Advertisement

L.A. County probation officer accused of sex with jailed youth

A Los Angeles County probation officer was arrested last week and accused of having sex with a minor who was being held in a juvenile facility, the department said Monday.

The officer, who was not identified in the department's statement, was arrested March 7 and charged with having sex with an inmate, arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purposes and bringing contraband into a jail.

A law enforcement source, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the media, identified the officer as 51-year-old Rafaela Martinez. L.A. County Sheriff's Department booking records show a person by that name was arrested for a felony on March 7. Martinez was assigned to detention services, according to a copy of the department's roster.

The probation department declined to comment beyond its public statement.

Investigators became aware of the situation after they recovered a cellphone from a youth in custody at the Dorothy Kirby Center in Commerce on March 7, according to the probation department's statement. The device contained intimate texts and photos between the youth and the officer, the department said.

"Information supported by a warrant led investigators to communications between the detained youth and Probation Officer," the statement read. "Some of these communications appeared to have occurred while the employee was at work and there were photos that are sexual in nature."

Read more: Nine months after opening, L.A. County's newest juvenile hall under fire from regulators

The woman was arrested a short time later, according to the probation department, and she was also accused of bringing a cellphone and a prescription medication bottle into a jail facility.

A case has not yet been presented to the L.A. County district attorney's office.

News of the arrest drew swift condemnation from county leaders.

“The reported actions are heinous and problematic on every level. Arrest and swift investigation are the only appropriate responses," L.A. County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath said. "We must root out every bad actor from a Probation Department long plagued by a culture of corruption.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger added that there should be "zero tolerance" for such behavior and that the county's "youth deserve better."

The alleged incident marks the latest in a years-long series of scandals for the probation department, which has been plagued by a staffing crisis and had several of its facilities shuttered by a state oversight board in recent years. Los Padrinos juvenile hall in Downey could be shuttered later this year.

The arrest is one of at least two allegations of sexual misconduct against a probation officer currently being investigated by county officials.

Earlier this year, a youth being held at Los Padrinos claimed a female officer he met while in custody tried to initiate a romantic relationship with him after he was released in late 2023, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the situation. The sources asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The probation department declined to comment, citing a "strict policy of confidentiality regarding personnel matters, including instances of misconduct."

Asked about the case, Pamela Johnson, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said last month: "We are aware of a similar allegation that is under investigation but has not been presented to this office for filing consideration."

The sources said the alleged incident involving the Los Padrinos officer has also been reported to the California Department of Justice, which entered into a settlement with the probation department in 2021 to mandate reforms to the troubled agency.

Times staff writer Rebecca Ellis contributed to this report.

Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.