OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The attorney for the key witness in a Bay Area police sexual exploitation scandal alleged the scandal involves more victims of sex trafficking among “a network of police officers.”
In addition, the attorney claimed Wednesday her client was tricked by Richmond police into traveling to a Florida rehabilitation clinic and then set up for a felony charge and held in jail for 17 days.
At a news conference outside a Florida jail, attorney Pamela Price stood with the 19-year-old at her side as she leveled the accusations against Bay Area law enforcement, contending that additional police officers in the Bay Area were involved in sex trafficking.
“Police officers were engaged in a conspiracy to sexually traffic children,” she said, “(My client) is not the only one … This is network of police officers …We have police officers in five Bay Area counties involved in this scandal … Why did they choose her? I wasn’t there the day they decided to prey upon her … Who understands the mind of a pedophile?”
Price said the Justice Department may have to take over the investigation. “We may be that we have to have federal intervention,” she said.
“Her life is under threat,” Price told reporters. “It’s not acceptable in America…It’s certainly not acceptable in the San Francisco Bay Area… We are not going to have it. We are going to protect this young woman. We are going to make sure she gets the help she needs.”
Price also leveled an angry blast at the Richmond Police Department, which helped set up the funds to pay for the 19-year-old’s trip out of the Bay Area to a drug rehabilitation clinic near Stuart, Florida.
“It is our understanding that the Richmond Police Department and in particular the leadership of that department engaged in communications with a local agency here and brought her here under false pretenses and we will be addressing that when we return home,” Price said. “The kind of treatment this young woman needs is not drug rehabilitation. She is a victim of child sex trafficking. She is traumatized. She needs that kind of help.”
“I don’t know what their (Richmond police) motive is. I will tell you as a lawyer I don’t tamper with witnesses,” she said. “Anything that looks like witness tampering…She is a witness to criminal activity, a criminal conspiracy in the Bay Area. There is no reason for why she is here here in Stuart, Florida and the fact that in a matter of days was arrested, charged and jailed for 17 days on a felony charge is just mind-boggling. I can tell you that people in the Bay Area are outraged that this has occurred.”
Richmond police have been criticized for arranging for the woman to enter a Florida drug rehabilitation facility, but Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown said Tuesday allegations the department sent her there “distort reality.”
Instead, Brown said the department helped her get funds from the state’s Victim Compensation Program so she could enter rehab in Florida last month. Once there, she was arrested days later for allegedly assaulting a guard, which rankled Alameda County prosecutors because of her key role in bringing the charges against the seven officers.
“You cannot have this many officers engaged in this many conduct across jurisdictional lines without an internal network and communications among all of them,” said Price.
KPIX 5 legal analyst and former judge LaDoris Cordell said moving the woman out of state for treatment was highly unusual.
“For a city where there maybe officers from that department involved in this, packing her up and sending her 3,000 miles away smacks to me of witness tampering,” said Cordell.
Price said her client wants to move on and no longer goes by the alias Celeste Guap.
“We are happy to say that Celeste Guap is dead,” she said. “She is Jasmine.” The woman has been previously identified in police records as Jasmine Abuslin.
Price along with lead attorney Charles Bonner announced in a statement Wednesday the 19-year-old had pleaded no contest to misdemeanor simple battery to be able to immediately return to the Bay Area. While they did not immediately disclose the conditions of the plea deal, they said it contained a stipulation that she would not have a criminal record.
Abuslin was expected to testify against seven current and former law enforcement officers, including five from the Oakland Police Department, who Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced last week would be facing criminal charges.
They won’t be charged until Abuslin can return to California. Two of the officers are facing charges of felony oral copulation with a minor.
Attorneys for Abuslin say she has been a victim of sex trafficking since she was 12 years old. She came under investigation by the Oakland Police Department last year for a relationship she had with Officer Brendan O’Brien, who killed himself in September 2015 and implicated himself and other officers in a suicide note.
Details of the scandal did not emerge publicly until May. Since then, the case has spread to implicate dozens of officers in at least eight different law enforcement agencies.
Last week, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced that 12 Oakland police officers would be disciplined, including four who would be fired. Days later, O’Malley announced criminal charges against five Oakland police officers, a Livermore officer and a Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputy.
Brown said that 11 officers from his department were investigated in connection with the scandal and some of them would be fired or disciplined but refused to provide further details.
Former Contra Costa County sheriff’s Deputy Ricardo Perez and Oakland police Officer Giovanni LoVerde are each facing charges of felony oral copulation with a minor. If convicted, they could face 16 months to three years in state prison.
Perez will also be charged with two counts of engaging in a lewd act in a public place.
Former Livermore police Officer Dan Black will be charged with two counts of engaging in an act of prostitution and two counts of lewd acts in public.
Oakland police Officer Brian Bunton faces one count of felony conspiracy to obstruct justice, which carries a possible sentence of a year in prison, and one misdemeanor charge of engaging in an act of prostitution.
Retired Oakland police Officer Leroy Johnson will be charged with one count of failing to report sexual misconduct concerning a minor.
Oakland police Officer Warit Utappa will be accused of searching official criminal justice data and computer systems for an unauthorized purpose.
Former Oakland police Officer Tyrell Smith, who resigned in May, faces four counts of the same crime.
The criminal cases against the officers may just be the start.
“She is entitled to compensation from each one of the jurisdictions where officers have violated the law and violated her civil rights,” said Price.
“It absolutely makes sense to me that the next step for her is to do what she has done, which is to lawyer up and to bring lawsuits both against the officers involved and the departments and cities and counties that support these police departments,” said Cordell.
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