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Two Sexual Assault Investigations At Different El Cajon Nursing Homes Turned Over To DA’s Office

Pictured above is Avocado Post Acute in El Cajon, May 29, 2020.

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Above: Pictured above is Avocado Post Acute in El Cajon, May 29, 2020.

El Cajon police have referred an investigation into accusations that a caregiver sexually assaulted two seniors at separate nursing homes to the San Diego County District Attorney’s office for possible prosecution.

Police sent their findings to prosecutors following an investigative report by KPBS last week and more than one year after the alleged assaults took place.

Listen to this story by Amita Sharma.

“Sometimes, it’s better to hang on to a case to try to investigate it as much as we can,” said Lt. Keith MacArthur. “We only get one shot at this. You don’t want to turn stuff over prematurely.”

Catherine Gotcher-Girolamo, 73, accused certified nursing assistant Matthew Fluckiger of sodomizing her with his fingers while changing her diaper on June 19, 2019.

Gotcher-Girolamo said she told other caregivers at Avocado Post Acute immediately after the alleged incident.

Reported by Amita Sharma

She also said she reported the alleged sexual assault that same day to Avocado’s administrator Dina Mookini.

Mookini, however, told state investigators that she was only aware of “rough handling” by Fluckiger and that Gotcher-Girolamo’s story seemed to evolve. Another manager told state investigators, however, that Gotcher-Girolamo’s account never changed.

Avocado waited eight days before reporting the allegations to El Cajon police even though the law requires every member of a nursing home’s staff to report abuse within two hours.

“The law says immediately,” MacArthur said. “The faster that we’re notified, it makes it a whole lot easier for us to get cooperation from victims and take them for a sexual assault exam and talk to witnesses.”

El Cajon Police also turned over to the DA’s office its investigation into an allegation that Fluckiger sexually assaulted a resident at San Diego Post Acute nursing home in August of last year, after he was fired from Avocado.

Gotcher-Girolamo expressed satisfaction that prosecutors are actually reviewing her case for possible charges against Fluckiger.

“I’m very pleased that happened,” Gotcher-Girolamo said. “I’m kind of surprised that it took so long.”

Lawyer Tony Chicotel of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform said the year lag time between the alleged sexual assaults and the police department’s referral of the two cases to the DA’s office would enrage communities had the victims been younger.

“From a nursing home resident advocate perspective, this is par for the course, the victimization of older people is tolerated in a way that we don’t tolerate in society at large,” Chicotel said.

He added there might be another reason for the police department’s delay.

“Their failure to turn it over to the DA sooner indicates that they didn’t think there was any possibility that the DA would take it or they didn’t have a lot of outrage about what was in those cases to compel them to move on it,” Chicotel said.

He added that the DA’s office should also consider prosecuting Avocado staff who failed to notify police immediately after Gotcher-Girolamo told them she had been sexually assaulted.

A California Department of Public Health investigation of Gotcher-Girolamo’s allegations found that Avocado also failed to submit its own probe of her complaint to the state within five working days, as required.

The state’s inquiry also concluded that Avocado’s allowance of Fluckiger to return to work just days after he had been accused of sexual assault jeopardized the safety of Gotcher-Girolamo and other residents at the facility.

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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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