Local News

Tuesday, Nov 13 2012 06:14 PM

Sheriff's office recommends assault charge against CHP officer

BY REBECCA KHEEL Californian staff writer rkheel@bakersfield.com

The Kern County Sheriff's Office has recommended that prosecutors file an assault charge against a former California Highway Patrol officer accused by a woman of raping her while on the job.

Having completing its investigation into the matter, the sheriff's office has sent the case to the Kern County District Attorney's office recommending a charge of assault under the color of authority, said sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt.

In September, the alleged victim told detectives she was stopped by sheriff's deputies at about 2 a.m. while driving in the area of Merle Haggard Drive and Highway 99, sheriff's deputies have said. The deputy suspected she was driving under the influence and called the CHP to the scene.

Two CHP officers arrived, and the sheriff's deputy who made the stop left, officials said. Instead of arresting her, the officers allegedly agreed to let her drive home while they followed her, according to the sheriff's office.

The woman alleges that once the officers arrived at her home, one sexually assaulted her, according to the sheriff's office.

On Oct. 5, both officers resigned from the CHP.

The sheriff's department has not released the name of either officer. Pruitt also would not say why the sheriff's office is recommending a charge of assault instead of rape or why the office is only recommending charges for one of the officers.

Pruitt directed all other questions to the DA's office.

Andrea Kohler, supervising deputy district attorney, confirmed the DA's office received the case from the sheriff's office late Monday afternoon. The DA's office is reviewing the case, and Kohler expects a decision about filing charges by the end of the week.

Kyle Humphrey, a Bakersfield defense attorney, is representing the officer against whom the sheriff's office is recommending a charge. Humphrey confirmed that officer's name is Jose Gavila.

Gavila resigned from the CHP to deflect disgrace away from the agency and to focus on the effect the allegations have had on his marriage, Humphrey said.

Humphrey said he hopes the DA's office finds that there is no basis on which to proceed with the case.

"My client's adamant that he committed no criminal wrongdoing," Humphrey said.

Cleve McKnight, a Bakersfield lawyer representing the woman, said he does not have much information on the investigation. But he wonders what information the sheriff's office found that led it to recommend a less serious charge than rape.

"I'm very concerned about what information the investigation relied on," he said. "But I'm really grateful that the District Attorney's office is independent and can file whatever charge they deem appropriate."

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