County on the Hook|for Deputy’s Abuses

     FRESNO, Calif. (CN) — The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department cannot escape liability from five women’s claims that an officer groped their breasts and made one of them perform oral sex during a traffic stop, a federal judge ruled.
     William Nulick, 44, was sentenced to five years in prison this year after pleading no-contest to two felony counts of oral copulation under color of authority and two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery. He must register as a sex offender for life.
     The no-contest plea allowed Nulick to avoid a trial and a potential sentence of 25 years to life in prison, had he been found guilty of all charges. The criminal charges involved four victims.
     Nulick, the county and the sheriff’s department also face two civil lawsuits, from five women who say Nulick sexually assaulted them.
     Alma M. claims in her lawsuit that Nulick pulled her over on Oct. 4, 2013, for a traffic violation and made her step out of the car after finding out she did not have a driver’s license.
     Nulick proceeded to grope her breasts, vagina and butt, she says, and asked her what she would do to keep him from towing her car and giving her a ticket. He threatened to arrest her if she did not have sex with him, she says.
     Fearing for her life, Alma followed Nulick to a secluded area in an orchard, where she refused his proposition to have vaginal sex, she says. Nulick then forced her to perform oral sex on him, according to the lawsuit.
     The other four women say in their lawsuit that Nulick abused his power by conducting “sexually motivated” pat-downs. He forced one woman to pull down her dress and bra to expose her breasts, allegedly so he could see if she was hiding weapons or drugs, she says. The women say that sexually touching women during pat-downs is a “pattern and practice” in the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department’s “boy’s club.”
     U.S. District Judge John Mendez on Wednesday refused to dismiss most of the claims against the county and sheriff’s department.
     Although the county is correct that some instances of Nulick’s sexual assaults occurred outside of the two-year statute of limitations, the women also claim that Nulick continued to harass them after the abuse.
     “All of the plaintiffs allege that Nulick harassed them on the street after the assaults and would park outside their homes. Even after Nulick’s arrest in October 2013, defendants allegedly undertook efforts to cover up Nulick’s actions and to intimidate plaintiffs into dropping their lawsuit,” Mendez wrote, finding that this conduct took place within the statue of limitations.
     The county must face the women’s Unruh Act claims that they were denied equal accommodations and services because of their sex.
     Multiple rulings have found that public entities may be liable for Unruh Act violations, the judge said, rejecting the county’s argument that the law applies only to business establishments.
     The women also may press their claims against the county for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
     “The alleged emotional harm caused by defendants’ actions was foreseeable and certain, the alleged actions are morally blameworthy, and the possibility of preventing future harm is compelling,” Mendez wrote.
     The women must amend their negligent hiring and training claims against the county to identify the specific employee whose negligence is alleged and the specific negligent conduct on which the claims are based.     
     The women’s attorney, Brian Kabateck, said that the court’s ruling “paves the way for the victims of Deputy Nulick and the Tulare Sheriff’s Department to seek justice for these horrific violations of their rights.”
     He said his clients are anxious to have their day in court.
     “We think these cases and ultimately the trials will shine a bright light on Tulare County and its Sheriff Department,” Kabateck said.
     Attorneys for the other parties did not return requests for comment sent after hours Thursday.
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