“It was a bloody mess.”
Cpl. Cynthia Hines recalls the scene of her first major investigation as a detective in the Fullerton Police Department’s Family Crime Unit.
The unit probes all suspected cases of domestic violence, sexual assaults involving children or adults, child neglect and missing children.
Hines had been with the Family Crimes Unit about three months when called, along with her partner, to an upscale home to investigate a suspected incident of domestic violence.
“There was blood everywhere, all over the house,” said Hines, on the job in Fullerton for 10 years. “She was trying to find a way to get out of the house without getting caught by from the suspect. She ended up escaping and driving herself to the hospital.”
When the detectives went to the hospital, they came face to face with a woman who’d been severely beaten. Both arms were broken and she had open wounds and bruises.
Her husband was the suspect.
“I’ve seen dead bodies and seen bodies that have been maimed and dismembered,” Hines said. “But seeing someone still alive and seeing someone with that much traumatic injury who was still breathing and still be able to talk to you and tell you the incident on what led to her being there … It was shocking.”
Hines’ first thoughts: “Tell me what happened so I can do something about it.”
All detectives in the Family Crimes Unit have similar experiences, said Sgt. Tony Rios, who supervises the unit.
Rios oversees a staff seven seasoned detectives, along with a retired officer who monitors the city’s sex registrants.
“Between the eight of us in here, we probably have 150 years of law enforcement between us,” Rios said. “The detective with the least amount of time probably has nine or ten years on.”
Detectives interviewing individuals suspected of the most unspeakable forms of abuse are trained to set side animosity and try to connect with their suspect, perhaps to the point of befriending them, Rios said. Such a connection can result in a confession.
“You have to remember you have a job to do and by me trying to personally connect with this bad guy … this molester sitting across from me, you have to use some of these tools,” Rios said. “You have to put away that disgust and you have to put away your anger.”
Family Crimes detective Tony Cicciarelli said the unit is not for everyone.
Above all else, Family Crimes investigators need patience and compassion, Cicciarelli said.
“I always tell sexual assault victims, especially the first time I sit down with them … that the process isn’t going to be easy,” Cicciarelli said. “It could possibly take a long period of time and then, possibly, nothing is going to happen. So one of the things I want to help them prepare for is for them to move forward.”
Cicciarelli was one of the detectives who investigated one of the department’s higher- profile cases in recent years, involving a middle-school teacher suspected of sexting with her students.
The teacher wound up pleading guilty in 2015 to three counts of lewd acts on a child age 14 or 15 and was sentenced to four years in prison.
Of the 972 cases assigned to the unit in 2015, 819 were cleared, Rios said.
The unit has an avearge of 270 active cases.
Some cases that land on detectives’ desks in the Family Crimes Unit are not only disturbing, but come with high stakes, Hines said.
“There is a lot of emotion and a lot of work that goes into a case. Some of these cases that you work are life cases and these people get put away in jail forever,” Hines said. “That is big impact that you leave not only for the people you are trying to help but society in general.”
The FPD’s Family Crimes Unit investigators are Cynthia Hines, Sgt. Tony Rios, Dan Diaz, David MacShane, Tony Cicciarelli, Stu Hamilton, Carin Wright and Luis Garcia.