, to date, just over 85 interviews have been conducted, utilizing the expertise of sociologists, public policy analysts and other experts from UCLA, UC Berkeley, Virginia Tech and other institutions.

The Larson probe and formation of the county’s Ad-Hoc Committee to Assess Opportunities for Inter-Departmental Systems Improvement were initiated following revelations on the status of the 13 Turpin children, whose parents were convicted three years ago of inflicting severe abuse and neglect in their Perris residence and other locations.

David Allen Turpin, now 59, and his wife, Louise Ann Turpin, now 52, were each sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison in 2019.

The defendants operated what prosecutors and investigators described as a “house of horrors,” keeping some of the children caged or chained most times of the day, forcing them to subsist on peanut butter sandwiches and burritos, making them sleep up to 20 hours daily, and allowing them to shower only once a year.

The parents also engaged in repeated physical abuse, resulting in injuries. The conditions were uncovered in January 2018 when one of the Turpin girls, then-17-year-old Jordan Turpin, escaped through a window and called 911.

The victims, whose ages then ranged from 2 to 29 years old, were placed in protective custody, under the supervision of either county Child Protective Services or the Office of the Public Guardian.

They were sent to foster homes and other facilities, but life did not improve much for some of the victims, as was revealed in an ABC News report last November.

The documentary featured Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin, whose staff have remained in contact with the Turpin children, and who told anchor Diane Sawyer multiple victims were “living in squalor.”

“They’re living in crime-ridden neighborhoods. There’s money for their education. They can’t access it,” Hestrin said. “This is unimaginable to me, that we could have the very worst case of child abuse I’ve ever seen, and then we would then not be able to get it together to give them basic needs.”

According to the report, because of the high-profile nature of the abuse-torture case, there was an outpouring of public goodwill, culminating in an estimated $600,000 in donations raised for the Turpin children. The disposition of those funds, placed in trust, remains uncertain because of the sweeping protective orders imposed by the judge handling the victims’ conservatorship.

Jordan Turpin and her 33-year-old sister Jennifer Turpin, as well as their 29-year-old brother Joshua Turpin, told interviewers they were finding it virtually impossible to access the money for their needs. Joshua Turpin said he wanted to purchase a bike for basic transportation and was denied access by the Office of the Public Guardian.

Jordan Turpin said when she taken out of extended foster care and designated an independent adult, she had no immediate shelter or ability to purchase food, without life skills training from years of being subjected to lockdown by her parents.

Along with the Turpin children, Larson and his team were tasked with scrutinizing the county’s entire dependent care system.

The Ad-Hoc Committee, composed of supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Karen Spiegel, has been conducting an investigation separate but in line with the Larson probe, and Jeffries said Tuesday that it has been “the most frustrating time I’ve experienced as a supervisor.”

“The answer I keep getting (in testimony) is, ‘I can’t tell you that, supervisor,”‘ he said. “I’ve never experienced that before. It’s been brutal.”

He said that so far the committee has confirmed the obvious — county welfare personnel are “grossly under-staffed and over-worked,” and too many cases involving vulnerable children and adults receive “minimal supervision.”

Spiegel, too, expressed frustration, but admitted that “our hands our tied,” mainly because the Larson probe is incomplete.

She and Jeffries have determined in their committee hearings that one of the most glaring shortfalls is a lack of “conversation between agencies.”

“If you cannot talk and share, how can we do better work on behalf of folks?” Spiegel said.

The two supervisors’ filed an initial report citing the need for “collaborative interagency” efforts so that county workers work as teams to better manage cases.

The supervisors also advocated the county’s support for Senate Bill 1054, authored by Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, R-Beaumont, which would remove some of the regulatory red tape preventing child and adult protective agencies from sharing information to enhance treatment and intervention practices.

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