Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Supervising Investigator Jerry N. Villanueva receives 2015 Tristan D. Svare Vulnerable-Victim Advocate Award & Scholarship

Supervising Investigator Jerry N. Villanueva was selected by the California District Attorneys Association Elder Abuse Committee for this award, which was presented by Mike Ramos and Eve Wang (Tristan’s wife) at the National Elder & Dependent Adult Abuse Conference Dec. 1 in Anaheim.

Villanueva is being honored for his years of service, dedication and training, side by side with Tristan Svare, in developing our Elder Abuse prosecution unit prior to the creation of the Family Violence Unit. They were a great team and it is so very fitting that he was selected as the first recipient of this new, annual award in Tristan’s honor.
The following nomination was submitted to CDAA by Chief Mike Smith:

Recognize the name Lt. Colonel Charles Bussey? He was a proud; dedicated, and decorated military hero, remembered best in life as a member of the storied Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. Colonel Bussey was awarded The Silver Star Medal for gallantry in action; The Bronze Star for bravery; and The Purple Heart for wounds suffered in combat.

Fifteen years ago, Tristan Svare and Jerry Villanueva met Colonel Bussey. He was the victim of elder abuse! Colonel Bussey suffered dementia; was deeply in debt; had lost his home, and suffered financial and emotional abuse committed by a family member. He also fell victim to ineffective systems and services intended to help dependent elders.

It was the year 2000, when Tristan and Jerry Villanueva volunteered to become part of a newly created Elder Abuse Unit. The pair had not previously worked any cases together, but according to Jerry, he and Tristan hit it off at their first meeting.

“He had his role, I had mine,” said Jerry. “I told him he was clearly the brains on the team…we talked every day.”

Jerry was impressed with Tristan’s intelligence and vision of where the case should go – providing direction – respecting his investigator’s skills – yet guiding as the two learned every day.

What they learned – was that elderly victims were not well-served by the system. In fact, what they learned, according to Jerry, was that “the system was broken!” Local law enforcement did not have the training or any specialized units designed to help or investigate elder abuse crimes. Physical abuse went to a “Crimes Against Person Unit” – financial crimes went to a “Paper Unit” and anything in between seldom received any attention, or was referred to a county agency. The Public Guardian, Adult Protective Services, County Counsel, the District Attorney’s components, (including victim advocates, attorneys and investigators), various social services and local law enforcement were not effectively communicating or sharing. The elderly were also victims of a broken system, not effectively serving those in need.

The concept of a Multi-Disciplinary Team or “MDT” as it came to be known – began in a discussion about “needs” – but grew to become a “reality.” Largely through the efforts of Tristan and Jerry, professionals responsible for elderly oversight came together in San Bernardino County. Jerry recalled: “We wanted to start small, and figure it out, but it started with such great interest that at least twenty-five representatives attended our first meeting. Social Services at the time, received funding for closing cases, but they learned that most served with real problems in their systems, did not go away."

Jerry shared that there were too many examples of cases like Colonel Bussey – where the victim was moved from one location, or from one county to another, to avoid scrutiny and conceal the abuse from authorities. As Tristan and Jerry worked with involved participants in the MDT, they accepted where they could improve. They discovered where they were perhaps negligent. Bonds of common interests formed – the word spread – and an audience of professionals took notice.

Paul Greenwood, Deputy District Attorney and Head of Elder Abuse Prosecutors, San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, described (in part) Tristan Svare as follows: “He was champion of elder rights, and a tireless advocate who quietly, but effectively pursued justice in the courtroom on behalf of abused seniors….he unselfishly shared his wealth of experience with whomever came asking…Tristan was and will remain a pioneer in elder abuse prosecutions.”

Supervising DA Investigator Villanueva was also a pioneer – a pioneer in elder abuse investigations. He was Tristan’s investigator. He also was (and remains) a champion of elder rights, who unselfishly shared his wealth of experience with whomever came asking – and over the years- many came asking. They came from California – and across the nation. When Tristan passionately wrote the first MOU for stakeholders in protecting the elderly in San Bernardino County – Jerry prepared a list of duties and responsibilities for the District Attorney Investigator. When Tristan moved the agreement of the MOU to create the Elder/Dependent Abuse Inter-Agency Task Force, Jerry contributed to the extensive written guidelines for the law enforcement role.

He worked tirelessly to build the MDT into a cohesive group of agencies dedicated to the detection, investigation, and prosecution of those who preyed on the elderly. Noteworthy is that Jerry discovered during the course of a starvation case, that District Attorney Investigators had been mistakenly excluded from the law as “peace officers” entitled to records and documents maintained by the Department of Aging and Adult Services. Jerry contacted two members of the Assembly to address the problem. He provided corrective language, and as a result AB 255 was written to include District Attorney Investigators in California.

While Tristan’s experience and expertise was shared at CDAA from Napa to Newport Beach, Jerry’s investigative experience was shared in presentations to the California District Attorney Investigators Association (CDAIA) training at those same venues. In fact, Jerry became a recognized expert at the national level, instructing "Interviewing Techniques for Elders and Dependent Adults” not only to law enforcement, but to social service professionals, medical doctors, psychologists, nurses and others.

In the early days, Jerry and Tristan presented at a large gathering of mental health professionals from across the country at the Riverside Convention Center. The “Older Adults Mental Health Conference” brought wide attention to this team outside of the CDAA experience. As a result, Jerry became the conference keynote speaker in Bellevue Washington, “Making the Case for Justice-Investigating Crimes Against Elders and Vulnerable Adults” followed by an invitation to present “Protecting Vulnerable Adults” at an Adult Protective Services Conference held in San Antonio Texas. He was noticed by Dr. Nora Baladerian of the Disability, Abuse and Personal Rights Project & CAN/DO Project, and was asked to serve as an advisor on various projects to train first responders about interviewing disabled adults and/or elderly persons.

Over the years, and continuing today, Jerry is a sought after expert who is always available to provide assistance to those who ask, and his training remains available with Dr. Balderian on the national list server for elder abuse.

He has been recognized by his peers, supervisors, and local police chiefs for his steadfast commitment to train and help them be better in their response to elder crime. He was nominated for The Governor’s Award for Excellence in Peace Officer Training; acknowledged by CDAA, (along with Tristan) for a series of one-day workshops held in Sacrament, Fresno, and Costa Mesa when CDAA received a USDOJ grant from the Office of Violence Against Women to do programs and a DVD on Victims with Cognitive and Communicative Disabilities.

Described by many as resourceful, experienced, and knowledgeable, Jerry simply describes himself as “just part of the prosecution team.” As has been mentioned, his work is locally and nationally distinguished, and truly exemplifies quality public service and investigative excellence.

It has been said that a law enforcement officer is an ordinary person called upon to do extraordinary things. Although the comment speaks to a profession, doing “extraordinary things” puts into perspective the influences of Tristan Svare on the life’s work of Jerry Villanueva.


* Photos courtesy of Investigative Tech Mercedes Padilla

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