The Contra Costa County Department of Children and Family Services (CFS, or CPS) in California appears to have a problem with the sexual abuse of children.
The Epoch Times interviewed whistleblower parents, children, and a mental health professional in the county who say children are being sexually abused within a system that is meant to protect them.
In July, a father–son duo, Simon Mendoza Chavez, 64, and Simon Magana Chavez, 31, in the Contra Costa County city of Antioch were arrested on charges of committing multiple crimes during their years-long tenure as foster parents, according to a little-publicized police department release.
“On 6-13-19, members of the Antioch Police Department began investigating an extensive sexual abuse case. The abuse involved several minors that were victimized by a father and son who provided foster care for the children from 2011 through 2017,” the Antioch police department stated in the release.
“Earlier this month, Antioch detectives from the Investigations Bureau arrested Simon Mendoza Chavez, and his son Simon Magana Chavez, in connection with these crimes. Both father and son were charged with the sexual abuse of multiple children, unlawfully having sex with a minor, and lewd acts with a child,” according to the release.
Simon Mendoza Chavez was a foster parent for Contra Costa County CPS, a district attorney’s spokesman said, with 18 years of foster-care experience. Both men have pleaded not guilty.
For parents in the community, the arrests come as no surprise.
“They have pushed my daughter to near death. They have stripped me of everything,” Mitchell Smith, a parent fighting for custody of his daughter, told The Epoch Times. Smith stood in a near-empty Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors meeting on May 14, held up suicidal artwork from his daughter, and alleged that children have gone missing in the county system.
“At this point, I am demanding an investigation. If there is no investigation, I am going to be given a reason why,” Smith said, but the board chose not to respond to him.
Tish Gallegos, of the community-media relations department of the Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services Department, declined to answer questions, and directed The Epoch Times to the California Department of Social Services.
Adam Weintraub of the California Department of Social Services told The Epoch Times, “I asked our staff to run a search of our system to pull out some data on cases of sexual misconduct, and they’ve run into a technical issue.” Later, Weintraub provided some information.
“A couple of points I should probably make clear upfront—most records in the foster system that could identify children are presumptively private. That probably means we will be limited in what information the law allows us to release about individual children, or even to confirm that a child was IN the system, unless a judge orders it,” he said.
“Similarly, California privacy law places fairly strict limits on information that identifies foster children, or could be combined with other publicly available information to identify a foster child.”
Using completed investigations in group homes and Short-Term Residential Therapeutic Programs that were coded as sexual abuse, “there were 5 allegations of sexual abuse from Contra Costa County from Jan. 1, 2017–Aug. 15, 2019. None (0) was substantiated. As with the statewide data, this is based on licensing data, NOT criminal cases,” he said.
But Weintraub failed to locate data on at least one case of alleged child sexual misconduct, even though a teen witness told The Epoch Times that he reported what he had seen to the administrator of his foster home.
For parents and victims, the government’s explanations ring hollow.
Teen Boy Witnessed Prostitution in Group Home
A teenage boy who was removed from his home by Contra Costa County CPS told The Epoch Times that he witnessed child prostitution occurring in his group home.
The boy said social workers coerced him to lie about his mother’s conduct and said that he refused psychiatric pills in the group home and reported the sex crimes he witnessed, compelling the group home to release him to his mother.
The boy’s mother has filed a lawsuit against the county and individuals, including Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Lois Haight, a foster parent, and multiple social workers with Contra Costa County CPS, seeking $650 million in compensatory damages and $650 million in punitive damages, for alleged misconduct aside from the sexual abuse the boy said he witnessed.
The 16-year-old boy, identified only as SP due to his minor status, is again living with his mother, after he was released from a succession of foster and group homes that CPS was obligated to monitor.
“Basically, I was moved four or five times in total to households for reasons that were not completely disclosed to me. I refused to lie about my mom,” SP told The Epoch Times, noting that “my social worker would come over once a week” and “they would convince me to try to lie.”
When SP was moved to a group home about a year and a half ago at age 14, he witnessed horrors that still have him reeling.
“There was a lot of truancy, there were a lot of runaways as well,” SP said, noting the presence of cigarettes, rolling papers, two bongs in the household, and white powder that was being snorted.
SP said his roommate, an African American boy, experienced sexual abuse.
“I was inside the room when these two men went inside the room,” SP said, identifying the men as two African-American adults. “They had sex. They did oral on a chair. And I got out of the room. I reported it to one of the staff there.
“I talked to the one guy. I said, ‘Can you please not do this.’
“I left. I ran outside to meet [the female group home director] in the kitchen. I told her what was going on inside with the two people. She broke them up midway through it.
“Of course I thought it was disgusting,”
Asked by The Epoch Times if he thought money was being exchanged as part of this child sex session, SP was emphatic.
“Yes,” SP said.
“There was a girl there that was a prostitute as well. She arrived a couple of days before I left.”
“She ran away twice” during his time there, SP said.
SP said that the teenage girl would repeatedly leave the group home and return with “loads of $100 bills.”
“One of the guys told me she did this. She had regular johns,” SP said.
According to SP, the girl ran away from the group home at least twice, in apparent escape attempts from her lifestyle; she was still missing at the time SP left the group home.
SP said that he refused to take psychotropic drugs that were given out by the administrators of the group home.
An overdose death in 2015 of a teen boy on psychotropic medications sparked a wrongful death lawsuit against Contra Costa County’s foster care system, as well as further debate about over-medicating foster care kids.
SP became such a nuisance within the group home system that they expelled him, and his mother was able to regain custody. SP believes that his witnessing the sex act was what convinced the group home to release him.
SP’s mother’s legal adviser, P. Stephen Lamont, said that he believes CPS in Contra Costa County knew about the abuse allegation.
“They knew all about it, because SP was returned home. He wouldn’t take the drugs that would get him addicted,” Lamont said, noting that 16-year-old SP is the true hero of the story. “He fought CPS and he won, which is unheard of.”
A representative of Judge Haight, who is responsible for SP’s case, told The Epoch Times that Haight wasn’t available to comment due to illness, and that the court can’t comment on Department of Family and Child Services cases.
A Culture of Silence
In 2016, a 49-year-old Costa Contra County foster parent named Michael Mallett committed “suicide by police,” when three officers shot and killed him at his home after a 12-hour standoff, while trying to arrest him on child molestation charges.
A probable cause affidavit obtained by The Epoch Times shows that Mallett was wanted for 12 counts of “Lewd Act Upon a Child” under 14 years old.
“MICHAEL LEE MALLETT did willfully, unlawfully, and lewdly commit a lewd and lascivious act upon and with the body and certain parts and members of thereof of JANE DOE, a child under the age of fourteen years, with the intent of arousing, appealing to, and gratifying the lust, passions and sexual desires of the said defendant, MICHAEL LEE MALLETT, and the said child,” the affidavit states.
Doris C., 84, who had been raising her great-granddaughter, said that the girl was removed from her home when someone fired a gun in her driveway and pierced her tire, prompting CPS to link the house to gang activity, which she denies.
She told The Epoch Times that the preteen African-American child was placed in Mallett’s home, which she never would have known until a social worker disclosed that, and CPS actually retaliated against the social worker for sharing the information, Doris said.
The girl’s experience in foster homes—including with Mallett, who the girl called “Pops”—was disturbing.
“When she came to see me on a visit, she had on some different clothes and thongs on, in the winter,” Doris said, noting that the clothes she bought for her great-granddaughter were either bleached or taken by another child in the foster home, and that the school routinely couldn’t reach her foster mother.
In at least one foster home, Doris’s great-granddaughter was the possible victim of sexual abuse investigated by government officials, according to a social worker’s recounting of the incident to Carter.
“I heard that the older girl at this foster home had videos on her cell phone of [her great-granddaughter] and her little brother. She supposedly had her little brother do some sexual things with [the great-granddaughter],” Doris said. She was on a supervised visit when two men, including a detective, entered the house to investigate.
The girl and young boy both denied the sexual activity, and authorities failed to find the phone where the videos allegedly existed.
“They went there to the home to confiscate the phone, and there was no phone,” Doris said.
Doris said that her great-granddaughter told her that a social worker coerced her to claim that she had been touched inappropriately by a male cousin at Doris’s house—a claim that she strongly denies and the girl’s school psychologist also strongly doubts.
Bill Sorensen, the school psychologist at the specialized Marcus School, which Doris’s great-granddaughter attended, told The Epoch Times that the girl was doing extremely well until she was moved out of Doris’s home and into foster care. Then, her behavior deteriorated.
Sorensen remembers being very concerned about Michael Mallett’s home, where the girl was staying. Mallett’s female significant other, the foster mother in the home, showed up to at least one status meeting for Doris’s great-granddaughter.
“She was not cooperative,” Sorensen said of the foster mother. “It was not good. It should have been a red flag right there. Her attitude was, she didn’t want to be there. She was not forthcoming. She was very cold and shut down.”
Sorensen remains worried about Doris’s great-granddaughter.
“I can say it seemed like she was under threat from CPS to cooperate. Everything was, if she does x, y, and z then she would get to go home to her great-grandmother. I think she would have done absolutely anything to go home,” Sorensen said.
“When you get in this system and are attractive, you are at high risk. Many of these children get addicted to drugs in return for favors,” Sorensen said.
Abuse Alleged for 4 Years
Fred K.’s daughter, who is now back in his custody, was also in Mallett’s home in Contra Costa County.
“Apparently, an 11-year-old girl who was living on the same property with [my daughter], she said something,” Fred told The Epoch Times. “She said that she was molested for some time while being there, for four years. She finally said something when she was 11.”
“CPS is not willing to take any responsibility for it. I confronted CPS about it, and they said you should be happy you got your kids back, and if you have a problem with what we did, then get a lawyer.
“They said, ‘We had no way of knowing at that time, we checked his background and he came back clear.’” Fred’s daughter is now 12 years old, and says she was physically abused at the foster home.
“She’s still having a lot of problems and suffering from trauma from being abused. She said once that she didn’t finish her dinner once, and she got picked up and thrown in her room.”
Whether formal charges are ever filed, many kids who cycle through the Contra Costa CPS system are clearly in danger, as many witnesses observe.
A Child With High Heels
Brad Schindler told The Epoch Times that a social worker called him with an emergency regarding his 11-year-old niece, with the worker saying they needed to get the young girl out of the foster care “situation she is in.” They almost put her in an adult homeless shelter. Schindler took care of the girl temporarily.
“She was very, very pale. She looked malnourished. There were some bruises on her arms and legs. We went on walks around the block and she couldn’t walk very far because she said her legs would turn to jello. The first night I had her, she just wouldn’t stop eating,” Schindler said.
“She was very terrified. She needed to sleep with her light on. She was very scared, ultra-sensitive of any noise. She kept saying she was afraid someone was going to come into the room.”
“I found these high-heel shoes that looked hooker-ish that an escort would wear. I threw them away because they were highly inappropriate. She told me they [the foster parents] would tell her to put them on and run and they would watch her. I don’t know if they would video her, but I guess they would watch her do that.”
“She doesn’t really tell me much about the foster family she was with. She is very hush-hush about it,” Schindler said.