10-year-old's torture, abuse was ignored for years, Orange County lawsuit claims

Domingo Flores laughed when Anaheim police officers visited his apartment to check on his 10-year-old daughter.

The officers didn’t know it, but the girl was zip-tied to a bed in a back room at the time, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office. For years, the girl’s father and stepmother, Mayra Chavez, tortured the girl and her older sister, authorities said.

The couple were convicted and sentenced to prison in November and April for their cruel acts against the girl and her sibling, but a lawsuit filed by the girl’s biological mother seeks to hold the county and city of Anaheim accountable for the years of torture her daughters endured.

The lawsuit does not name the two girls — ages 10 and 13 — but highlights the torture inflicted on the younger sister.

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Chavez and Flores plunged the girl’s head into ice baths, rubbed a pepper in her eye and repeatedly tortured her while denying her food, prosecutors said during a criminal trial last year.

The girl’s relatives initiated the welfare check, according to the lawsuit, but the details about their concerns are unclear.

But the lawsuit alleges that when Anaheim police visited Flores’ apartment to investigate, they did not intervene to stop the type of graphic torture that the jurors heard during the trail. Instead, when police showed up, Flores laughed and pointed to food in the refrigerator and on the countertops of his apartment, according to the D.A.’s office.

An Anaheim police officer stands besides a patrol car.

A lawsuit accuses Anaheim police of failing to fully investigate during a welfare check on two young girls who were being abused by their father and stepmother in 2022. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The officers never met with the girl during their welfare call on June 13, 2022, and the Police Department did not follow-up with Orange County’s child protection agency about the visit, according to the lawsuit filed in February by the girls’ mother, Arely Perez.

County social workers did not properly investigate the reports of physical abuse inflicted on Flores’ two daughters, according to the lawsuit. Some reports of abuse were not investigated at all and when there was any follow-up reporting, social workers did not follow normal procedures to determine if the children were safe or needed to be removed from the home, Perez said.

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“There were investigations that happened, but there was no meaningful action taken,” Perez’s attorney, Roger Booth, said in an interview Tuesday. The lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court in February was first reported by the Orange County Register.

Reports of abuse in the Flores household dated back to 2017, after Perez and Flores separated, according to Booth. But the situation came to a head in December 2018, when the girls stayed with their mother over the holidays.

The girls explained to her the types of abuse they received from their father and stepmother, prompting Perez to refuse to send her daughters back to their father, according to the complaint.

The court stepped in and ordered police to take the girls to an emergency county center for abused children in February 2019. The D.A.’s office asked the juvenile court to remove the girls from their father’s home due to the allegations of ongoing abuse, according to the lawsuit.

But county employees ultimately decided to return the girls to their father’s custody and asked to dismiss the D.A.’s request, Perez said. This decision was made even after the girls elaborated on the abuse they endured in their father’s home, according to the lawsuit.

The girls remained in their father’s home for years after their time in the county facility.

“It was torture that went on for three additional years,” Booth said.

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Then in August 2022, just a few months after the June welfare check by Anaheim police, Flores and Chavez rushed the 10-year-old to Children’s Hospital of Orange County, claiming she fell down a flight of stairs. The girl was unconscious and weighed only 50 pounds, according to prosecutors.

She had extensive injuries throughout her body that were consistent with years of “brutal abuse and severe neglect,” Perez said. Chavez and Flores were arrested following the hospital visit.

Prosecutors said the 10-year-old suffered a broken neck, a bone protruding from an unhealed sore and bruises across her body. She was severely malnourished and unable to walk on her own after she was resuscitated at the hospital.

Six children lived with Chavez and Flores at the time of their arrest, including the two daughters and Chavez’s four biological children.

During Chavez’s criminal trial, her biological children testified about being forced to restrain their stepsister to a bed so Chavez could continue to abuse her, according to the D.A.’s office.

In November, an Orange County jury found Chavez guilty and she was sentenced to seven years to life in prison, plus an additional seven years and 10 months for torturing the girl, child abuse and endangerment, assault and other charges. She was also found guilty of abusing her other stepdaughter and two of her biological children. Flores pleaded guilty in April to child abuse, assault and several other charges. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison, according to court records.

On Tuesday, Anaheim spokesperson Mike Lyster said the city was in the early stages of reviewing the lawsuit and could not respond to the specific allegations.

“This was an incomprehensible case of child cruelty,” Lyster said. “While justice is hard to fully come by in a case like this, we at least have seen criminal convictions of Chavez and Flores, who misled many and bear sole responsibility for this horrendous tragedy.”

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A spokesperson for the Orange County Social Services Agency said they could not comment on pending litigation.

After Chavez’s sentencing in November, Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said the “system failed this little girl.”

“The system failed her siblings,” Spitzer said in a statement. “Help was on the other side of the door, but over and over again, help didn’t come for this little girl until it was almost too late.”

He promised to “get to the bottom of how this happened and what can be done to prevent another child from suffering the fate of what these children suffered at the hands of the very people who were supposed to protect them.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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