2018 Staffing
Attorneys42
Investigators15
Paralegals13
Support Staff18
Total85

The Family Protection Division prosecutes crimes of physical and sexual domestic violence, physical and financial elder abuse, physical and sexual child abuse of children under 14 years of age, animal cruelty, Internet crimes involving children and child abduction. Early intervention is the primary goal of this division in the forms of holding perpetrators accountable with prosecution, protecting victims and the public with a combination of punishment and rehabilitation of offenders, and preventing crime altogether with community outreach, awareness and education. Chief Tracy Prior led the division in 2018 with the help of Assistant Chief Kurt Mechals.

In 2018, the Family Protection Division received and reviewed cases involving 9,242 defendants.

Number of Defendants Charged

2,607

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490

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430

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15

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Domestic Violence

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, increased perpetrator accountability, and superior victim support.

The District Attorney’s Office launched the Preventing Repeat Domestic Violence Initiative, which received funding in late 2017 from the United States Department of Justice. This initiative allows a team of prosecutors, investigators, crime analysts and researchers to work together to develop and evaluate data-driven interventions for high risk and repeat domestic violence offenders.

Additionally, the Family Protection Division continues to fine-tune the ongoing implementation of the Countywide Domestic Violence Strangulation Protocol, which was implemented in 2017. As noted in the 2017 Annual Report, this vital protocol raises criminal justice system awareness of the seriousness and dangers surrounding strangulation and promotes more effective investigation and prosecution of strangulation and suffocation cases. The District Attorney’s office has already seen a marked increase in quality strangulation case investigations and a spike in the issuance rate of these potentially lethal cases.

In 2018, the District Attorney’s Office continued its leadership in multiple “High Risk Teams” across the county. These teams were created in 2011 to collaboratively respond to the needs of individuals and their dependents experiencing intimate partner violence that are at high risk for lethality. These multi-disciplinary teams, led by the DA’s Office, consist of local police agencies, Department of Probation, SART nurses, the City Attorney’s Office and community based social service agencies that meet regularly to assist victims with safety planning, resource and support.

The Domestic Violence Stalking and Homicide Prevention Team continued its important efforts now it its third year since the team’s inception. The team consists of a prosecutor, District Attorney Investigator, Paralegal and Victim Advocate. They work 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.

Elder Abuse

In 2018, the Elder Abuse Unit transitioned after renowned elder abuse expert and Unit Chief Paul Greenwood announced his retirement after 25 years with the District Attorney’s Office. Nevertheless, the unit continues its commitment to elder abuse victims as well as improving the overall quality of life of our county’s senior citizens under the leadership of Deputy District Attorney Scott Pirrello. On March 1, 2018, the District Attorney’s Office held the San Diego County Summit on Elder Abuse and Neglect, which brought together a wide variety of partners in the criminal justice field and the community. During the Summit, the “San Diego County Elder and Dependent Adult Blueprint” was launched. This groundbreaking blueprint is a comprehensive document that commits San Diego County to a coordinated community response to Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse by outlining best practices for law enforcement response, investigation, and prosecution of elder abuse cases.

Additionally, the District Attorney’s Office worked with our partners in San Diego County Health and Human Services as well as the private sector to create the Elder Protection Council, a new multi-disciplinary team of local, state and federal partners who work towards combatting all issues related to elder abuse within San Diego County.

The Elder Abuse Unit continued its commitment to community outreach and responded to the continued requests for outreach at events around the region and in facilities serving our seniors. These numerous speaking engagements allowed the unit to continue educating the public and specifically, our elder population to prevent them from becoming the next victim of elder abuse.

Child Abuse

Child abuse, whether physical or sexual, is one of the most insidious of crimes. From a prosecution standpoint, proving child abuse is often complicated by the fact victims are often non-verbal or have limited communication skills. Babies cannot explain their bruises. Young children often do not report sexual abuse whether because they do not know it is wrong, they do not think adults will believe them over the abuser, they blame themselves, or because they do not want to upset their loved ones. This is precisely why the Family Protection Division is staffed with well-trained prosecutors who are versed in child abuse case dynamics, and possess the full range of skills needed to communicate with young children, when possible, and understand physical and medical evidence to find ways this type of evidence, often using it to speak for the children.

Child Abduction

The District Attorney’s Office fights for children in a variety of ways. In addition to child abuse, the Family Protection Division assists in locating 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 enforced. The unit handles both domestic and international cases, helping to recover children taken from and wrongfully brought to San Diego County.

In 2018, the Child Abduction Unit opened 113 new cases and successfully recovered a total of 71 children, handling 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 dedicated in combating this exploitation. The joint effort by this group of dedicated professionals ensures those committing internet crimes against children are held accountable.

One example of the type of cases this task force prosecutes is People v. Andrew Desoto. In this case, a 30-year-old defendant directly messaged a 13-year-old victim via Facebook Messenger. Within a matter of days, the defendant asked to meet with the victim, engaged in sexual explicit conversations and sent sexually explicit photos of himself. The victim’s older brother discovered the conversations and told their mother, who reported it to law enforcement. The detective on the case assumed the victim’s online persona and arranged a meeting with the defendant. When the defendant showed up at the designated meeting spot, he was placed under arrest. The defendant ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in state prison.

In addition to investigating and prosecuting Internet predators and offenders, this task force actively participates in outreach to schools and parents, educating the community on Internet safety.

Animal Cruelty Unit

Recognizing the significant connection between animal abuse and other violent crimes, in May of 2018 the District Attorney’s Office created the Animal Cruelty Unit to provide a streamlined and consistent approach to animal abuse cases. This unit works closely with law enforcement and animal advocacy groups to investigate these crimes.

Cruelty to animals can be horrific and may also be an early indicator of a batterer increasing his or her power and control over a victim. It is estimated that 70 percent of people who are prosecuted for other crimes have a record of animal cruelty, with an especially strong link to those who commit child abuse and domestic violence.

Significant cases in 2018 include:

People v. Uriel Leon – Domestic Violence Murder
Leon and the victim had an on and off romantic relationship for seven years and shared two toddler sons. The couple separated and the defendant went to live with his parents. On date of the crime, the victim dropped off the children with the defendant and went to work. When she returned to pick them up, Leon met her outside and placed their two-year-old son in her car. He then confronted the victim about her seeing another man. In his rage, he got into the back seat of the car and strangled the mother of his children to death with a nylon cord in front of their son. The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to 26 years to life in state prison.

People v. Brett Brown – Physical Child Abuse Murder
This case involves the murder of a little boy – just 20 months old, who was found unresponsive and taken to Rady Children’s Hospital. Despite intense lifesaving measures, the child died at the hospital. During the autopsy, forensic pathologists discovered multiple skull fractures, massive hemorrhages inside his head, neck and eyes as well as fractures to his left arm and right leg. The defendant, who was the mother’s boyfriend, was the only adult home with the child at the time of injury and provided varying explanations as to what occurred to the little boy. At the trial, he claimed he accidentally dropped the child and fell on top of him. Medical experts testified that none of the defendant’s proposed explanations were possible given the child’s injuries. A jury convicted Brown of murder and assault of a child under the age of 8 resulting in death. The defendant is now serving 25 years to life in state prison.

People v. Damon Edwarda – Domestic Violence Murder
The defendant and the victim had been in a relationship and living together for four years. One morning, the victim prepared breakfast for her two young children and then took food upstairs to her bedroom for the Edwarda. Shortly thereafter, he rushed out of the apartment and told the children not to go upstairs. But they did and they found their mother face down and covered in blood. By the time paramedics responded, the victim was dead. She suffered five stab wounds, a broken arm, a depressed skull fracture and a brain bleed. A jury convicted the defendant of second-degree murder and child abuse. He is currently serving a sentence of 16 years to life in prison.

People v. Victor Mendez – Sexual Child Abuse

The defendant molested his three granddaughters for six years. The abuse came to light when the 12-year-old girl disclosed the abuse to her friend at recess. The school was then notified and a social worker followed up. Soon thereafter, it was discovered that the defendant had been molesting two other granddaughters as well. The jury convicted the defendant of 16 counts of child molestation and he is now serving 45 years to life in prison.

People v. Matthew Tague – Sexual Child Abuse

This defendant was a popular pastor at a Carlsbad church. He was married for 20 years, had three grown children and adopted three foster children with his wife. One day, the defendant’s wife walked into their 13-year-old daughter’s room and saw the defendant getting up off of the bed and their daughter in bed with her shirt up with her stomach exposed. Subsequently, the defendant admitted to his wife and to law enforcement that he had been molesting his daughter for over a year. The defendant ultimately pleaded guilty to committing forcible lewd acts on his daughter. He is now serving 15 years in state prison.

People v. Theodore Guenther – Physical Elder Abuse Murder

The defendant, a diagnosed schizophrenic who was not taking his medication, attacked his 69-year-old mother by nearly bludgeoning her to death with a metal rod. The defendant pleaded guilty to attempted murder among other charges prior to trial. He was sentenced to state prison for 19 years and four months.

People v. Leona Parsons – Financial Elder Abuse

This case involved the ultimate violation of trust by a personal banker working for a major international bank. The defendant ingratiated herself to several elderly clients who came into the bank. Over the course of several years, she stole nearly $300,000 from these elderly victims by fraudulently inflating their withdrawal slips and pocketing the difference in over 100 transactions. Parsons pleaded guilty to multiple counts of theft from an elder adult and was sentenced to three years and eight months in state prison.

People v. William Sutton – Physical Elder Abuse Murder

William Sutton befriended a lonely 92-year-old woman while at McDonald’s. Within a few months, he moved in with her and began to work as her unofficial caregiver in exchange for free room and board. The victim in this case, a close friend of the elderly woman, saw through defendant’s sham as a caregiver and did not get along with him. On April 16, 2016, the victim left the defendant and her friend’s house after a visit. When she realized she had left her sunglasses on the kitchen counter, she returned to her friend’s house and encountered the defendant who was in a foul mood. He slammed the door on the victim’s face, grabbed her through the screen door as she struggled to hang on to the railing outside and yanked her into the kitchen. He then hurled her backward, head first, through the screen door onto the concrete porch, a few feet below. The victim managed to pick herself up and stagger down the hill back to her home. Unfortunately, due to her injuries, the victim’s condition declined quickly and two years later she died from the assault. Sutton was found guilty by a jury of second-degree murder and elder abuse causing death. He was sentenced to 15-years-to life in state prison.

Prevention and Community Awareness

The Family Protection Division is dedicated to crime prevention and increased community awareness. The District Attorney’s Office collaborated with the San Diego Domestic Violence Council and other partners to conduct trainings throughout the year on a variety of domestic violence topics. The District Attorney’s’ Office continued its community outreach programs in partnership with the County Department of Health and Human Services with grant funding from the California Office of Emergency Services. Under this grant, the programs serve victims of human trafficking, child abuse, elder and dependent adult abuse, domestic violence, sexual assaults and other crimes.

In October 2018, in conjunction with national Domestic Violence Awareness month, the District Attorney’s Office launched the Now is the Time domestic violence awareness campaign in partnership with the San Diego Domestic Violence Counsel. The campaign, funded by a grant from the California Office of Emergency Services, provided the community with a better understanding of how to recognize domestic violence and possible responses therefrom. More than 60 billboards were displayed across San Diego County directed at domestic violence victims, offenders and those witnesses of domestic violence. Additionally, wallet cards and postcards, in English and Spanish, were provided to community organizations for distribution.

The District Attorney’s Office also worked closely with the County Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team. This team tracks and reviews domestic violence related homicides in order to identify system improvements and make recommendations for needed programs, awareness efforts, training and policy updates in San Diego. The goal is to ultimately eradicate domestic violence related murders.

Finally in September of 2018, the District Attorney’s Office conducted outreach on mandated reporting targeted at school districts throughout San Diego County. This outreach helps ensure that some of our most vulnerable victims are being heard and supported by educating on how the reporting of these sensitive cases be done in an appropriate and timely manner.