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By Alex Horvath / The Californian
BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A 21-year-old Tehachapi woman who said she was sexually assaulted by an on-duty sheriff’s deputy filed a lawsuit against the Kern County Sheriff’s Office in federal court on Friday.
At a news conference to discuss the lawsuit, her attorney, David Cohn of Bakersfield, called Deputy Gabriel Lopez, 26, a “predator” and a “sexual deviant.”
“How does a person like this get through the system?” he asked. “How does he become a sworn officer?”
At about 10:30 p.m. March 25, the deputy and another deputy investigating a disturbing of the peace call entered the plaintiff’s apartment without permission and, after patting down a man who also was in the home, subjected the woman to a “very intrusive” search that was sexual in nature, Cohn said.
The woman and her guest were called Jane and John Doe in the lawsuit against Lopez and the sheriff’s department in order to protect their privacy, Cohn said.
The Californian generally does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.
As a result of the alleged assault, the woman has endured “physical, mental and emotional distress, pain, shock, agony, suffering and trauma,” according to the complaint.
The lawsuit seeks general damages of at least $10,000, as well as unspecified exemplary damages against Lopez and the other deputy, whose name has not been disclosed.
Prosecutors last month filed criminal charges against Lopez in Kern County Superior Court related to the Jane Doe incident and another incident a day later resulting in a similar accusation by an 18-year-old woman.
Lopez was arrested April 8 after detectives with the Kern County Sheriff's Office Sexual Assault and Abuse Investigation Unit conducted an investigation.
Prosecutors filed charges of assault under the color of authority, sexual battery and false imprisonment.
Lopez has pleaded not guilty to all of them. The cases involving the two women are pending.
Lopez has made no public comment on the charges against him. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for an interview Friday.
The Kern County Sheriff’s Office referred calls about the lawsuit to the county’s counsel. An attorney for the county did not return telephone calls to her office.
Lopez remains a sworn sheriff’s deputy pending the outcome of the legal matters but is not working the streets. He was hired Sept. 24, 2011, and completed field training March 8, just two weeks before the two women made allegations of misconduct against him.
The lawsuit paints a disturbing picture of events on the night of March 25. According to the complaint:
Lopez and another deputy entered her home without permission and found her guest was in possession of drugs.
The man was handcuffed and patted down, and when asked if anyone else was in the apartment, he indicated the woman was asleep in the bedroom.
The other deputy then went into the bedroom, turned on the light and woke the woman. He ordered her to the living room where she, too, was patted down and then placed in handcuffs.
The deputy then left briefly to move his parked patrol vehicle.
While the other deputy was out, Lopez searched the bedroom and came across a red chest secured by a padlock. He told the woman to come back to her bedroom and open the chest.
When she got there, Lopez asked the woman if the other deputy had patted her down. She said that he had, and added that he found nothing and she’d done nothing wrong.
Lopez nevertheless commenced another pat down while the woman was still handcuffed, groping her along the inside of her legs, underneath her T-shirt and on her crotch both inside and outside of her shorts, all in violation of longstanding department rules that require female deputies to conduct personal body searches of female detainees.
A few minutes after the second deputy returned to the apartment, Lopez uncuffed the woman and walked her into the living room without having her unlock the chest that he had earlier asked her to open.
The two deputies then left the apartment with the male suspect. About 10 minutes later, the woman’s dog started barking and she walked into her living room to find Lopez had returned and was sticking his head through the door.
She secured her dog and asked Lopez what he wanted. He told her he needed her driver’s license so he could verify that there were no outstanding warrants for her.
The woman went back to her bedroom to get her license, and Lopez followed her there and told her he had to do a body cavity search. He then ordered her to remove her clothes and bend over the bed, and went on to touch her inappropriately while she sobbed. Then Lopez left without saying anything or finishing the records check.