Charges Coming in Bay Area Police Sex Scandal

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Seven Bay Area police officers could face jail time if convicted in a sex scandal that brought the Oakland Police Department to its knees earlier this summer.
     Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said Friday that criminal charges will be filed against officers from Oakland, Livermore and the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office for sexually exploiting a Richmond, California, teenager who goes by the name Celeste Guap.
     Five of those officers were or are still on the Oakland police force.
     Prosecutors plan to indict Officer Brian Bunton on a felony charge of obstructing justice and a misdemeanor charge of engaging in an act of prostitution;
     Officer Giovani LoVerde on a charge of having oral sex with a minor, a felony;
     Officer Warit Utappa on misdemeanor charges of accessing law enforcement databases without permission;
     and Officer Tyrell Smith — who resigned from the department — on four misdemeanor counts of accessing such databases without permission.
     Officer Leroy Johnson, who is retired, will face charges of failing to report the misconduct.
     “There are 775 police officers in Oakland and this is a handful of people who have brought shame on this department,” O’Malley said.
     Contra Costa Sheriff’s Deputy Sheriff Ricardo Perez will face a felony charge of having oral sex with a minor and two counts of engaging in a lewd act in public. Livermore Officer Dan Black will be charged with two misdemeanor charges of engaging in an act of prostitution, and two misdemeanors for engaging in a lewd act in public. Both Perez and Black have resigned.
     None of the misconduct occurred while the officers were on duty, according to O’Malley.
     The officers charged with a felony could serve 16 months to three years in state prison if convicted, O’Malley said. The misdemeanor charges could result in jail time if convicted.
     O’Malley said that although the evidence shows that Smith had sex with Guap, he will not be charged since the act occurred in Contra Costa County, where O’Malley does not have jurisdiction.
     Two other police officers had sex with Guap in San Francisco County and a San Joaquin County officer asked Guap if he could act as her pimp, O’Malley said. She said she has been in contact with officials in those counties regarding the allegations, and they must decide whether to file charges.
     “While there may be some who criticize our charging decisions, I would say we have maintained the highest level of professionalism when determining whether or not to file criminal charges against any person,” O’Malley said. “While I find most of the conduct we covered morally reprehensible and not befitting a sworn law enforcement officer, it is nonetheless outside of the criminal statutes.”
     On Wednesday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth said the city would fire four police officers over attempted sexual assault and engaging in prostitution, and suspend another seven without pay on grounds of failing to report the misconduct.
     Those officers will be able to appeal their discipline to an arbitrator. The city has a track record of having its discipline reversed or reduced at arbitration, and officers who have been fired have been allowed back on the force.
     “We care deeply about this community and its officers and believe that the outcomes in this case will root out misconduct, encourage a culture of transparency and continue the work of restoring trust,” Schaff said in a statement.
     O’Malley said Friday that there was “extrinsic evidence” that Guap never actually met Brendan O’Brien, the Oakland police officer shot himself after the teen threatened to expose their relationship to the police.
     O’Brien’s suicide note detailed certain officers’ involvement with Guap, prompting an internal affairs investigation by Oakland police identifying several officers as having pimped the teenager across multiple Bay Area police departments.
     Once those revelations became public, the city saw three police chiefs toppled in nine days. It expects to appoint a new chief in January.
     “Our officers are just as disappointed as everyone else in the blemish these events have made on the reputations of Oakland Police officers,” Oakland Police Officers’ Association president Barry Donelan said in a statement.
     According to O’Malley, investigators also could not substantiate Guap’s allegation that she had intercourse with the officers when she was 16.
     Guap is currently in a Florida jail after biting a guard at a drug rehab facility. Community members have accused the Richmond Police Department, which raised the funds to send her to Florida for treatment for drug addiction, of attempting to remove her from the state.
     Florida officials have yet to decide whether they will charge her with a felony over the alleged altercation.
     O’Malley said that without Guap to testify against the officers in Alameda County court, she has no case. Her office was not told that Guap was being moved to Florida, and is prepared to pay for her airfare back to California.
     “Not only is she a witness in our case and we should have been consulted before removing her from the area, we’ve made it known [to Florida officials] that she is a victim of crime and we want her back here where she is supported and safe and stable,” O’Malley said.
     Guap’s attorney Pamela Price told Courthouse News that “we’re working and we’re going to get this done,” but declined to comment further.

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