North Bay News

Documents uncover questions about attacks on disabled patients

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

ABC7 News and media partner California Watch have uncovered a series of Taser gun assaults on severely disabled patients at the Sonoma Developmental Center. A longtime staffer may be responsible for the assaults.

Both the executive director and clinical director of the Sonoma Developmental Center were fired and several other employees were let go or disciplined over the incident. We now know just how serious the incidents were from documents obtained from the investigation.

The Sonoma Developmental Center is nestled in the rural, tranquil town of Eldridge in Sonoma County. The sprawling facility is one of five state run institutions that care for patients with severe developmental disabilities who need around-the-clock supervision.

The facilities have their own in-house sworn police force called the Office of Protective Services (OPS). Last September, the director of the center received a message on his answering machine. The anonymous caller said someone had a stun gun and was using it on patients.

The man was identified as psychiatric technician assistant Archie Millora. He worked at the center nearly 14 years.

Documents from the investigation reveal that officers confronted Millora the day after the phone call. They found the Taser in his car and a loaded Glock semi-automatic pistol plus a separate magazine with live rounds. Millora was placed on administrative leave but was never arrested.

A subsequent independent probe by the California Department of Public Health reveals that nurses examined and photographed patients in his care. They found suspicious abrasions on "the buttocks, thigh, arm and back" of 12 people. A forensic pathologist concluded that the marks were "strongly suggestive of electrical thermal burns," consistent with a Taser.

All of the reported victims have extreme difficulty communicating, but when questioned, one of them uttered the words "stun" and Millora's name which the incident report identified as "Staff A.".

Millora was eventually fired.

"I'm outraged as a father of somebody who's developmentally disabled," Assm. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, said.

Beall's son is not a patient at the Sonoma Developmental Center, but he's been an outspoken critic of the Office of Protective Services. He's called for an audit of the OPS because the agency has come under fire in recent years for reportedly conducting lax investigations into mysterious injuries and even deaths at Sonoma and the other developmental centers.

"Patients had been harmed and not investigated fully," Beall said. "So we're asking for a complete audit of that department."

ABC7 News tried to talk to Millora but he did not respond to requests for an interview.

Court records show in April, Millora pleaded no contest to misdemeanor possession of a loaded firearm. He got probation and a $190 fine in lieu of jail time.

But Millora was never charged with the reported stun gun assaults -- charges that if convicted, could have given him serious prison time.

It may never be known why because ABC7 News' requests for interviews with officials from the Sonoma Developmental Center and the OPS were denied.

With so much controversy surrounding the in-house police department, ABC7 News also wanted to know why it did not ask for help from the more seasoned investigators from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office. A spokesperson for the Department of Developmental Services sent ABC7 News a statement saying, "The Sheriff's Office made the determination not to intercede." But the sheriff's department told ABC7 News, "we offered to assist in their investigation but we were told they didn't need our help."

Beall believes this was another bungled investigation by OPS.

"They should have an investigation by competent law enforcement personnel to fully investigate and decide whether or not criminal charges should be filed," he said.

The Department of Developmental Services sent ABC7 News a statement saying it was the district attorney's office which declined to pursue criminal charges in the Taser attacks. But the district attorney's office told ABC7 News the Office of Protective Services only referred criminal charges on the gun case. They also said the OPS told them Millora's Taser was not the weapon used in the assaults even though OPS officers reportedly interviewed 100 people, apparently resulting in no new leads and no Taser other than the one belonging to Millora.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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Tags:
mental health, california watch, sonoma county, north bay news, vic lee
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