The two women alleging that a former Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital employee sexually assaulted them — and that Cottage administration failed to report the incidents to the police and then acted as if no complaints were ever made — shared their stories at a press conference on Wednesday.
The first victim, Sara, 57 years old and from Santa Maria, was admitted to the hospital for three months in 2010 after a stroke. She alleges that her nursing assistant, 55-year-old Jose Carrillo of Summerland, abused her while he was supposed to be helping her shower.
“It was my worst nightmare,” Sara said, adding that she was still trying to “learn my ABCs” at the time. “I was repeatedly sexually abused by that man, and I told on him when I couldn’t take it anymore.” But Cottage staff didn’t take her repeated complaints seriously, Sara said. “They called me crazy.”
The women’s lawyers—who said that the pair met each other for the first time right before the press conference—say that when each woman reported the alleged abuse, Cottage staff attributed the incidents to the women’s medical states, trying to convince them there were having delusions and hallucinations. Staff still told the women that the claims would be looked into and the police informed.
In the February 2013 lawsuit filed in response to Sara’s allegations, her Los Angeles-based lawyer David Ring (who is also representing the second woman) states that Cottage never seriously looked into the claims or reported them to the police, instead having one of its Risk Management employees pose as an external investigator who, at the end of the interview, told Sara not to mention the incidents to anyone else to avoid interfering with the “investigation.” According to the lawsuit, Sara was repeatedly assaulted between February and April 2010. Because of her stroke, she was unable to move the left side of her body and had minimal feeling there. The documents state that Carrillo raped her and masturbated in front of and on her, alleged actions that she reported to Cottage staff multiple times.
“I was convinced it never happened,” Sara said about how she felt about the alleged abuse after Cottage’s response. That was the case until she got a call from the Santa Barbara Police Department, which received a complaint from the second victim about Carrillo’s alleged abuse and uncovered Sara’s complaint from internal Cottage documents. “I realized I was right all along,” Sara said.
The second woman, a 49-year-old San Luis Obispo resident identified as Z.T., came to the hospital in January 2011 after suffering brain surgery complications, which left the left side of her body paralyzed. Carrillo was her nurse, too, and Z.T. said he abused her.
“I trusted that Cottage would take care of me, but they didn’t,” Z.T. said. When she told Cottage staff about Carrillo’s alleged assaults — which she said involved him squirting water in her face so she couldn’t scream or be heard — she said she was rebuffed. “I knew I wasn’t crazy because I was paralyzed. My brain wasn’t paralyzed.”
According to Z.T.’s lawsuit against the hospital, filed on Tuesday, when Z.T. told staff about Carrillo’s alleged abuse, they told her no prior reports against Carrillo had been made and treated her case as they did Sara’s. When Z.T. found out about Cottage’s lack of response to her complaints, she told the police in June 2012.
Carrillo was arrested in October of last year on both cases. He was charged with four felonies, including penetration with a foreign object and forced oral copulation. The District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute Carrillo, saying that the women’s cognitive abilities at the time of the alleged assaults could cause reasonable doubt. “These women suffered significant harm,” Ring said. “The hospital chose to protect its reputation over the safety of its patients.”
At the press conference, Ring encouraged other possible victims to come forward. Ring said that if additional victims and/or new evidence are discovered, Carrillo could face new criminal charges. Carrillo is no longer employed by the hospital — whether he was terminated or resigned remains unclear — but state records show his nursing assistant license is still valid.
Sara’s lawsuit — which Cottage tried to have dismissed but to no avail — has a possible jury trial pending, and Z.T.’s lawsuit is in the early stages.
Cottage Hospital spokesperson Maria Zate issued this statement on the cases: “All of us who work at Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital and Cottage Health System are very concerned by the allegations contained in these lawsuits. We want our community to know that we take this matter very seriously. We care deeply for the health and well-being of our current and former patients. Patient safety and quality of care are our foremost priorities. We feel great pride in the reputation that our physicians, nurses and staff have built over many decades for providing compassionate patient care and medical excellence to hundreds of thousands of members of our community. We remain committed to providing the highest quality care to every patient who comes to us for treatment.”