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Case of confused identity results in suit

Family says it's been thrown into turmoil after police question the wrong children about alleged molestation.

August 26, 2011|By Megan O'Neil

A family has sued the Police Department and the Burbank Unified School District, alleging their teenage daughter was illegally interrogated after her identity was confused with that of a friend who reported an allegation of sexual molestation.

The lawsuit, filed in June in Los Angeles County Superior Court, also names several police department and school district officials and seeks unspecified damages.

“The facts in this case will ultimately prove to show the failure on the part of the administration to adequately understand and adequately protect their charges,” said Lon Isaacson, an attorney for the family. “And that is the reason this action is being brought.”


City and district officials declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but did say they have procedures in place to respond to allegations of sexual abuse.

“The city will defend the case and believes the police officers acted reasonably at all times while investigating some very serious charges of child abuse,” city spokesman Keith Sterling said.

On Sept. 7, 2010, the plaintiff, who was 16 at the time, accompanied a long-time friend to the counselor’s office at John Burroughs High School to report that the friend was being molested by her older brother, according to the lawsuit. A short time later, Burbank police officers arrived, asked the plaintiff to hand over her cell phone and began questioning her.

The officers refused to allow the plaintiff to contact her parents, and then placed both students in squad cars in full view of classmates and transported them to the police station, according to the lawsuit.

Once there, the officers allegedly confused the identities of the two girls, and began questioning the plaintiff about her family, specifically what her father and brother looked like. The family also claims the officers asked their daughter what schools her younger siblings attended, saying that they would be brought to the station as well.

The plaintiff expressed confusion, stating that her younger siblings knew nothing about the alleged sexual molestation of her friend, and again asked to call her parents, the lawsuit states. Instead, police moved her to a smaller room where she was questioned for 30 to 45 minutes about her sexual history and knowledge, according to the suit.

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