Santa Cruz County

Seven victims identified in Santa Cruz County child sexual assault case

Victims range from 3 to 13 years old

Seven victims identified in Santa...

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. - UPDATE 5/18/17 7:10 p.m.: Watsonville Police say investigators have determined seven children from California and Arizona were victims in a sexual assault case involving a doctor and two nurses, sending shock waves through Santa Cruz County.

"On May 9, Tuesday, the Watsonville Police Department was provided information and video that showed several adults engaging in lewd act with children as young as 3 years old," Watsonville Police Chief David Honda said.

The oldest kids were 13.

Dr. James Kohut, a Santa Cruz brain surgeon, nurse Rashel Brandon, of Watsonville, and traveling nurse Emily Stephens, of Tuscon, Arizona, are behind bars on suspicion of committing sex crimes spanning a year and a half and crossing state lines.

But the Watsonville police won't say where they all happened.

"The only place that we do know of where it occurred was the initial incident that was reported to us occurred in the city of Scotts Valley in a hotel," Watsonville police Lt. Jorge Zamora said.

Investigators said the suspects made at least one sex video involving children but to their knowledge, it was not shared publicly.

"Just in watching the videos, I can just tell you that it was very disturbing,” Zamora said. “I have not necessarily seen a case like this in my career."

According to KION’S affiliate station in Tuscon, court documents showed Brandon told an investigator the three were in a love triangle. But all Watsonville police would say was they worked together.

Since their arrests, officers served multiple search warrants to the three suspects' homes and found a lot of evidence.

"We have a lot of electronics that we've seized,” Zamora said. “We have to be mindful of the integrity of the case and how we move forward."

Kohut faces 10 felony charges, including and six that carry life sentences.

Brandon has pleaded not guilty to all eight counts against her.

Stephen is currently fighting her extradition in Pima County.  Her charges include sending harmful matter with intent to seduce a minor.

The Santa Cruz County deputy district attorney said you simply can't judge a book by its cover.

"People try to look at what a person does for a living and try to equate it to whether or not they would be a criminal, and quite frankly, there isn't always that connection, and it's not like because he is a surgeon, he wouldn't have sexual interest in children," Deputy DA Steven Moore said.

Watsonville police said they believe they have identified all the victims, but, they are asking for the public's help in case there's kids left behind.

"It’s a huge concern. In this case and in any other case. That's why we cannot stress enough that if there are other victims out there, if someone knows other victims that they come forward," Zamora said.
 

UPDATE 5/18/17 1:09 p.m.: Seven children have been identified as victims in a Santa Cruz County sexual assault case, ranging in age from 3 to 13 years old, the Watsonville Police Department said.

On Thursday, investigators said the victims have been taken into protective custody and three adult suspects, Dr. James Kohut, Rashel Brandon and Emily Joy Stephens, were working together to commit the crimes.

Police said the initial incident happened inside a hotel in Scotts Valley. However, they are not explaining how the victims are connected to the suspects at this point.

According to court records obtained this week by KOLD, our Tuscon, Arizona, affiliate, a camera with video of Brandon, 42, was sent to the Watsonville Police Department shows and her performing quote "inappropriate sexual acts" with a minor.

Brandon, a nurse for Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, was arrested last week and already pleaded not guilty to eight child sex charges including sodomy and child pornography.

Her case is connected to, Kohut, a brain surgeon for Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, and Stephens, a traveling nurse who was arrested in Pima, Arizona.

The court documents describe the relationship between the three suspects as being in a "love triangle," according to a detective's interview with Brandon.

Kohut is facing 10 child sexual assault charges in Santa Cruz County and made his first court appearance on Wednesday. During his hearing, prosecutors explained there are several victims and the crimes span from January 2016 to May 2017.

Stephens was also arrested last week and is facing six felony child sex charges.

During the Watsonville police investigation into the camera, court documents explain another video showed Brandon, Stephens and three minors performing sex acts.

An arrest warrant, obtained by KOLD, explained Brandon told police Stephens was trying to blackmail Kohut and that he asked Brandon to help blackmail Stephens back.

Police explained it as a "complex and disturbing crime that crosses multiple states." They also believe the have all suspects tied to the case have been arrested. But that the investigation is on-going and anyone with information is asked to call the Watsonville Police Department.


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