It proved to be an emotional morning Wednesday for two women who say they were victims of sexual assault at a local rehabilitation hospital and met to brief reporters with their attorneys.
The women are alleging that they were victims of sexual assault by a male nursing assistant who they say abused them while they were recovering from brain injuries at Santa Barbara Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital in 2010 and 2011.
The caretaker accused of the abuse is Jose Trinidad Carrillo, 55, of Summerland, who was arrested in October 2012 on charges of penetration of foreign object, oral copulation and two counts of felony sexual battery.
Those charges were eventually dropped, however, when officials from the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office said evidence beyond a reasonable doubt could not be met in the case.
Cottage spokeswoman Maria Zate told Noozhawk on Wednesday that Carillo was no longer employed by Cottage.
"All of us who work at Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital and Cottage Health System are very concerned by the allegations contained in these lawsuits," Zate said in a statement.
On Wednesday, lawyers from the Los Angeles-based firm Taylor & Ring announced they've filed a second lawsuit against Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital on behalf of a second woman who said she was sexually assaulted by a male nursing assistant while she was recovering from a brain hemorrhage that left her partially paralyzed.
Both women say they were told by Cottage Hospital that they had imagined the incidents, and that the hospital never reported the allegations to police, according to attorney David Ring.
"They were at their most vulnerable," he said. "Cottage chose to protect its reputation over the safety of its patients."
Both women appeared at a press conference on Wednesday, with the first victim identifying herself only as Sara.
Sara filed her lawsuit in February, and the case is pending in Santa Barbara Superior Court.
Sara is suing for damages for multiple sexual assaults, including rape, forced oral copulation and digital penetration, all of which she said occurred while she was incapacitated at the rehab hospital.
She had suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed on her left side and had to learn to walk, talk and eat again, said Ring, who appeared with two fellow attorneys, Louanne Masry and Natalie Weatherford.
It was between February 2010 and April 2010 that Carrillo repeatedly sexually assaulted Sara while bathing her or when he was alone in the room with her, Ring said.
She reported these incidents several times, but was rebuffed by Cottage officials, who told her it was "a figment of her imagination," Ring said.
Sara spoke Wednesday, calling the incidents "my worst nightmare."
She was emotional as she described the incidents, adding that Cottage officials called her "crazy," but that when she got a call from a Santa Barbara police detective, "I realized I was right all along," she said.
A second woman, identified only as Z.T., also spoke Wednesday and was clearly emotionally distraught.
Z.T. is the plaintiff behind the second lawsuit that was filed this week. She was admitted to the rehab hospital after she suffered a brain bleed after surgery on a tumor, and Carrillo was assigned to bathe the woman while she was in the hospital in January 2011.
Carrillo allegedly groped the woman's breasts in the shower, digitally penetrated her several times, and sprayed water in her face "to keep me from screaming," Z.T. told reporters. Speaking through tears, Z.T. said that she was very aware of what was happening to her.
"I was paralyzed, but my brain wasn't paralyzed," she said. "I know that it happened."
After she complained, she was told no one had issued complaints before against Carrillo, which Ring called "a flat-out lie." The woman eventually reported the incident to police.
When Ring contacted the Santa Barbara Police Department, "they said, 'I know why you're calling,'" he said.
Ring said the incidents "strongly suggest a pattern" and that he thinks more victims are out there who have yet to come forward.
He said Carrillo has been employed for many years at the hospital, and that it would be highly unusual if there were not more victims.
Both women admitted that it was very embarrassing for them to come forward but that they hoped other victims would find the courage to do the same.
The women met Wednesday morning for the first time, and Sara said it was a "relief" to meet each other.
"It felt very good to know about her," she said.
Ring said they were extremely disappointed that criminal charges hadn't been pursued by the District Attorney's Office.
When asked earlier this year about the case, District Attorney Joyce Dudley said the filing criteria in any case rests on the ability to prove criminal charges, through admissible evidence to the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.
“This standard is the highest standard of proof, and rightly so, because it affects someone’s liberty,” Dudley said. “In this case, our filing criteria could not be met.”
Zate said hospital officials want the community to know that they take the matter very seriously and care deeply for the health and well-being of current and former patients.
"Patient safety and quality of care are our foremost priorities," she said. "We feel great pride in the reputation that our physicians, nurses and staff have built over many decades for providing compassionate patient care and medical excellence to hundreds of thousands of members of our community.
"We remain committed to providing the highest quality care to every patient who comes to us for treatment."
On Wednesday, Ring called both women "courageous" for coming forward and speaking at the press conference.
Though criminal charges have not been filed yet, they could be pressed in the future, Ring said, and encouraged victims to contact the Santa Barbara Police Department or his firm.
The statute of limitations for cases of this type is six years, Ring said, and "we firmly believe that there are other victims."