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Criminal Justice

‘Imposter’ Gets Into LA Juvenile Hall; Internal Memo Says The Individual Took COVID-19 Swabs And Kids’ Social Security Numbers

An expansive aerial view of the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall campus. Several white-roofed buildings are visible, bordering grassy lawns. A residential neighborhood borders one side of the facility.
An aerial view of Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar.
(Courtesy Google Earth)
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An “imposter posing as a medical professional” recently gained access to Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, took COVID-19 "'swabs'" from youths there, and collected their names and social security numbers, according to an internal email sent by an official in the L.A. County Public Defender’s office.

The Probation Department, which operates the facility, confirmed in a statement that “an unknown individual posing as a healthcare worker gained access” on Jan. 29 “in violation of security protocols. All of the youth in the facility are safe.”

The statement continued: “Local authorities have been notified, and an internal investigation is underway. The probation department is reexamining security protocols.”

The statement did not provide further details about the incident. More than two hours after we published our story and two days after we made the department aware of the email, a Probation spokesperson emailed us saying the agency now “can confirm that youth were not asked for their [S]ocial [S]ecurity numbers.”

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Asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Public Defender's office did not directly address the question of whether the intruder collected Social Security numbers, saying only that the internal email was not approved for public release.

The Probation Department’s original statement quoted Chief Deputy Karen Fletcher as saying, “[i]t is reprehensible that an individual would impersonate a healthcare worker and take advantage of one of our most vulnerable populations. It is disheartening, disrespectful, and criminal.”

‘Great Concern’

The Public Defender office's spokesperson had earlier expressed “great concern” about the incident and said it is being investigated, while declining further comment.

“We have just recently been made aware of the incident, and we are looking into it,” said Alex Bastian, special advisor to L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón.

It is reprehensible that an individual would impersonate a healthcare worker and take advantage of one of our most vulnerable populations.
— Probation Dept. Chief Deputy Karen Fletcher

A spokesperson for the Probation Oversight Commission said that, as of Friday morning, the Probation Department had not reported the incident to the panel.

Emilio Zapién of the Youth Justice Coalition said in a statement that the incident “highlights the URGENT need for [Youth Justice Reimagined] and why every young person needs to be moved out of Probation control.”

Youth Justice Reimagined is the sweeping plan, approved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in November of 2020, to reform the county’s juvenile justice system.

‘Please Ask Your Lawyers To Check With Their Clients’

We reviewed the internal email sent this week by a head deputy within the Public Defender’s office. After describing the security breach, it advised the recipients to “[p]lease ask your lawyers to check with their clients to determine if they were targeted by this person.”

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About 300 youths are housed across juvenile halls and camps in L.A. County; 155 are at the Nidorf facility, according to the Probation Department.

The number of young people in detention has declined over the past several years due to an increase in referrals to community-based providers and at-home programs, and the pandemic.

We spoke with two attorneys who work with children housed at the Nidorf facility. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The attorneys said they are working to ascertain whether their clients were affected by the break-in.

“We’ve asked for more details [to enable us to better advise our clients],” one of the attorneys texted us on Friday.

In 2018, the California Department of Justice launched an investigation into L.A. County’s two juvenile halls and found the county “provided insufficient services and endangered youth safety,” citing an excessive use of pepper spray as one issue.

Just over a year ago,former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced a settlement with L.A. County to improve conditions in the juvenile halls.

Last September, the California Board of State and Community Corrections determined thatthe county’s juvenile halls were “not suitable” to house minors, and gave the county 60 days to improve conditions. In November, the board said the facilities were again acceptable, but expressed concern with the length of time kids were locked in their units.

What questions do you have about criminal justice in Southern California? 
Emily Elena Dugdale covers smaller police departments around Southern California, school safety officers, jails and prisons, and juvenile justice issues. She also covers the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff’s Department.

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