Riverside County sheriff's deputy is charged with kidnapping and sexually
assaulting women in his custody.
A Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy is indicted on similar charges.
Three Indio jail employees are accused of having sexual contact with female
These allegations against peace officers, made public within the past five
weeks, are more coincidence than proof of a systemic problem, some experts
Law enforcement officials say they do their best to screen candidates and
weed out people with potential to abuse the power that comes with the
uniform. But such processes are not infallible, and those who do slip
through can easily take advantage of the authority they hold over others,
"The opportunities are available for them to capitalize on that," said
Timothy Maher, a lecturer in the criminology and criminal justice department
at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "They're working under little
supervision, in isolated areas. They have power and authority over women.
For anyone who is inclined, the opportunity is there."
Maher, who has studied police sexual misconduct, said such misconduct is not
covered well in the academy or in field training. Also, departments are not
proactive, choosing instead to react when cases are uncovered, he said.
"I compare it to police pursuits. For a long time, many departments did not
have police-pursuits policy," Maher said. "Today, almost every department
has a police-pursuit policy, primarily stimulated by the fact they were
getting sued. That motivated law enforcement to react. That may be the case
with sexual misconduct."
Diop Kamau, a former Hawthorne police officer and executive director of The
Police Complaint Center in Washington, D.C., said to some degree the
environment within a law enforcement organization makes some authorities
think they can get away with anything.
"If you can get away with punishing, beating or shooting someone, why
wouldn't you be able to grab a woman's breast?" he said.
Kamau, whose organization investigates complaints against police, said
aberrant behavior stems from at least two things: a lack of supervision and
Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle said training can go only so far, and
that the authorities who commit such acts are people without core values.
Four Riverside County Sheriff's Department employees are involved in recent
"For a person to do that kind of activity, there is something wrong
internally," the sheriff said.
Every day, Doyle said, authorities have the opportunity to take advantage of
people, and most of them don't.
Riverside County Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Soccio, who reviews
every misconduct case sent to his department, said authorities do not need
to be trained to refrain from having sex with suspects. That is common
knowledge, he said.
"I don't think it's a lack of training. I don't think this is a fault of any
department," he said. "I think this is a character flaw," he said.
Authorities get falsely accused of all kinds of misconduct, the prosecutor
said, and false accusations may be more frequent than those with merit.
Given the number of officers and the number of contacts they make in any
given shift in any week or month, the percentage of officers engaging in
something they shouldn't is miniscule, said Alan Deal, spokesman for the
Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training in Sacramento, which sets
training standards for California peace officers.
"Unfortunately, I think it's always much more painful to the general public
when you have people who are sworn to uphold the law, whether they are peace
officers, district attorneys or judges, and they engage in terrible
behavior. It's always worse because of the higher expectations that the
general public sets for those that are in leadership roles," Deal said
Deal said peace officers receive training on ethics early in the academy and
said that education includes information about inappropriate sexual conduct.
According to Kamau, there is no national database for complaints against
those in law enforcement. But Kamau said his organization used to receive
one complaint of sexual misconduct every six months. Now, he said, the
organization receives three times as many complaints. Maher said data is not
available to indicate whether sexual misconduct is any more prevalent in law
enforcement than any other organization.
Allegations Not Unique
The most recent allegations are not the first to be leveled against area
Ronald VanRossum, a former San Bernardino police officer, is serving 34
years to life in state prison after pleading no contest last year to felony
counts of sexual battery and rape and forced oral copulation under the color
Adam Brown, an ex-Riverside officer, faces federal and state charges of
sexually abusing young boys.
The most recent local allegations came to light Aug. 20 when Deputy David
Kushner was arrested and accused of forcing two women to perform sex acts
with him in 2002 in exchange for keeping them out of jail.
Kushner, 33, who patrolled Moreno Valley, has been charged with kidnapping,
rape under the color of authority, sodomy and forced oral copulation.
His attorney has said he will be vindicated and that the women have no
Five days after Kushner's arrest, a Los Angeles grand jury indicted a
sheriff's deputy on civil-rights violations over allegations that he forced
four women in his custody to engage in sexual contact with him. Deputy
Gabriel Gonzalez is accused of using his position to force two women to have
sex with him and another to perform oral sex. Gonzalez also was charged with
forcibly touching the breasts of a fourth woman, court records show.
Riverside County prosecutors in Indio are reviewing the cases of two
sheriff's deputies and one correctional deputy accused of having sexual
contact with female inmates. Deputies John Burns and Ricardo Barrios and
correctional Deputy Joseph Bessette remain on paid administrative leave
while the district attorney's office weighs potential charges.
Policies and Protections
Most agencies have policies dictating what peace officers should do when
they have members of the opposite sex in their custody, Deal said. The
officers are required to notify dispatch of their location and destination
and mileage, policies that protect inmates and officers alike.
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department has such a policy, Doyle said. But
ultimately agencies rely on the honesty of an individual to follow it.
Any officer who commits a crime thinks he is above the law, Kamau said.
"Any cop who operates in this conduct has been doing it for some time before
he got caught. At some point, this cop assesses the situation around him and
came to the conclusion that he could engage in this behavior and not get
caught or engage in this behavior and not get penalized," he said.
Such conduct affects other officers, said Kamau, who said he dismisses any
police leader who talks of his or her organization being large and calls
unacceptable behavior the result of a "few bad apples."
He said he makes an analogy with the airline industry.
"Is it acceptable to have a few drunk pilots on the planes because it's a
large organization?" he said.
"It's really just a shell game when they tell you it's a few rotten apples.
My point of view is that the barrel has a lot of apples and there is
bacteria, and that will affect all the other apples."