Probation officer Reyes Soberon Jr.’s guilty plea of sexually assaulting Kim Adams while she was under his supervision should have been the beginning of justice for her.
But a court in Kern County, California, stopped Adams from suing Soberon and his former employer because she filed her claim two months too late.
Now Adams is suing in federal court, alleging the Kern County Probation Department was aware of the sexual assaults that occurred in its office and in front of Adams’s children for three years.
Adams met Soberon in 2012 when she was placed on probation following several months in prison for burglary. When she visited the probation department, according to her lawsuit, she had not yet been assigned an officer—but Soberon saw her and assigned himself to her case. On her third visit, Soberon sexually assaulted her in the office, she claims in the lawsuit. Worse still, other probation officers appeared aware of Soberon’s conduct, Adams alleges.
“The majority of the molestations actually took place within the Probation Office itself, in the corner,” her suit reads. “Other probation employees would sometimes pass by, but no one questioned Soberon’s conduct with Ms. Adams. Additionally, the Probation Department would notice that Ms. Adams would sign in frequently, on a monthly basis, despite the fact that, unbeknownst to her, she could mail in the documentation and was not required to meet with Soberon personally.”
The Kern County Probation Department told The Daily Beast it had not reviewed Adams’s lawsuit or her allegations.
“We haven’t seen the lawsuit,” a spokesperson said. “It’s just been served, so we don’t have a comment yet.”
But some of the worst assaults allegedly happened in Adams’s home, where she lived with her three sons.
“In one horrific instance, Soberon sexually assaulted Ms. Adams in her home in front of her disabled son suffering from cerebral palsy as he lay helpless, crawling on the ground,” her suit reads.
Soberon’s power as Adams’s probation officer kept her quiet and in fear for her family. He allegedly threatened to jail her for the rest of her life if she refused his advances. And soon Soberon’s actions nearly sent Adams to prison.
Adams was at home when a different probation officer knocked on her door one day in 2015, her suit alleges. The officer, a woman, said Adams was under arrest for failing to complete her community service obligations. Adams was stunned; she had complied with her court-ordered community service until Soberon allegedly told her he had changed her schedule. Adams took out her phone, where she had text messages from Soberon describing the changes to her community service requirements. The probation officer looked through Adams’s phone and confirmed that Soberon had told her to skip her latest service.
The probation officer also allegedly saw other text messages from Soberon. “Its me baby Doll,” read one text, which is entered as an exhibit in Adams’s suit. “Hi Sexy mamacita how are you,” read another. The probation officer left Adams’s home without arresting her.
The death threats began soon after. “Following this incident, Ms. Adams began receiving threatening calls from Soberon in which he stated that he was going to kill her,” her suit alleges. But when Adams went to the probation office to report the Soberon, his colleagues allegedly flocked to his defense.
“Numerous probation officers attempted to dissuade Ms. Adams from making her report,” her suit reads. “The Kern County Probation Department’s Internal Affairs Division investigated the matter; Internal Affairs told Ms. Adams that she could not speak with anyone about it, especially the FBI, and could not retain an attorney.”
Out of options, Adams lived in constant fear until several months into 2016, when she received a subpoena to testify against Soberon in the case of her sexual assault. Soberon had been arrested December 2015 after Adams showed Soberon’s text messages to a new probation officer, Adams’s lawyer told The Daily Beast. But no one informed her of the arrest until she received the subpoena, she said.
With Soberon behind bars, Adams realized that she could finally file a report against him without fear of retaliation. Her initial handwritten complaint, provided to The Daily Beast by her lawyers, shows Adams’s initial attempt at summarizing three years of alleged abuse.
“Constant fear,” Adams wrote in a form for claims against Kern County. “Constantly fearing what might happen to myself or kids. (Constantly reminded of what would happen if I told and how much power he had.) Sexually assaulted numerous times, fondled, touched inappropriately any time he wanted to. Manipulated by his power and rank as a ‘high up’ probation officer. Harassed constantly to do what he wanted—as in touching me, kissing me, sexually assaulting. Invasion of my personal privacy. Going through my cell phone, erasing messages. Looking through my personal stuff in my phone. Physical and mental emotional stress. Depression. Extreme fear for my safety. Always being threatened that something would happen to me if I didn’t follow orders.”
But Kern County called her complaint invalid. Under the California Tort Claims Act, claims against the government must be filed within six months of an incident. Adams, who at the time lacked a lawyer, had filed her claim eight months after the most recent assault. Claimants can often request a filing extension under the California Tort Claims Act.
“The law has a backstop for individuals who don’t realize that deadline,” Adams’s lawyer Ben Meiselas told The Daily Beast. “It says that if you still file within a year and you have good cause, that the municipality shall permit you to file two or three months late,” if the claimant can prove disability or excusable neglect.
The provision allows lawyers extra time to file, should they accidentally miss a deadline, and is also flexible for people with disabilities. Adams hired lawyers who filed a petition asking Kern County to accept Adams’s slightly delayed claim. But both the Kern County Board of Supervisors and a Kern County court denied Adams’s petitions, even after her lawyers attached a physician’s report that Meiselas said diagnosed Adams with “PTSD was so debilitating that she couldn’t even perform basic, core, day-to-day functions, let alone understand the complexities of a government tort claims form unrepresented, while also fearing for her life that this probation officer who’s been after her for a number of years is out there on the street.”
A November 2016 ruling from a Kern County court found that Adams’s PTSD diagnosis was not “of such an all-encompassing nature as to prevent her from even authorizing another to file the claim” within six months of Soberon’s most recent assault.
“Of course having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because you were raped and sexually assaulted over three years would constitute a disability,” Meiselas said. “I didn’t even think that was a controversial topic or concept in the 21st century.”
Meanwhile, Soberon was facing criminal charges for the same attacks that Kern County refused to recognize in civil court. In December 2016, Soberon was sentenced to six months in prison and three years of probation for sexual assault, after pleading no contest to charges that he forcibly touched Adams and two unnamed women. Meiselas described Soberon’s 180 days behind bars as insufficient. Soon Soberon will be out of prison and under the supervision of his own probation officer.
In the interim, Adams’s lawyers are appealing the Kern County ruling, and have filed her civil rights claim in federal court, where the statute of limitations have yet to expire. A note at the end of Adams’s original handwritten claim explains why she did not report her attacker earlier.
“Please note that the reason that I haven’t filed this paper in a timely manner, is because of the strong intimidation and fear that I have been under throughout the whole time and even now, I am still in fear,” she wrote. “I was told not to tell anyone or else something would happen to me. I am still scared as of this day. In fear of mine and my children’s life and safety.
“He said he had the power to make things happen to me. He said he would hurt me. He always said he would get me put in jail. I am in fear. So, please consider this and if there is any way that you can make an exception on the time I would appreciate this.”