Former El Monte Girl Overcame Thinking Her Abuse Was Normal


Although the El Monte girl is still overcoming one major life hurdle, another looms. Image Credit: Joshua Sanchez/SAC.Media.

One El Monte girl escaped the horror of her Arden Drive residence, but now faces legal horror.

The girl, now 15, will never be the same. She suffers from flashbacks and memories of her ruined childhood, of abuses that she suffered from at the age of 7 in 2010.

These abuses continued until she was 10 in 2012, alleges David Ring, the lawyer representing the girl.

“This case is about the destruction of a girl’s life,” Ring said to the Los Angeles Superior Court jury. “She had no idea how to be a normal 9-year-old.”

Ring was brought in, after the girl’s 35-year-old father filed a lawsuit in June of 2013 on the girl’s behalf.

The lawsuit alleges that social workers for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services ignored warning signs that the El Monte girl was being sexually abused.

Representing the social workers is Christie Bodnar Swiss, who said the social workers took the proper steps with the information they had. Every person is entitled to a fair review of the circumstances before a child is removed from a home, she added.

“We all feel for [the girl] and the abuses she did suffer, but the evidence will show the abuses did not occur while she was receiving services from the DCFS,” Swiss said.

Ring’s Timeline | Girl’s Account | Father’s Account | Mother’s Account | Social Worker’s Account

A timeline has been provided by Ring’s statements.

The girl’s parents were both members of the Navy when they met in 2003. After having a child together that same year, the mother, moved in with her new mother-in-law in New Mexico. The girl’s father remained on active duty overseas.

In this time, the girl’s mother did not want to stay in New Mexico and moved to California. The mother had lived in San Diego, Fontana, and Temple City before settling in El Monte.

Ring alleges the mother lead a “reckless life” where she would be gone from home for long periods of time. She was working graveyard shifts and engaging in other activities at the time.

In December of 2009, the girl’s mother reported that a man she was in a relationship with had physically abused her and her children.
The DCFS investigated, the man was incarcerated, and the DCFS kept an open case in which services were provided to the girl and her siblings.

A neighbor reported in 2010 that the girl was observed wandering alone in front of the home, according to one of her attorney’s court papers.

In August of 2010, the DCFS received more information about the household, where the girl told the DCFS that another man was sleeping on a mattress next to her.

Ring alleges that despite knowing the man’s presence exposed the girl to possible sexual abuse, the social workers did not take sufficient steps to ensure the man was removed from the home. The man also reportedly had a history of inappropriate sexual contact with children.

During a 2012 trip to New Mexico with her father, the girl confided in him. She told him she had been abused by several adult men in the El Monte home.

Her father also cut off his daughter’s hair because it had become far too dirty. It is speculated that she was neglecting her hygiene because of trauma.

Ring is asking the girl be awarded damages for the costs of therapy and for further treatment she will need in the future.

Swiss denies the allegations Ring made. She said there were no reasonable suspicions apparent to social workers that the girl was being sexually abused in August of 2010.

She said that when DCFS learned in 2012 that the girl had in fact been sexually abused, the child’s mother and four men were eventually charged, tried, and convicted.

Before that time, the social workers had no basis to remove the plaintiff from her mother’s care according to Swiss.

“Everyone is entitled to due process of law,” Swiss said.

Ring’s Timeline | Girl’s Account | Father’s Account | Mother’s Account | Social Worker’s Account

One of the social workers, Elbis Severo testified on Monday, July 16 that she had warned the mother that she could lose custody of her children if she allowed a handyman with an arrest record for sexual abuse to live in her apartment.

Severo also testified that she had no reason to suspect the man was abusing the woman’s daughter.

Severo defended the way she and social worker, Lucia So, handled an investigation that started with a 2009 probe.
The probe followed an allegation that the mother’s former husband physically abused two of the women’s children.

The lawsuit alleges the social workers did not take steps to remove the girl in 2010, despite reasonable suspicion that the child was being abused and that the mother was doing nothing about it.

Lawyers for the county maintain that the social workers had no grounds to seek removal of the child until the girl told her father in 2012.

When Severo learned that Louie Fluet, had been subject to allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor, she warned the other that she could lose custody of her children if the man was allowed to stay in the apartment.

She said the mother signed an affidavit swearing that Fluet did not reside with her.

“I didn’t know she was lying. She told me he stayed there a very short time and wasn’t living there anymore,” Severo said. “She was generally trying to provide the best care for her children and was attending all her [parenting] classes.”

Severo said the mother was “more cooperative” and the father was “confrontational and difficult.”

She said his claims that his daughter was unclean contradicted her own observations.

When Ring asked what she did when she found out Fluet was taking the girl to nearby Gidley Elementary School, despite her warnings to the girl’s mother, Severo replied, “Nothing.”

Severo said she wrote a letter in October of 2010 recommending the case be closed and the family no longer be monitored.

This letter is two months after the girl told DCFS that a man was sleeping on a mattress next to her, according to Ring’s timeline.

“I didn’t have any indication he had done anything to any of those girls,” Severo said.

Fluet, in a video disposition shown to jurors, denied abusing the girl or that he had slept in the same room as her. He also said he worked at the Commerce Casino.

Another convicted man, Tim Martinson, testified in a video deposition played for jurors that he also did not abuse the girl, but said Fluet did sleep in the same room with the child.

Martinson said he was so worried about the girl that he thought about taking her to a friend’s home. He said he reported his concerns to the DCFS, and described the home as filthy.

He said there was drug-related material, including pipes, scattered throughout. Martinson also said he regularly consumed methamphetamine and LSD in the home before leavig and living on the streets.

Ring’s Timeline | Girl’s Account | Father’s Account | Mother’s Account | Social Worker’s Account

The mother testified on Friday, July 13 that she never approved such abuses and that her daughter considered one of the perpetrators a father-figure.

“I was very gullible back then,” the woman, 39, told the jury. “I still am to an extent.”

In her testimony, the woman confirmed Ring’s timeline.

When she returned to California, she said she held various jobs, and worked for a time as a stripper. She said she also worked a graveyard shift doing food inventory work until she became weary of the hours and got hired at Kmart.

She also said she went to school and completed studies to become a pharmacy technician.

Although the El Monte lease was under her name, she said she followed the wishes of a longtime friend she called her mother. This “mother figure” allowed various men to stay at the apartment to help pay the rent.

She said one of the men who lived there was unemployed and that his wife was a panhandler. She also said she was not pleased that Louie Fluet was there.

She said she grew to dislike him and had previously lived in an apartment with him in Fontana.

She also said she did not know until later that Fluet was sleeping at night on a mattress next to her daughter.

“When I was there, he slept downstairs on the floor,” the woman testified.

The woman said she did report to DCFS in December of 2009, and that they provided services to her and her three children.

The woman said a social worker raised possible issues about Fluet, saying he should not be allowed to remain at the apartment. The woman said it was a recommendation and not a demand.

The woman also said her daughter liked Fluet.

“She was eager to have a father-figure in her life,” the woman said. “I didn’t know he was a sicko at the time.”

She also said she didn’t know the other men were abusing the girl while also allegedly taking illegal drugs.

“I did not know these people were not nice people,” she said.

The “mother figure” that encouraged apartment sharing died of severe health problems in 2013.

The woman said she agreed to take a plea bargain despite maintaining she was not guilty.

“That was so I could get out of jail,” she said.

Ring’s Timeline | Girl’s Account | Father’s Account | Mother’s Account | Social Worker’s Account

The father testified on Tuesday, July 17 that his daughter still has challenges, but has made progress and is now talking about becoming a cheerleader and eventually an FBI agent.

The 35-year-old is the legal guardian of the girl and filed the lawsuit on her behalf, alleging social workers had reasonable suspicion that the girl was being abused by her mother and several other men permitted to stay at the apartment.

The man said the girl is in ongoing therapy. He told the jury he is doing all he can to help her lead as normal a life as possible while avoiding any steps backward.

“I just don’t want her to end up on the streets,” he said. “I think she is in an amazing place right now.”

In his testimony he confirmed Ring’s timeline. He said his then-girlfriend left the service to live with his parents while he went on an overseas deployment.

He said she failed to get along with them and left for California. He testified that when he was discharged himself, he struggled to make contact with her and decided after a visit that they should go their separate ways.

Although he told her he wanted to be a part of their daughter’s life, she hinted he would never see the child again, the father said.

He also said he was contacted by social workers in 2010 after allegation of physical abuse in the household were made. These allegations were unrelated to the later sexual abuse charges.

He said he began to have visitations with his daughter. At first they were monitored but they were later unsupervised.

“I wanted to come back and create a connection with my daughter,” he said.

He said the girl was sometimes unclean when she was brought to him. She often wouldn’t be wearing any of the new clothes he had bought for her either.

When he complained to Elbis Severo, one of the social workers, she was unsympathetic and replied, “These are kids, they get dirty.”

He said that while undergoing therapy in New Mexico during one of the later unsupervised visits, his daughter explained in detail the sexual mistreatment by her mother and the men living in the El Monte home.

The girl’s revelations led to El Monte police involvement and the arrests of the mother and the other men, including Fluet.

The girl’s father was later given full custody, and one of his daughter’s abusers sent him a letter saying he was sorry.

He said that his daughter experienced nightmares, had poor hygiene, got into cars with strangers, and was unusually affectionate with grown men, all stemming from her trauma.

He said therapists believed she used toy boxes as a bathroom, because she was too afraid to go outside her bedroom for fear of being hurt again.

The girl will be a sophomore this fall at her New Mexico high school and that she’s hoping to be a cheerleader and join clubs. She’s also looking at careers.

“Now her thing is she wants to be an FBI agent, he said.”

He said he will remain strict, and his goal is to see her enter and finish college. He said her grades improved, and told her she better have a 4.0 average if she wants a boyfriend.

Ring’s Timeline | Girl’s Account | Father’s Account | Mother’s Account | Social Worker’s Account

The girl, now 15, testified on Wednesday, July 18 that she did not immediately know the abuse she faced was wrong.

“I thought it was normal,” the girl said.

She wore a long skirt, denim jacket, wide-rimmed glasses, and little emotion as she told the jury what happened to her. She said she has learned to cope over time.

“I feel it was an obstacle course I overcame,” she said. “I won’t let it define me.”

She now lives with her 35-year-old father in New Mexico, and is entering her sophomore year this fall.

Her father started the lawsuit on her behalf, alleging social workers had enough suspicion to remove her from the home.

One of the girl’s attorneys is Louanne Masry, daughter of Ed Masry of Erin Brockovich fame,
Masry questioned the girl about Louie Fluet and Tim Martenson.

She said Fluet moved into the apartment in El Monte after she, her mother, and her two half-sisters moved there from Temple City because of abuses committed by the mother’s husband at the time.

Fluet at first had his own room, but he later began sleeping on a separate bed in the same room where she stayed, she said, adding the bedroom was where Fluet inappropriately touched her about two times weekly.

Fluet would buy her ice cream and toys, and occasionally walked her to school.

Martinson slept in his own room and abused the girl there and in the garage.

“He would call me and I would come, she said.

Asked by Masry about additional abuses by Fluet, the girl said she could not recall them.

Masry then played for the jurors a 2012 video in which she, at 9, sat at a table and fidgeted as she told an interviewer about the other incidents.

Ring’s Timeline | Girl’s Account | Father’s Account | Mother’s Account | Social Worker’s Account

The mother and four of the men who lived in the apartment are now convicted sex offenders.

For more information, visit the San Gabriel Valley Tribune’s coverage of the girl’s testimony, her father’s testimony, the social worker’s testimony, the mother’s testimony, and the original lawsuit.