My name is Karin Willison. I was born with cerebral palsy and use a wheelchair, but I’ve never let that stop me. I fought against the odds to move across the country, attend Stanford University, and live an independent and fulfilling life in LA and later San Diego, California. I earned my Master’s degree, and owned a beautiful home. I lived independently with the help of in-home caregivers funded by the California state In-Home Support Services (IHSS) program. But in just one moment, an evil person shattered everything I worked for my whole life.
On November 28, 2014, I and C, my loyal caregiver of five years, were attacked in my home by a masked intruder. He put a gun to my neck and threw me out of my wheelchair. I lay helplessly on the floor as he took C to the back bedroom. He threatened and terrified her, but when he began stealing items, she courageously escaped and called the police from a neighbor’s home as the attacker escaped with a getaway driver.
It soon became clear that the attacker had been given my front door code and other information by a former caregiver, and used it to access my home, expecting that I would be alone in bed and unable to defend myself. C arriving early to work had disrupted their plans, and perhaps saved my life.
My nightmare didn’t end there. Two days later, fraudulent charges were made on my credit card, though it was still in my wallet. The following day, I began receiving terrifying e-mails from the attackers, in which they threatened to kill my dogs, friends, and family if I didn’t send them thousands of dollars. Lacking any means of protecting myself, I was forced to flee my home and move out-of-state. I left behind my whole life, my friends, and all of my plans for the future. C lost her job because I moved. We both struggle with PTSD as a result of the attack. My life as I knew it is over.
Two months later, police arrested the man who attacked me. Herbert Jon Cruz is the father of the child of an IHSS registered former caregiver, Jennifer Lynn Martinez Alarcon, whom I had fired three days before the robbery. We now believe that from the beginning she intended to rob me by stealing my personal info and committing identity theft. I must have let her go before she could get everything she wanted, so they decided to commit a home invasion robbery and threaten my life.
In May 2015, Jennifer Martinez and another man were arrested by the El Cajon Police Department and charged with a string of burglaries that targeted homes of people while they were at the funerals of loved ones. She was later charged in my case as well.
In February 2016, Jennifer Martinez and Herbert Cruz pleaded guilty to attacking me. Cruz was sentenced to 18 years 4 months in prison at 85% time required. Martinez will do 13 years 4 months in prison at 85%. Is it justice? Yes, in part. I am grateful to the police and especially to the district attorney who pushed hard for the case to be investigated and for the perpetrators to receive the harsh sentences they deserved.
However, my battle isn’t over. I still have to fight the state of California for victim’s compensation to get back the over $60,000 the attack cost me and my family in out-of-pocket expenses for moving and home care. I have a restitution order, but the chances of me collecting anything are slim. My only hope is victim’s compensation. And frankly, the state should be held responsible for its lack of protection for people like me who use state-funded home care services.
The IHSS program administration failed to respond adequately to this situation, going months without returning my calls and disrupting payments to my caregivers. They never sent my final Advance Pay check to pay my caregivers, and did not provide C with severance pay, workers’ compensation, or any form of assistance. They claim they can flag the perpetrator and other abusers in their system to prevent them from working for IHSS, but I do not feel confident that this actually occurs. I hold IHSS in large part responsible for what happened to me, as the program is so poorly managed, and pays such low wages, that it makes people with disabilities targets for theft and abuse.
Despite everything I have been through, I am determined to build a new and joyful life. I’m not giving up, but to move on I need justice and restitution. I am speaking out about the dangerous flaws in the IHSS program that effectively pair the least educated and most financially desperate employees in California with our most vulnerable citizens. I am speaking out in the hope that I can prevent this nightmare from happening to anyone else.
More details on how problems in the IHSS program endanger people with disabilities: Easy Targets: How California’s IHSS Program Endangers People with Disabilities
I still need your help to reach the media and policy-makers who can get results in my case and take action to protect others in the future. If you can help with my situation, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org