OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Freshly back in the Bay Area, attorneys for a woman at the center of a wide reaching police sexual exploitation scandal said that law enforcement agencies in the region have failed to hold officers accountable and more than seven should be facing criminal charges.
Attorneys Charles Bonner and Pamela Price called a news conference at Oakland City Hall Thursday morning after returning from Florida on Wednesday with the 19-year-old woman, who is now being referred to by her real name — Jasmine Abuslin — instead of the moniker Celeste Guap that she used when the sex scandal first broke.
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They had flown there to assist in the woman’s release from jail in Martin County and to bring her back to California. She is expected to testify against seven current and former law enforcement officers from three agencies facing criminal charges in Alameda County.
But Price said more officers should be facing criminal charges, in particular criticizing the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office for not bringing charges and accusing the Richmond Police Department of potential witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
Richmond police, criticized for assisting the woman to enter a drug rehabilitation facility in Florida just before she would be a witness in a criminal prosecution, have said it was her choice to go there and that they only assisted in getting her funds from the state’s Victim Compensation Program.
She was swiftly arrested after arriving at the facility for allegedly assaulting a guard.
Price accused the department of sending her there on purpose, questioning why she didn’t go to a local facility.
“I don’t know what the plan was but it smells, looks and feels like a setup to me,” Price said.
Bonner said Richmond police Sgt. M. Stonebraker of the domestic and sexual violence unit arranged the trip to Florida. He said Richmond police dropped her off at the airport where she flew, alone, to Florida and two other people picked her up and drove her for two hours without speaking to her.
She wasn’t permitted to call her father during that time. While at the facility, under the impression she was there voluntarily, she decided she wanted to leave and was attempting to hitchhike when she was forcibly taken back in and restrained, which is when she allegedly assaulted a guard, according to Bonner.
Martin County sheriff’s deputies arrested her and she was jailed for 17 days on $300,000 bail before pleading no contest to misdemeanor battery in a plea bargain. Price said she and a retained attorney in Florida had to work very hard to keep her from being released on probation.
Now that they’re back, Price said they’re working on arranging meetings with district attorneys in Alameda County and Contra Costa County but had no timeline for when they would happen yet.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said last week that she would file charges against the seven officers but was waiting until the woman returned to file formal charges. District attorney’s office spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said Thursday that prosecutors are still working on filing charges but could not provide a specific timeline.
Price said the results of the district attorney’s investigation, which included charges of obstruction of justice in addition to prostitution and oral copulation with a minor, revealed a failure across law enforcement agencies.
The investigation was spurred by the suicide of Oakland police Officer Brendan O’Brien in September 2015. A judge overseeing the department’s court-mandated reforms criticized the pace of the internal investigation in March. Details of the scandal started emerging in media reports in May.
Livermore police, whose 26-year-veteran Officer Dan Black was ultimately charged with two counts of engaging in an act of prostitution and two counts of committing a lewd act in a public place, did not discover one of their officers was involved until June.
Richmond police, who ultimately investigated 11 officers and disciplined or fired an undisclosed number of them, did not learn of their officers’ involvement until after the scandal was reported in the media.
Black resigned last week before he was charged. Also facing charges is Contra Costa County sheriff’s Deputy Ricardo Perez, who resigned as details of the scandal emerged, for felony oral copulation with a minor and two counts of committing a lewd act in a public place.
Oakland police Officers Brian Bunton, Warit Utappa, Tyrell Smith and Giovanni LoVerde, as well as retired Oakland police Sgt. Leroy Johnson, are also facing criminal charges.
Bunton will be charged with one count of felony obstruction of justice and one count of engaging in an act of prostitution, Utappa will be charged with one count of conducting a search of official criminal justice computer systems without an authorized purpose, Smith will be charged with four counts of that crime and Johnson will be charged with failure to report sexual misconduct against a minor.
LoVerde will be charged with felony oral copulation with a minor.
Calling the scandal a “heinous violation of the public trust,” Price said again today that she believes there are other similar victims of sexual exploitation by police and says she has received messages from them since taking this case.
“When a young girl is running from a pimp on the street or trying to flee a life of exploitation and violence and fear, she has to know that when she goes to a police officer, he’s not going to take her to the back of the police car! That he’s not going to take her to a room! That he’s not going to tell her about his buddy who’s interested in having sex with her!” Price said.
Meanwhile, she says the victim is seeking swift prosecution of the officers involved and plans to file a lawsuit. Before leaving Florida on Wednesday, the attorneys said they had arranged to get the woman the treatment she needs at Stanford University upon their return.
Bonner noted that Abuslin is doing her best to change her life for the better.
“She’s a new lady and she is committed to a new course of conduct,” said Bonner. “She’s going to then go to school. She’s going to get her GED. She’s a very smart young lady.”
“This was a child. She still is a child even though she has now reached the age of maturity,” Bonner said. “She is still stuck at 12 years old because her childhood has been ripped away from her.”
The officers involved should go to jail, Bonner said, as anyone else who committed the same crimes would.
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