Decline in CAST numbers unrelated to District Attorney
by Kay Rackauckas, 6/3/2006
My name is Kay Rackauckas. For 12 years, I proudly served as a deputy district attorney in Orange County. For several of those years, I was a sexual assault/CAST prosecutor. I am also the mother of a 5-year-old son.
Over the Memorial Day weekend I was vacationing in Trinidad and became intrigued by the District Attorney’s race. I have never met either candidate. After hearing Mr. Dikeman’s allegations regarding District Attorney Paul Gallegos’ handling of the CAST unit’s performance, I did some research and felt compelled to write to your paper.
Orange County was among the first counties in California to implement the CAST protocol. CAST is an acronym for Child Abuse Services Team. When a child claims to have been molested, he or she is not interviewed like an adult but is questioned by an expert. The child is placed in a room with the interviewer, while the police and deputy district attorney simply observe from behind one-way glass. Often the interview is taped so the child does not need to repeat the same subject matter to multiple questioners.
The interviewer uses props such as dolls and other toys to help the child describe the events of the crime. The deputy district attorney uses this interview to assess whether the crime occurred, as well as the child’s credibility and maturity level.
Other than observing the interview, the prosecutor does not participate in this interview process, nor does the District Attorney’s Office originate the investigation of these molestation crimes. Rather, the sheriff and police departments bring these cases for possible filing to the DA. CAST is an effective tool to determine whether a crime occurred and/or whether a child will qualify as a witness in the courtroom. Additionally, this process is invaluable for the child’s emotional well-being.
Mr. Dikeman has attacked District Attorney Gallegos by alleging that he has understaffed the CAST position. Mr. Gallegos has one prosecutor assigned to this position at all times. Before Mr. Gallegos’ tenure, the previous District Attorney had two part-time deputy district attorneys assigned to it.
Mr. Gallegos, in fact, appears to have devoted the lion’s share of his resources to staffing this position. There are only 12 prosecutors in the entire Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office. Mr. Gallegos operates with a $3.5 million annual budget and prosecutes approximately 100 sexual assault cases each year.
By comparison, Orange County, which has one of the finest CAST programs in the nation, also has just one deputy district attorney assigned to the CAST position — in a county of over three million people.
Unlike Humboldt County, Orange County enjoys a $90 million annual budget and has over 245 prosecutors. In 2005, we performed 568 CAST interviews with one deputy district attorney participating. We filed 352 sexual assault felonies last year with a 94 percent conviction rate. The Orange County CAST prosecutor performs other duties, such as filing and trial overflow, in addition to observing the child interviews.
If Orange County’s CAST unit is a model for the nation, and we have determined over the years that one prosecutor is sufficient to staff our much larger CAST program successfully, how can Mr. Dikeman assert that Mr. Gallegos is neglecting his CAST unit? Mr. Dikemans’ allegations are baseless and without merit. They are obviously politically motivated and designed to mislead voters, who are unaware of how such units actually operate.
Lastly, Mr. Dikeman claims this neglect has caused a decline in the number of sexual assault cases prosecuted. Let me remind you: the police and sheriff departments are the ones who originate these cases. Any decline in the numbers is unrelated to the District Attorney’s CAST unit. It might be that because of budget cuts, fewer police detectives are working these investigations — or there are fewer crimes being committed because repeat offenders have received longer prison sentences under the three strikes law. This may very well be due to effective prosecution during Mr. Gallegos’ tenure.
Mr. Gallegos is obviously devoted to vigorous prosecution of child molestation cases, and is devoting major resources to the task. Because of his dedication and effectiveness in prosecuting child molesters, my husband and I wholeheartedly endorse him for re-election.
(Kay Rackauckas’ husband, Tony Rackauckas, is the District Attorney of Orange County.)
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