DA’s Office Reports on Special Task Force for Crimes Against Children

DA office sex crimes
Assistant District Attorney Deborah Owen and DA Gilbert Otero look at prosecution statistics on their power point presentation before the board Tuesday.

IMPERIAL COUNTY — District Attorney Gilbert Otero stood before the Imperial County Board of Supervisors Tuesday to answer Supervisor Ryan Kelley’s (D-4) charge from the June 30 meeting asking whether the increased costs for the Internet Crimes Against Children task force was “producing results.”

Otero and Assistant DA Deborah Owen laid out a forceful case of the work the department had accomplished since the Special Victims Unit (SVU) was created in 2013. According to Owen, the SVU investigates and prosecutes domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking cases with one deputy district attorney, one investigator and one legal office assistant.

Owen said sexual crimes against children are occurring at epidemic proportions. Because of these numbers, a pilot project, Human Exploitation, was created in May of this year, and more funds were needed to hire investigators, deputy attorneys and provide funding for equipment and travel.

Ryan Kelley spoke later to the Desert Review saying both the sheriff and DA’s office have increased funding for similar sex crime units and although he supports the goals of both, he wanted to make sure duplication wasn’t occurring considering the large dollar amounts both departments have allocated to these specialized units.

Owen spoke Tuesday of the task force successes with 113 cases approved for prosecution out of the 221 cases investigated, with 24 still being reviewed. Most of these cases, said Owen, were sexual assault and child molestation cases. Each year the caseload increases she added. The recently formed Human Exploitation task force has had 15 approved cases ready for prosecution.

The DA’s office has been very successful prosecuting sex crimes with long-term prison sentencing. Owens explained this included forcible sex crimes involving sexual intercourse with children, which are prosecuted at the highest level of prison terms.

“Those sentences mean they will never get out to do it again,” Owen told the board.

Internet crimes present problems to investigators. Owen said the team has to be rotated after a few years.

“We don’t want to force attorneys into these assignments. We assign someone who is willing, because they have to be willing to review child pornography for charging purposes,” Owen said, “You can’t get someone to stay in a sexual assault unit more than 2-3 years. You want to vomit after a very long time dealing with this subject. Nobody wants to look at pictures of adults having forcible intercourse with children. So it is something that has to be rotated for their mental health. So they are cross-trained to do a variety of things.”

Besides investigation and prosecution, Owen said the DA’s office is collaborating with schools and service organizations to implement preventative measures against human trafficking and raising awareness.

Kelley said he was appreciative of the presentation and getting a report on how the two specialized sex crime units were faring and would like to hear on all the activity in the DA office and to be assured the specialized groups were not at the expense of the general crimes such as murder.