Journalists Publish List Of Convicted Cops The State's Attorney General Said Was Illegal For Them To Have
from the bluff-called dept
The list of convicted cops the California Attorney General tried to keep secret has just been made searchable by the Sacramento Bee. It contains hundreds of current and former police officers who’ve been convicted of criminal acts over the last ten years.
This collaboration of multiple newsrooms and journalism advocates began with an unforced error by a state agency. Taking advantage of a new state law allowing the public to access police misconduct records, journalists asked the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training for relevant documents. The agency handed over a list of 12,000 former and current officers — a list that apparently was never supposed to be made public.
The state’s Attorney General claimed the journalists had broken the law simply by possessing a document the Commission never should have given them. This couldn’t be further from the truth, but AG Xavier Becerra continued to make this claim, as though it were possible to codify something just by saying it out loud often enough.
I can see why AG Becerra wants this list buried. There’s nothing on it that makes cops or their oversight (which includes Becerra) look good. While the 12,000 officers in the database are a small percentage of the total number of California law enforcement officers employed over the past ten years, this small portion includes a number of cops who were never fired from their agencies despite committing criminal acts that would have put regular people out of a job.
Reporters found at least a dozen deputies with prior convictions are still on the roster at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. And the five officers with convictions working for the Riverside police include the acting chief — Larry Gonzalez was a lieutenant in 2013 when he pleaded guilty to DUI after reportedly crashing a city-owned SUV with a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit.
There’s a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy still working despite a conviction for manslaughter after running over two people while recklessly speeding to a call. And a Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputy is back on the force after dozing off at the wheel and killing a pair of elite cyclists on a training ride.
Sheriff’s departments are especially fond of hiring and retaining the worst people. They’re the agencies most willing to overlook long histories of misconduct and the most hesitant to hand down significant punishments when laws are broken by law enforcers on their payroll. The L.A. Sheriff’s Department is filled with suspicious individuals who hang out in a high crime area every time they show up at the office.
The list has been trimmed considerably since its surprising release to journalists. Due to the lack of cooperation from law enforcement agencies and the general sloppiness of large-scale bureaucracies, the names in the database are only those that have been verified by journalists. The original list had 12,000 names but the database only contains 630 current and former officers.
Even so, there’s plenty to be concerned about. Some officers have multiple convictions but were never fired. Officers have driven drunk, left their children in cars with their loaded guns, and engaged in fraud. There’s also lots of domestic abuse — most of which has gone unaddressed by officers’ employers.
Richard Sotelo was an Imperial County Sheriff’s Department correctional officer in February 2013 when he was charged with domestic violence for assaulting his estranged wife. He was allowed to keep working despite the pending charges. But months later he was accused of a crime again, this time sexual battery against a male co-worker. He was charged for that as well. Sotelo ultimately took plea deals and was convicted in both cases and left the force.
In one incident investigated by the Bell Police Department months before his reckless driving, [LAPD Officer David] Guerrero allegedly “threatened, assaulted and battered” a woman who was in a dispute with his girlfriend, according to court records.
“That’s how you do it, LAPD style,” Guerrero allegedly said as he drove away.
The DA’s office didn’t file charges. It also didn’t prosecute Guerrero in 2013 when he allegedly threatened to kill the mother of his child, court records show.
The recycling of California cops isn’t going to stop unless the state legislature steps up and makes it possible for officers to lose their certification following a conviction. California is one of only five states with no decertification process, so officers can avoid accountability simply by drifting from agency to agency in the (apparently unlikely) event they’ve been fired. A few more firings will probably occur as a result of increased access to misconduct records, but that’s hardly going to budge the needle when some agencies in the state have shown they don’t feel staffing their departments with known criminals is a problem.