The Family Protection Division prosecutes crimes such as murder, domestic violence, stalking, crimes against children, and elder abuse. The division strongly supports victims of crime and works closely with criminal justice agencies and community partners. In 2017, the division was led by Chief Tracy Prior and Assistant Chief Kurt Mechals. During this time, the Family Protection Division received 8,546 defendants for review. There were 2,225 defendants charged with domestic violence, of which 705 were felonies and 1,520 were misdemeanors. In addition, 463 defendants were charged with child abuse and 19 defendants charged with Internet crimes against children. In addition, 429 defendants were charged with elder abuse and 41 cases were reviewed involving crimes at assisted living facilities.
Today’s misdemeanor can be tomorrow’s homicide. That’s why the District Attorney’s Office has specially-trained Deputy District Attorneys across the county, handling felony and misdemeanor domestic violence cases from the earliest stages. Having the same prosecutor handle domestic violence cases from beginning to end ensures better courtroom efficiency, better perpetrator accountability, and increased victim safety.
In 2017, the District Attorney’s Office continued its leadership in multiple “High Risk Teams” across the county. These teams were created in 2011 to improve community response and victim support in the most dangerous situations. The multi-disciplinary teams, led by the DA’s Office, consists of various local police agencies and non-governmental groups who meet regularly to connect victims with support.
The Domestic Violence Stalking and Homicide Prevention Team continued their important efforts in its second year. The team consists of a prosecutor, District Attorney Investigator, Paralegal and Victim Advocate. The team works with law enforcement to build stalking cases and work with victims to provide resources and safety planning. The team meets bi-monthly and discusses cases suited for stalking investigation and focused prosecutorial efforts.
Additionally, in 2017, the Family Protection Division collaborated with the Domestic Violence Council and other partners to put on six trainings for more than 900 County and community professionals on family violence topics. Furthermore, we worked with law enforcement and healthcare experts to develop the county’s first Strangulation Protocol and Strangulation Documentation Form, which was approved by the various Chiefs of Police in the county, Sheriff, District Attorney and San Diego City Attorney. We worked with KPBS to produce a 10-minute video on strangulation documentation and response, which has already been shown to more than 5,000 sworn personnel in our county. This important protocol addresses how to effectively investigate strangulation cases, as well as how to appropriately focus efforts and resources on such serious and life threatening cases. Several strangulation cases have already been successfully prosecuted as a result of this essential protocol.
In 2017, the Elder Abuse Unit continued to cement its working relationship with Community Care Licensing and the Attorney General’s Office in reviewing elder abuse referrals for incidents occurring in residential care facilities for the elderly, on an alternate monthly basis. The unit also responded to numerous requests for speaking at events around the region in an effort to continue educating the public about elder abuse.
Additionally, the District Attorney’s Office, along with a multi-disciplinary team including law enforcement, Adult Protective Services and other elder related agencies in the community, came together and started developing an Elder Abuse Protocol. This protocol addresses gaps in the countywide response to elder abuse investigations and focuses efforts and resources on complex and serious cases.
The District Attorney’s Office fights for children in many ways. One way is to locate children who have been abducted by a parent. The District Attorney’s Child Abduction Unit finds and recovers children who go missing as a result of a parental abduction, and helps ensure that child custody court orders are honored. The unit handles both domestic and international cases, helping to recover children taken from and wrongfully brought to San Diego County.
In 2017, the Child Abduction Unit opened 86 new cases and successfully recovered a total of 64 children. The unit handled both domestic and international matters, including 17 cases subject to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
Internet Crimes Against Children
The District Attorney’s Office is committed to aggressively prosecuting cases of child exploitation on the Internet. Several Deputy District Attorneys are assigned to the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, a dedicated group of local, state, and federal law-enforcement officers and prosecutors. The joint effort by this group of dedicated professionals ensures defendants are held accountable.
During the months of April and May 2017, ICAC conducted “Operation Broken Heart IV,” spanning San Diego, Riverside and Imperial Counties. This operation targeted offenders involved with possession, distribution and/or production of child pornography as well as child enticement. In addition to serving Internet Service Provider search warrants and residential search warrants, efforts were made to make arrests of adults who scour the Internet via social applications looking for young children to meet and victimize. The three counties combined served more than 187 search warrants and made 44 arrests involving child predators.
In addition to investigating and prosecuting Internet predators and offenders, the task force actively participates in outreach to schools and parents to educate the community on Internet safety.
Prevention and Community Awareness
The Family Protection Division is dedicated to crime prevention and increasing community awareness.
In honor of October Domestic Violence Awareness month, our office worked with county and community partners to conduct a countywide kick-off event on October 3, 2017. The event included officials, college and university students, professionals and community members and offered presentations, resource booths, ceremony to honor domestic violence homicide victims and the annual HOPE awards to honor those who work tirelessly in the field of domestic violence.
The District Attorney’s Office worked, in partnership with the County Department of Health and Human Services Agency, to implement a $3.5 million Cal Office of Emergency Services victim services grant and associated contracts for human trafficking, child, elder and dependent adult, domestic violence, gang, and sexual assault survivors.
Our office helped spearhead an update to the San Diego County Child Victim Witness Protocol, which is a blueprint for community Child Abuse and Human Trafficking stakeholders directed at promoting best practices for serving child victims.
Our office also continues to coordinate the County Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team, which has been convening since 1996. This team tracks and reviews domestic violence related homicides in order to identify system improvements. The team, coordinated by the District Attorney’s Office, conducted six in-depth case reviews in 2017 and made recommendations for policy, programs, awareness efforts, and training in our county.