Auburn, Calif.- Three members of the Placer County District Attorney’s Office have won awards this month from different organizations.
Two of the winners are prosecutors — Karin Bjork and Garen Horst – while the third is criminal investigator Brandon Olivera.
Bjork, a 20-year veteran prosecutor and currently a supervising deputy district attorney, was named as a Volunteer of the Year by KidsFirst, a Placer County organization dedicated to the prevention of child abuse, during the group’s 13th annual awards presentation on April 1.
Horst, also a supervising deputy district attorney and a 17-year veteran prosecutor in Placer, received a statewide honor — Instructor of the Year – from the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) at an awards luncheon April 5 in San Jose.
Olivera, a law enforcement officer for 13 years before he joined the District Attorney’s Office in 2009, was a member of an 11-person group to win an Investigative Excellence Award at POST’s 2011 Detective Symposium in Los Angeles on April 14.
“The awards won by our three employees show once again the high quality of the staff in our office and of the services they provide to the community,” said Placer County District Attorney Scott Owens. “We are extremely proud of not just these latest award winners but of all our employees.”
Bjork won the volunteer award from KidsFirst on the strength of her being the supervisor of the DA’s Family Protection Unit for the past 10 years.
Diana Martin, development associate for KidsFirst, the agency formerly known as the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Placer County, said Bjork continually went “above and beyond” her job duties to assist in child abuse cases.
“I recall one case in which she did everything she could to help in an out-of-state arrest in a child abduction case,” Martin said.
Bjork estimated that she has handled “tens of thousands” of abuse and neglect cases during her years as a prosecutor.
“I hope there were some kids that I helped along the way where they no longer had to worry about their parents fighting or where the kids themselves were no longer being abused because of the efforts of our office,” she said.
One case in particular has served to inspire her to be an advocate in the lives of children.
It involved a 911 call made to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office by an 11-year-old boy, who was reporting that his father had been choking the boy’s mother and that the father had just left the home.
When deputies arrived, they found that the boy had piled up a number of pieces of plastic toy furniture against the front door in what would have been a fruitless effort to keep the father from getting back into the house, Bjork said.
“It just broke my heart that the little boy was trying to protect his mother,” she said. “This was really powerful for me. Someone needed to intervene in this boy’s life.”
Bjork, born in Sweden, came to the United States to attend college in Minnesota. She then moved to San Diego to pursue a law degree at California Western School of Law. She was hired by the Placer County District Attorney in 1991.
Garen Horst, the winner of POST’s “Excellence in Instruction” award, has taught Institute of Criminal Investigations (ICI) courses to peace officers in homicide law and courtroom testimony at California State University, Sacramento, since 2007.
Maril O’Shaughnessy, course coordinator for POST, said Horst presents the information “in a way that is very easy to understand.”
“He’s very open to engaging in dialogue with the students regarding points of law,” O’Shaughnessy said. “He makes himself available to answer questions about the students’ own cases. And he continues to update current cases to illustrate homicide law.”
Last year, Horst received praise from a state group for initiating policies to ensure that innocent people aren’t being prosecuted or convicted. The policies have been adopted by local law enforcement agencies and have been copied by a number of outside police agencies who were lacking guidelines in photo lineups, live lineups or in-field showups.
In 2007, he started an in-house training program for his fellow prosecutors in Placer. That same year, he was named Placer County’s Prosecutor of the Year, largely for his successful prosecution in a murder case in which the victim’s body was never found.
In 2008, he was selected as Prosecutor of the Year by the California District Attorneys Association.
Horst is a graduate of Jesuit High School in Sacramento and the University of California at Santa Barbara. He obtained his law degree from George Washington National Law Center in Washington, D.C.
Brandon Olivera won a team award from POST for his participation in the investigation last year of a California Highway Patrolman who was arrested on felony drugs and weapons charges and then rearrested for soliciting the murder of a key witness. The defendant was subsequently convicted and sent to prison.
Olivera teamed up with 10 investigators from the CHP in the highly-publicized case.
Olivera is a graduate of Enterprise High School in Redding and attended Shasta College before going to the Redwoods Police Academy for law enforcement training.
He was a deputy with the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department for two years before becoming an officer for the Rocklin Police Department in 1998. In 2009, he was honored as the Officer of the Year for Region II by the California Narcotics Officers Association.