While the 13 Turpin siblings found chained and horribly abused in a Perris home often got the care they needed from Riverside County, “all too often the social services system failed them,” according to a massive report by a law firm tasked with investigating their care and recommending improvements to the safety net for at-risk children and adults.
In addition, the county’s Public Guardian office, which looks after vulnerable adults, failed to obtain and distribute more than $1 million raised for the Turpin children’s benefit, which “may have resulted in food and housing insecurity for at least some of the Turpin siblings, in direct contravention of the donors’ wishes,” the report from Larson LLP read.
The 634-page report, released Friday afternoon, July 8, caps a months-long investigation that began after revelations that the Turpins — already subjected to a lifetime of torture and neglect — were further victimized by the county’s adult and child protective services, which have been the target of severe criticism and lawsuits in recent years.
The Board of Supervisors, which hired the firm of attorney and retired federal judge Stephen Larson, will hear a public presentation on the report Tuesday, July 12. Larson’s firm received $868,000 to do the investigation, county spokesperson Brooke Federico said via email.
Riverside County Executive Officer Jeff Van Wagenen, in an emailed statement, thanked county employees for cooperating so Larson could do an “independent and thorough” probe.
“I appreciate the unflinching review and recognition that good people are doing good work,” he wrote. “The recommendations will guide our continuing efforts to improve outcomes in the days, weeks and months to come.”
The same statement quoted Supervisor Karen Spiegel as saying that, “as public servants, our duty is to ensure that our most vulnerable communities are receiving the care and protection they deserve.”
“I am dedicated to making sure we have the tools, resources and staffing to provide that care. This is the time to act and I will support all efforts to meet the challenge.”
John Hall, a spokesperson for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, said DA Mike Hestrin will not comment on Larson’s report until after Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
Only county supervisors or certain county officials can read the full story of what happened to the Turpins on the county’s watch. Sections of the report dealing specifically with the Turpins were redacted — entire pages are nothing but black rectangles — to comply with a court ruling protecting the Turpins’ privacy.
Larson’s firm did the redactions to follow the court order, Federico said.
What’s unredacted finds fault with the attorneys and county agencies tasked with caring for and guiding the Turpins, who were found by sheriff’s deputies in January 2018.
Sheriff’s deputies found the Turpin siblings chained to their beds, abused, malnourished and neglected to the point that their physical and mental development was stunted. Their parents, David and Louise Turpin, pleaded guilty to 14 felony counts and are serving sentences of 25 years to life in state prison.
After they were freed, the minor Turpin children were placed in foster care while the Public Guardian’s office, which is tasked with protecting vulnerable adults, looked after the adult siblings.
The Board of Supervisors announced Larson’s hiring after an ABC News “20/20” report about the Turpins that aired in November.
In it, two of the adult children said they struggled to find money for food, were forced to live in bad neighborhoods and were cast into society with few life skills or regard for their well-being, an assertion backed by Hestrin.
Despite an outpouring of community support that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the children, Joshua Turpin said the Public Guardian denied his request for money to buy a bike. And three members of a Perris family have been accused of physically and psychologically abusing nine foster children, including five who evidence suggests are members of the Turpin family.
News of the Turpins’ plight prompted an outpouring of community donations.
The Larson team found that “a significant amount of money that was donated for the benefit of the Turpin siblings, but which the Office of Public Guardian has not marshaled and distributed.
“Specifically, the records indicate that over $209,000 was donated to the City of Corona Chamber of Commerce, the balance of which is now managed by SAFE Family Justice Center. The records also indicate that the JAYC Foundation holds approximately $1,000,000,” the report states.
“It is not entirely clear why the Office of Public Guardian did not seek to obtain and distribute these funds until recently. According to an unsealed filing by the Turpins’ court-appointed attorney, the Office of Public Guardian previously claimed that it did not have the duty or ability to marshal these funds.
“Regardless of the reasoning, the Office of Public Guardian’s failure to marshal these funds has resulted in the lack of Court oversight for the … funds, and may have resulted in food and housing insecurity for at least some of the Turpin siblings, in direct contravention of the donors’ wishes.”
The report also touched on “heated conflicts” between the law firm appointed to represent seven of the Turpins, the district attorney’s office and the county counsel’s office, which serves as county government’s in-house law firm.
“The aggravated disagreements among these entities often involved important issues that were legally germane to the siblings’ interests,” the report states. “However, they were conducted in such a way that the siblings were confused and unsettled.”
“(Redacted) the siblings were caught in the midst of this legal turf war, and were trying their hardest to understand the issues and do the right thing. Clearly, it detracted from a constructive focus on protecting them from harm while enhancing their independence.”
About $30,000 per sibling was distributed to the “special needs trusts” for each of the Turpins, the report read.
“Although we have not found that any of these funds were improperly spent, we are concerned that County Counsel filed every required accounting for both the conservatorship estates and the Special Needs Trusts late — often years past the due date,” the report read.
“Timely filing of accountings is a key component of the Office of Public Guardian’s fiduciary duty as conservator and trustee. If the filings are late, transparency and accountability to the Court are impaired.”
The report added: “There is a marked lack of communication and coordination among those responsible for different pots of money that affect the Turpin siblings — (the public guardian), the SAFE Family Justice Center, and the JAYC Foundation. The County should bring these stakeholders together to facilitate planning for the Turpins’ access to and use of the funds.”
Only two of the seven adults remain under conservatorship. For four of the other five conservatees, the Public Guardian filed a first accounting of their money with the court 21 months late and the final accounting 10 months late.
For the remaining conservatees, the Public Guardian filed a first accounting more than two years late and a final accounting more than 21 months late. The deputy public guardian interviewed by Larson’s firm said she sent several accountings to County Counsel for approval and transmission to the court on time, but that County Counsel repeatedly lost them, contributing to an improper delay.
Besides investigating the Turpins’ care, Larson also was asked to look into child and adult protective services and recommend improvements.
The report touches on a number of chronic problems within the public guardian’s office and child protective services, including a lack of foster homes, a shortage of caseworkers and high caseworker turnover.
“High staff turnover and vacancy rates at the Children’s Services Division have reached a crisis point and are adversely impacting staff and service delivery,” the report states.
Regarding the public guardian, the report concluded that “extremely high and complex caseloads, limited funding, and a lack of oversight put clients at risk of having their needs go unmet and their rights unprotected.”
In May, Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fernandez ordered that confidential records should be released and could be used “to make findings and prepare a report” for the Board of Supervisors, but that the information must be restricted to Larson’s team, the board and its subordinates.
In an newsletter emailed June 30 to his constituents, Riverside County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries warned that the report would be “redacted/censored to the point of uselessness to the general public” to satisfy the court.
Addressing supervisors in December, Larson promised a “thorough and transparent” investigation.
In late March, a lawyer from Larson’s firm told supervisors the investigation had interviewed more than 85 people, including two Turpin siblings, and reviewed more than 2,600 documents.