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Trial begins in sexual assault case against nursing home caregiver

Pictured above is Avocado Post Acute Care in El Cajon, May 29, 2020.
Roland Lizarondo
Pictured above is Avocado Post Acute Care in El Cajon, Calif. May 29, 2020.

Opening arguments begin Friday in the trial of a former certified nursing assistant accused of sexually assaulting three women at San Diego area nursing homes.

Matthew Fluckiger, 37, is charged with four counts of committing a forcible lewd act upon a dependent adult by a caretaker and a fifth count of committing a lewd act without using force.

RELATED: State Authorities Allowed Alleged Sexual Predator To Job-Hop Among San Diego Area Nursing Homes

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Fluckiger has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces 15 years to life for four of the five counts against him.

The case against Fluckiger dates back to June 2019 when then 71-year-old Catherine Gotcher-Girolamo accused him of sodomizing her during a diaper change at Avocado Post Acute nursing home in El Cajon.

RELATED: State Fines San Diego Nursing Homes Over Handling Of Alleged Sexual Assaults By Caregiver

Despite an ongoing probe by both police and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) investigators into that sexual assault allegation, Fluckiger was allowed by the state to continue to seek work in nursing homes.

Fluckiger left Avocado following the alleged attack, but just weeks later was working as a caregiver at nearby San Diego Post Acute nursing home. There he was accused of fondling a resident with dementia.

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Matthew Fluckiger is pictured smoking a cigarette in this undated photo.
Matthew Fluckiger's Facebook
Matthew Fluckiger is pictured smoking a cigarette in this undated photo.

Documents show that even though state investigators expressed skepticism in the fall of 2019 over Fluckiger’s response to their questions about the two sexual assault accusations against him, they still did not suspend his license to work as a certified nursing assistant.

In January 2021, Fluckiger allegedly struck again — a resident at Parkway Hills Nursing and Rehabilitation in La Mesa accused him of sexually assaulting her twice in one day.

In late 2020, Fluckiger refused to answer questions from KPBS regarding accusations against him. His lawyer — San Diego County public defender Katherine Bonaguidi — could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.

Public employees, including state health department investigators, enjoy broad immunity from lawsuits. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to hold CDPH accountable for inaction or incompetence that resulted in harm, according to lawyers who sue nursing homes.

However, the state did punish others connected with the Fluckiger case.

In July of last year, CDPH fined Parkway Hills Nursing and Rehabilitation $16,000. The agency said the nursing home didn’t do enough to protect the resident who accused Fluckiger of assaulting her. Regulators also docked the facility for not having a policy to screen applicants for past abuse and failing to monitor staff misconduct.

And CDPH imposed a $2,000 fine on Avocado Post Acute for failing to immediately report Gotcher-Girolamo’s accusations against Fluckiger to local authorities.

Advocates for nursing home reform have argued that Avocado Post employees and management should be prosecuted for that same offense.

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