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Former Sonoma Developmental Center worker gets 7 years in sex assault

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A former Sonoma Developmental Center employee who sexually abused a disabled adult resident was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in prison.

Rex Bradford Salyer, 63, a former psychiatric technician at the state facility, pleaded no contest earlier this year to having unlawful sex with the 35-year-old woman in 2013 and 2014.

Salyer faced a maximum 12-year term but got a break from Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite for his age, lack of a criminal record and willingness to accept responsibility early in the proceedings.

The judge previously suggested she was open to sending Salyer away for just three years. But she appeared to change her mind upon learning one assault occurred while the victim was recovering from self-inflicted wounds and that Salyer was carrying Viagra at work when he was picked up by police.

“You were ready and willing to do it again when you were arrested,” Thistlethwaite said. “It’s unconscionable.”

The victim, identified in court only as Jane Doe, asked for 12 years. Prosecutors sought at least eight.

In barely audible tones, the victim read a prepared statement expressing betrayal that Salyer exploited her disabilities for his sexual fulfillment.

She said she suffered in part from post-traumatic stress disorder from sexual abuse as a child and trusted Salyer to “keep me safe” at the Eldridge facility.

Her caretaker lashed out at Salyer, accusing him of preying on a vulnerable person and violating his professional oath not to hurt anyone.

“You have to live with what you’ve done to her for the rest of her life,” said caretaker Suzanne Howard. “You disgust me.”

Salyer apologized to his former charge and for damaging the reputation of the Sonoma Valley facility, which is targeted for closure.

“I made you look bad, and you didn’t deserve that,” he said before being remanded into custody and taken away.

In May, Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled a plan to shut the facility by 2018 and spend nearly $50 million to transition residents into community-based homes and programs. Two other centers, Fairview Developmental Center in Southern California and Porterville Developmental Center in the Central Valley, also are scheduled to be closed by 2021 under Brown’s plan.

The Sonoma center has been hit with allegations of abuse and patient neglect in recent years. Published reports in 2012 from California Watch, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, said 11 sexual assault reports were not investigated and hospital-supervised rape exams were not conducted in some cases.

In one instance, a Sonoma caregiver was cleared of assault and went on to molest a second patient. In another, state investigators didn’t act on a patient’s complaint against a staff member. Her pregnancy was overlooked for several months, and she eventually gave birth to a child she cannot care for.

In previous reports, the investigative journalists exposed shoddy police work in a stun-gun assault case and the suspicious death of a patient.

State surveys in 2012 and 2014 found a range of problems at the center, including inadequate protection of clients from abuse and failure to keep accurate medical records and to follow proper medication protocols.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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