Law Enforcement

Sexual Assault at the Hands of Kern Deputies, Follow-Up on Pasadena Police Reforms, Preschool Suspensions, and Confidential Informants


Part three of the Guardian’s five-part series on Kern County, home to the nation’s deadliest cops, looks at the culture of sexual abuse and coverups plaguing the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and the lack of gender diversity in both the sheriff’s department and the Bakersfield Police Department.

Kern County residents alleging sexual assault and harassment at the hands of deputies say they are molested, and then quickly and quietly paid off.

When the victims report the misconduct, sheriff’s officials offer the women a small amount of money, a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, to keep quiet and waive the right to sue the department. When an accuser doesn’t immediately accept the cash, the offered sum grows further into the thousands, but still a far cry from the millions many of the women would receive if they successfully sued the Kern Sheriff’s Office.

David Cohn, an attorney for one of the women accusing Kern officers of sexual assault, says he suspects the department does not psychologically vet future officers carefully enough.

But Kern Sheriff Donny Youngblood says trainees are given polygraph tests that include questions about their sexual behaviors, as well as a 500-question psychological exam.

Here’s a clip from the third installment of the Guardian’s series, written by Oliver Laughland and Jon Swaine (video by Mae Ryan and Alex Parker):

“That night was the worst night of my life,” said another woman, named only as Jane Doe in court to protect her identity. Her abuser, 28-year-old Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez, was sitting in court awaiting sentencing in September this year. “I did absolutely nothing wrong and yet this man used his badge to take advantage of me and sexually assault me,” she continued, at the judge’s invitation. “I will be scarred for the rest of my life because of what he did to me.”

The assault occurred on 25 March 2013, just two weeks after Lopez had completed his field training and qualified as a patrol officer.

He and deputy Christopher Escobedo entered Doe’s apartment in Tehachapi, a small city in the county’s south-west, and conducted a spot check on her boyfriend who was out on probation. They then moved to her bedroom and found the 21-year-old woman stirring from sleep. The officers placed her in handcuffs. Lopez patted her down and then, according to a civil lawsuit, proceeded to move his hands down her shorts, grab her crotch and grope her. The handcuffs were removed. Then the officers left.

Ten minutes later Deputy Lopez arrived back at the apartment. This time, he was alone.

He told Doe he needed to perform a cavity search on her to check once more for drugs. He took her back to the bedroom and instructed her to take off all her clothes. He touched her all over her naked body as she bent over with her hands against the bed. She sobbed throughout. She begged him to stop, but he refused. And then he left.

Doe reported the assault to the sheriff’s office.

A week later, on 1 April, two senior officials from the Kern County sheriff’s office – Commander Shaun Beasley, who ran the human resources division, and civil litigation coordinator Michael Mahoney – arrived at her door. They brought with them $5,000 in cash, taken from a safe kept in a locked human resources office at the sheriff’s headquarters.

An internal sheriff’s office memo, obtained by the Guardian, shows the two men started with an offer of $1,000 in exchange for waiving the department’s liability. Doe declined, but gradually the men moved their offer upwards, reaching $7,500.

In Mahoney’s sworn deposition he recalls Commander Beasley left the meeting at this point. “He had to make some calls to get the right money,” Mahoney said.

“And then he came back in and said: ‘The money’s on the way.’”

Doe considered their final offer, and thought about how it might help pay off her bills. But then she refused, after her father called telling her not to settle.


Last month the OIR Group released a report with 26 reform recommendations for the Pasadena Police Department, in response to the troubling 2014 death of 19-year-old Kendrec McDade at the hands of two police officers.

At a meeting between the Pasadena City Council and the city’s public safety committee to discuss the report, Pasadena Police Chief Philip Sanchez said the department has initiated or completed 19 of the 26 reforms.

Among the seven recommendations Chief Sanchez rejected were banning officers from reviewing video and audio of an shooting before submitting a statement, and discontinuing use of the “box in” tactic on fleeing suspects, which the report says puts officers in danger and ups the likelihood of officers having to shoot the suspect.

Sanchez also said that he found the shooting to be within department policy without conducting administrative interviews with the officers and witnesses. This is problematic because the administrative review is what leads to departmental actions like re-training, discipline, or dismissal of the officers involved. The criminal investigation, on the other hand, is what may or may not lead to actual charges. The criminal investigation, Sanchez said, was so comprehensive, that he felt the administrative interviews were not necessary.

The Pasadena Star-News’ Jason Henry has the story. Here’s a clip:

In its report, the OIR Group called the department’s administrative review inefficient because it failed to do separate interviews. An administrative interview would cover different topics than one in a criminal case, the report says.

The report’s authors, Michael Gennaco and Robert Miller, said Monday that an interview focused solely on policies and procedures is critical for learning from the incident. Pasadena police conducted separate criminal and administrative investigations in past officer-involved shootings, as recently as the 2009 shooting of Leroy Barnes, they said.

“You get different information from a professional standards interview, even if it’s of the same person and it covers roughly the same ground,” Miller said. “We’ve seen it work in literally hundreds of officer-involved shootings that we’ve reviewed. The fact that the department decided not to do this came as kind of a shock and took us aback.”

The department also failed to corroborate the officers’ statements with witnesses or probe into certain tactical decisions, according to the OIR Group.

Gennaco and Miller said Sanchez asked the OIR Group for suggestions on questions to ask during an administrative interview but later learned that interview never happened.

The department’s leadership cleared the officers of any wrongdoing without allowing the OIR Group to sit in on the administrative review, as required under the city’s contract with OIR Group. The department provided only a memo on what happened at that meeting nearly a year later.


Nationwide, 8,000 preschoolers were suspended during the 2011-2012 school year, often for actions befitting, you know, toddlers—things like crying, bathroom accidents, and kicking off shoes. Not surprisingly, in 2014, black children comprise only 18% of kids enrolled in preschool, but represent nearly half of preschoolers suspended more than once in a year. And while boys accounted for just over half of kids enrolled in preschool, nearly all of the children who received repeat suspensions were boys.

The Atlantic’s Melinda Anderson has more on this issue, which has been gathering national attention from lawmakers, education administrators, and government representatives. Here’s a clip:

From a 3-year-old suspended for too many toileting mishaps to a 4-year-old booted out of school for kicking off his shoes and crying, toddlers are racking up punishments that leave many parents and child experts bewildered. Overall the rise in school suspensions and disproportionate impact on youth of color has triggered a flurry of interest from activists and high-ranking government officials, and for good reason: A February 2015 report from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project examined out-of-school suspension data for every school district in the country and found that nearly 3.5 million children—about six out of every 100 public school students—were suspended at least once during the 2011-12 school year, with close to half of those (1.55 million) suspended multiple times.

But for some more astounding than these discipline statistics were the thousands of the nation’s youngest learners—nearly 8,000 preschoolers—suspended from school in the same year, often for relatively minor disruptions and misbehaviors. For researchers and educators immersed in this work, why preschoolers are put out of school and the entrenched racial disparity seems most closely tied to reasons such as teacher bias and children living in poverty whose hitting, biting, and pinching is frequently labeled misconduct rather than developmental delays.


What makes preschool-age suspensions and expulsions further problematic is how out-of-school punishment feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. Research shows that repeated suspensions breed student disengagement, making youth more likely to dropout and more susceptible to entering the juvenile justice system. This was the definitive conclusion of an October report from the Center for American Progress and the National Black Child Development Institute that highlights the trends, underlying causes and lasting harm of preschool suspension and expulsions. Pertinent to the groups’ findings is how little preschool discipline is rooted in young children’s behaviors as opposed to adult behaviors—due to implicit biases and a gross misunderstanding of toddler development.


60 Minutes has an excellent story about law enforcement’s controversial use of college students caught selling small amounts of weed as confidential informants, often putting them at serious risk of harm in exchange for promises of leniency or dropped charges.

Here’s a clip from the accompanying transcript, but go over to CBS to watch the full episode:

Lance Block is an attorney in Tallahassee, Florida, who opposes using young people caught for relatively minor offenses as confidential informants.

Lance Block: These kids are being recruited to do the most dangerous type of police work. They’re going undercover, with no background, training, or experience. They haven’t been to the police academy.

Lesley Stahl: So they are basically doing the same work as a trained undercover cop?

Lance Block: Absolutely.

Block says he was unaware police were using young people as confidential informants until he was hired seven years ago by the family of Rachel Hoffman, a recent college graduate who was caught with a large stash of marijuana and a few Valium and ecstasy pills. It was her second marijuana arrest.

Lance Block: She was caught by the Tallahassee Police Department and told that if she didn’t become a confidential informant, she was looking at four years in prison.

She signed up, and a few weeks later was sent out to make her first undercover drug buy. It was to be one of the biggest in Tallahassee’s recent history — 1,500 ecstasy pills, an ounce and a half of cocaine, and a gun.

Lesley Stahl: Had she ever dealt in any of those things?

Lance Block: No.

Lesley Stahl: A gun? Had she ever fired a gun?

Lance Block: No. Rachel was a pothead. And Rachel sold marijuana to her friends out of her home, but Rachel wasn’t dealing in ecstasy or cocaine, much less — of course not weapons.

Rachel drove her car alone to meet the dealers in this park with $13,000 cash from the police and a wire in her purse. She was to be monitored by some 20 officers. But then the dealers changed the location of the deal, so Rachel drove away from the police staging area, and that’s when things went terribly wrong.

Lance Block: The drug dealers have her out on this road. One drug dealer gets into the car with her —

Lesley Stahl: And the 20 cops who were nearby?

Lance Block: They lost her.

Lance Block: They shot her five times when they found the wire in her purse and dumped her body in a ditch 50 miles away.

Rachel Hoffman’s tragic death turned Block into an advocate. He sued the City of Tallahassee and won a $2.8 million settlement for Rachel’s parents, and he has argued for more openness and greater protection for confidential informants ever since.

Lesley Stahl: Do you have any sense of how many confidential informants there are?

Lance Block: Law enforcement is loaded with statistics. But you cannot find out any information about the number of confidential informants that are being used across this country, much less the number of people who are being killed or injured.

Lesley Stahl: No one’s keeping statistics?

Lance Block: No one. It’s a shadowy underworld, is what it is.

No states collect data on law enforcement agencies’ use of confidential informants, and there are only a handful of states that even have laws governing the use of CIs. Attorney Lance Block tells 60 Minutes host Lesley Stahl that when reforms crop up, law enforcement lobbies fight to keep the system as it is.

Lesley Stahl: I’ve been told that a lot of these kids are not really looking at jail time.

Lance Block: In the vast majority of cases, these kids would be diverted into a drug court program. They’d be on probation for six months to a year, and at the end, if they’ve done everything successfully, then the cases are dismissed.

Lance Block has been advocating for laws to regulate the recruitment and use of confidential informants across the country, but he says law enforcement lobbies have opposed the reforms.

Lance Block: They want to keep the C.I. system as it is.

Lesley Stahl: Law enforcement people have told us, “We see it as a win/win. The kids get a reduced or charges completely expunged, and we get to arrest drug dealers.”

Lance Block: But there are kids that are being killed. And they’re arresting small-time possessors. That’s a lose/lose.

1 Comment

  • Another caper with Dick Shinee as lead counsel for Pasadena Police Department. The pixie dust he uses is a helluva concoction to lead ALADS, ADDA & P.P.D. with no resistance.

    Shinee also has limited roles with PPOA. The Pied Piper of pick pocketing Police Associations. Geeze

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