Local News

Saturday, Apr 02 2011 09:13 PM

Some local law enforcement have fallen on wrong side of the law

BY JASON KOTOWSKI, Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

Instead of making arrests, several local officers and deputies have ended up in handcuffs themselves over the past year and a half.

Police blotters have recorded an unfortunate succession of alleged bad deeds by cops: sexual assault, theft, vandalism, engaging in prostitution and DUI.

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* Former Kern County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Hammack pleaded no contest on March 17 to felony grand theft from a person and making an arrest without authority. He was arrested Jan. 6 after it was alleged he was pulling over motorists and stealing money from their wallets.

Hammack faces a maximum of a year in jail when he's sentenced April 21.

* Kern County Sheriff's Sgt. Vince Martinez is being investigated by the sheriff's department on allegations he may have compromised a possible elder financial abuse case after becoming involved in a relationship with the suspect's daughter. Martinez is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. He has admitted to the relationship, but said he broke no laws.

* Former Bakersfield police Officer Albert Smith Jr. resigned in February in connection with an investigation that he allegedly paid for and engaged in sex acts with at least three local prostitutes while both on and off duty. Smith has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges and the next hearing in the case is April 8.

* Bakersfield police Officer Aaron Stringer has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence of a sleeping agent and hit and run in a June 26 incident of erratic driving from his Rosedale area home to the downtown police station. A pretrial conference is scheduled for May 6.

Stringer is working in-house for city animal control pending the court case and internal investigation.

* Former Bakersfield police Officer Scott Monroe Drewry is scheduled to go to trial April 4 in connection with a Jan. 5, 2010 incident at Moments In Time Scrapbooking at 7400 District Blvd. where cement rocks were thrown at a window. Drewry has been charged with misdemeanor vandalism.

Neighboring business employees told police they heard a loud noise and glass breaking and then saw a black and white BPD patrol vehicle -- with headlights and taillights off -- quickly leave the parking lot. The owner of the business said she had been involved in a civil dispute with a family member of Drewry, police reported.

Drewry's employment with the city has been terminated.

* Kern County Sheriff's Deputy Darrel Blake Lumly had faced three felony counts after a 41-year-old woman reported the off-duty deputy hit her in the face with a television remote and threatened her with a gun in July, but those charges were dismissed in late February.

Lumly has also been charged with possessing guns in violation of a restraining order in the domestic violence case. His next court date is April 19.

* Former Kern County Sheriff's Deputy Roger Dixon was sentenced to a year in jail on a drug charge in January. Dixon was arrested Aug. 5 after deputies found methamphetamine and prescription drugs for which he did not have a prescription in his home, according to a sheriff's department news release.

A 28-year veteran, Dixon retired after his arrest.

* Kern County Sheriff's Deputy Arthur Blake Rummel was arrested in November on suspicion of two counts of spousal abuse. He has not been charged. Rummel is on paid administrative leave pending the investigation.

* Former Kern County Sheriff's Detentions Deputy Louise Marie Willis was charged with DUI causing bodily injury following a single-vehicle crash in August at Lerdo Jail. Willis was allegedly under the influence of alcohol while driving two inmates in the jail parking lot, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The inmates suffered minor injuries, the CHP said. Willis has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for a pretrial conference on April 8.

* Former Kern County sheriff's Deputy Joshua David White was arrested in March 2010 in connection with entering the apartment of his former girlfriend and taking items, but all charges of burglary, possession of stolen property and dissuading a witness were dismissed in October.

Despite the dismissal, White no longer works for the department. Prosecutor James Webster has said the charges were dismissed after defense attorney David Torres provided information about the victim that left the case unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

* Former Kern County Sheriff's Detentions Deputy Anthony Michael Lavis has pleaded not guilty to sex-related crimes against female inmates after he was arrested Feb. 11, 2010.

Lavis faces charges including assault by an officer, sexual activity with an inmate and holding a person against her will, according to the Kern County Superior Court website. He is scheduled to go to trial May 2.

* Former Kern County Sheriff's Detentions Deputy Margarita Young took a plea deal in April 2010 to a misdemeanor charge of having sex with an inmate at Lerdo Jail, where she was employed as a detention deputy for 11 years. She entered a no contest plea to the charge and was sentenced to 120 days in jail. The charge had been reduced from a felony.

Inmate Timothy Titus Rodriguez, now on death row for murdering a 90-year-old woman, told investigators he had sex with Young five times in places such as an attorney visiting booth, a control booth bathroom and a mop bucket closet, according to investigative reports in the court file. She was arrested in January 2010.

* Former Bakersfield police officer Christopher Kent Bowersox was arrested by the FBI on Feb. 12, 2010 and charged with receipt and distribution of child pornography and possession of child pornography. Bowersox, a seven-year veteran of the BPD, resigned Feb. 10.

Bowersox has pleaded not guilty. A status conference is scheduled for April 11.

SOURCES: Californian archives, Bakersfield Police Department, Kern County Sheriff's Department

The arrests raise questions: about training, about how officers are selected, about temptations to abuse the badge and about how law enforcement agencies are dealing with these issues.

Kern County's top commanders are dismayed.

"If you have to train someone not to have sex with an inmate, if you have to train someone not to pull people over and steal their money, we're really in trouble," said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood. "Those really aren't training issues; those are criminal issues and we deal with those very harshly."

When an officer is arrested, it has an impact on the entire department, said Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson.

"Obviously it goes right to the morale of the men and women who work day in and day out to serve the public and uphold that oath they took when they signed on to become a public servant," he noted.

The allegations

Former sheriff's deputy Jason Hammack was accused of pulling over motorists without cause and stealing money from their wallets. Hammack pleaded no contest in March to felony grand theft from a person and making an arrest without authority and faces up to a year in jail at his sentencing April 21.

Sheriff's Sgt. Vince Martinez is being investigated on allegations he may have compromised a possible case of elder financial abuse after he began dating the suspect's daughter.

Former Bakersfield police officer Albert Smith Jr. was charged this month with engaging in acts of prostitution both while on and off duty. He has pleaded not guilty.

Scott Drewry, another Bakersfield police officer, left the department after he was charged with misdemeanor vandalism.

And a case regarding the 2005 death of an inmate in the downtown jail finally came to a close in January 2010 when former detentions deputy Ralph Contreras was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Another former detentions deputy, Daniel Lindini, was sentenced to two years in prison for involuntary manslaughter in inmate James Moore's death.

Murder charges against a third detentions deputy, Roxanne Fowler, were dropped when she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge.

Lindini's conviction was upheld in March.

Cops, critics

While top cops say they make sure to root out any lawbreakers in their departments, skeptics worry not enough is being done.

"It's unbelievable what goes on," said local attorney and frequent police critic Kathleen Faulkner. "Maybe they're making more arrests than they used to, but there have been some things going on for a long time."

Part of the problem, Faulkner said, is there's no independent investigation into alleged criminal activities on the part of local law enforcement.

Kern Sheriff Youngblood said his department is diligent when it comes to making sure a deputy accused of crossing the line is investigated.

"If it's a criminal investigation, we don't treat it any differently if it's a deputy than if it's anyone else," Youngblood said.

Sometimes someone who doesn't live up to the standards set by the department slips through, Youngblood said.

The public, and all employees of the police department, expect officers who commit crimes to be held accountable, Williamson said. Ethics and character are taught throughout academy training, and it's incumbent upon the department to continually remind officers of the expectations, he said.

That happens not only during inservice training, but also at least a couple of times a month when Williamson sends out reports and articles to department staff regarding character and ethics. Those articles include instances where officers in other departments have fallen short.

Diop Kamau, founder of the Police Complaint Center in Washington, D.C., an organization that provides assistance to victims of police misconduct, said officers don't join a law enforcement agency planning to break the law. He said that, typically, it's a matter of an officer's values gradually eroding before they engage in illegal activity.

"Almost like how a mouse figures out which way to walk through a maze, they'll learn what the department will tolerate and how to cover things up," Kamau said.

A former police sergeant himself, Kamau said he saw firsthand how some of his fellow officers took advantage of the public. They knew if someone complained no one would believe them because it would be the officer's word against the victim's.

Such a scenario came into play in Kern when Hammack pulled over and stole from illegal immigrants, knowing they'd be reluctant to report the crime.

Kamau recommended that citizens report unusual contacts with officers, even incidents that don't result in arrests. And officers need to hold everyone in their department accountable and turn in an officer who's breaking the law.

"They need to take an active hand in policing each other," Kamau said.

'Held to a higher standard'

Faulkner said internal affairs investigators look into complaints against officers to determine if there was wrongdoing, and they're going to look out for the interests of the department.

"They're pals, and they feel like they're in it together," she said.

There are about 2,000 total employees between the Bakersfield Police Department and the sheriff's department, Youngblood said. The officers and deputies who have been arrested represent only a tiny part of the overall law enforcement population, and the vast majority obey and enforce the law, both Youngblood and Williamson have said.

"No one wants to weed out the bad apples more than the good apples," Youngblood said.

He said the public should be concerned if law enforcement wasn't doing anything about those few officers who stray from the law. But they're investigated and prosecuted.

"We all know that we should be held to a higher standard," Youngblood said.

Williamson said much the same.

"Not only does the public have high expectations, but 99 percent of officers in this department have the expectation that we all should be held accountable to a higher standard of behavior," Williamson said.

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