A California mother of three endured years of sexual violence at her parole officer's hands—but a provision in state law is keeping her from suing her attacker and the probation office that allegedly looked the other way.
Kim Adams, a California mother of three who was repeatedly and brutally sexually assaulted by her probation officer, has spent over a year fighting for her right to seek damages from her attacker and from the Kern County Probation Office, which she says helped cover up the abuse. Her petition to sue has been repeatedly denied due to a provision in California law, which her lawyers say effectively silences victims of sexual abuse.
Adams is now taking her case to the federal level, seeking "general, special, and punitive damages for civil rights violations." According to her lawsuit, her now-former parole officer, Reyes Soberon, would take advantage of his position to call Adams into the probation office and "digitally penetrate her vagina and anus while sticking his tongue down her throat, moaning: 'I want you to make me cum in my pants.'"
The abuse took place over a period of three years, from 2012 to 2015, while Adams was on probation for burglary. In one instance, according to the suit, Soberon sexually assaulted Adams in her home in front of her disabled son who has cerebral palsy, "as he lay helpless, crawling on the ground." Outside of their visits, Soberon would text Adams, referring to her as "baby doll" and "sexy mamacita."
"Soberon threatened Ms. Adams, stating that he would put her in jail for the rest of her life if she refused his sexual advances," the lawsuit states. The situation eventually escalated, and Adams began to receive death threats from Soberon.
The lawsuit also states that multiple officials at the probation office were aware of Soberon's behavior and discouraged Adams from reporting it. And after she went through with a report, the lawsuit claims, the Kern County Probation Office continued to allow Soberon to serve as her parole officer. "Ms. Adams lived in constant fear, believing that Soberon was free to continue molesting her," the suit states.
"He would put his heavy body on me, hold my arm and shove his tongue down my mouth," Adams said in an interview. "I believe he used his power and authority to do this to me constantly. Honestly, I haven't been on probation, because I've been being sexually assaulted. That's not probation."
Sorberon was eventually put on paid leave while he was investigated by the Probation Department for misconduct. In his 2016 criminal trial, Sorberon plead guilty to Adams' claims of sexual abuse, and those of two other victims. He took a deal that allowed him to spend just 180 days in jail, and he also registered as a sex offender; after the sentencing, Adams sobbed to reporters. "Not an hour of the day goes by that I'm not haunted by the memory of what he did to me," she said.
I believe he used his power and authority to do this to me constantly.
The disappointing resolution to the criminal case against Sorberon was compounded by the fact that Adams had previously been denied a right to launch a civil claim against her abuser and the county. In California, a plaintiff must file a claim against the government no more than six months after the incident. Adams missed the deadline by two months, according to her lawyers—at the time, she did not have legal representation and was not aware of the rule. Her lawyers say that Adams was not provided with a victim's advocate during the criminal investigation.
She was also suffering from PTSD, which, as a psychologist testified in court documents, prevented her from filing her petition within the timeframe or doing anything that reminded her of her of the trauma she endured.
"Adams had the courage to file two months after the deadline once she was aware that a criminal investigation was taking place against Sorberon," her lawyer, Ben Meiselas, an attorney at Geragos & Geragos, said over the phone. "In her petition, she describes how she was terrified for her life and she couldn't even get out of bed. But Kern County denied it and said it was late."
Once Adams was able to involve lawyers in her case, they attempted to overturn the denial. The tort law allows for exceptions to the statute of limitations, including disability or "excusable neglect." Bizarrely, however, the court would not accept Adams' excuse for her late filing."The petitioner must not only show that she lacked both the physical and the mental capacity to bring the claim, but also that the disability was of such an all-encompassing nature as to prevent her from even authorizing another to file the claim," the court curtly replied. "Consequently, the petition must be denied."
"I was shocked and horrified to see their response. During oral arguments, it was clear that the court was very skeptical that PTSD resulting from sexual assault qualified as a disability," Meiselas said. "The legal system is really tilted here to not provide a level of protection that sexual assault victims deserve. They're trying to use a six-month statute of limitations as a sword and a shield from preventing [Adams] from having access to the court system."
Adams' lawyers are currently repealing the County court's order and are hoping that Adams can get relief in federal court. Adams is still on probation under a different parole officer.
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