A lawsuit filed Tuesday in Santa Barbara Superior Court alleges that a Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital nursing assistant sexually abused a disabled woman in his care and that hospital staff and administrators not only failed to report the abuse to police but actively swept the incident under the rug. The lawsuit, which claims negligence and fraud and seeks punitive damages, is the second to be filed in recent months against the rehab center and the nursing assistant for the same set of circumstances.
In both cases, 55-year-old Summerland resident Jose Carrillo is accused of sexually assaulting partially paralyzed female patients recovering from brain injuries as he helped them shower. And in both cases when the women told hospital staff what had happened, attorneys say, they were cautioned they were having delusions and hallucinations because of their medical conditions, but were nonetheless promised the incidents were being looked into and that the appropriate authorities had been notified. One of the victims, 49 years old and from San Luis Obispo, had received surgery to remove a brain tumor and the other, 57 years old and living in Santa Maria, had suffered a stroke; both were learning to walk, talk, and eat again.
According to police records, however, Cottage never contacted law enforcement about the reports of abuse, which allegedly occurred between February and April of 2010 and in January 2011. It was only when one of the victims spoke to detectives herself in June 2012 did the investigation begin and the second victim was identified. Carrillo would be arrested in October 2012 on four felony charges including penetration with a foreign object and forced oral copulation, but the District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute him, stating the case couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Though Carrillo remained employed at the rehab facility after the first set of accusations in 2010, he left Cottage under unknown circumstances following the 2011 incident. He remains a licensed nursing assistant, according to state records. Attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.
“There is no doubt these assaults occurred,” said Los Angeles-based attorney David Ring, who’s representing both women in their cases. “Cottage Hospital’s attempts to conceal these assaults demonstrates that it cares more about its own reputation than about protecting its patients … The conduct of the perpetrator is despicable; the conduct of the Hospital is outrageous.” In the first lawsuit, filed in February 2013, Ring alleges that Cottage deceived one of the victims by having an employee from its Risk Management Department pose as an outside investigator and conduct a mock interview. At the end of the interview, the employee reportedly admonished the victim to keep silent so as not to interfere with the supposed police inquiry or tarnish Carrillo’s reputation. Ring noted the victims never knew each other and were at the hospital at different times, several months apart.
Cottage attempted to have the February lawsuit dismissed, but a judge rejected the request, noting in the ruling that the victim claimed a nurse at the hospital “witnessed Carrillo engaging in inappropriate interactions with the plaintiff in the shower.” A possible jury trial is pending in that case, and the lawsuit filed Tuesday is just starting to work its way through the court system. Ring urged any other victims to come forward and contact SBPD detectives. As of publishing deadlines, a press conference was scheduled for Wednesday morning where Ring and the two victims were expected to address the media and talk about their ordeals.
When asked for comment, Cottage Hospital spokesperson Maria Zate declined to speak on the individual cases and issued this statement: “Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital and all of the Cottage hospitals hold the care and safety of every patient as our highest priority. Any allegation of patient abuse is taken extremely seriously, and we have rigorous procedures in place to thoroughly investigate in a timely manner.”
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EDITOR'S NOTE: The District Attorney's Office wishes to make clear that the alleged perpetrator was not prosecuted, because the case failed the reasonable doubt test. The DAO also states the victims' cognitive handicaps did not play a role in the decision.