Earlier this year, many in the community were stunned to learn that a West Sacramento police officer had used his badge and authority to sexually assault women – at least seven in total, some more than once, ranging in age from 20 to 47.
Now perhaps we should not have been so stunned. After all, the same department, under the same leadership had seen two men, Ernesto and Fermin Galvan, badly beaten by police for ostensibly resisting arrest. The beating was so bad that Ernesto Galvan is permanently brain-damaged, suffering from dementia and delusions.
The department at that time largely stood by the officers involved. The DA’s office never prosecuted those men and, in fact, three times attempted to prosecute the brothers on very minor resisting charges. Finally after some acquittals and three hung juries, the DA’s office dropped the charges and the city of West Sacramento would ultimately settle the civil suit for a mere $320,000.
With that in the background of West Sacramento PD, it was a bit difficult to fully stomach the comments made by then-West Sacramento Police Chief Dan Drummond, at a press conference.
“The victimization of vulnerable people is despicable, but the fact that these crimes were apparently committed by a police officer under the color of authority is reprehensible,” he explained.
We get it and we believe that he believed that. However, then he added, “The actions of one person should in no way reflect upon the outstanding performance and integrity of the men and women of the Department. I am proud of the way our officers carried out their duties in this investigation and every day in the protection of the community,”
“I’m personally just appalled and sick that someone who was put in a position of trust would violate that trust in such a despicable an egregious manner,” Chief Drummond added.
It is easy to be personally outraged at the conduct here. But if the lawsuit filed by attorney Stewart Katz is correct, the chief was dead wrong back in February when he said that this should “in no way reflect upon the outstanding performance and integrity of the men and women of the Department.”
What we learned – if true – is shocking, but again perhaps not surprising. The victim and plaintiff in the suit alleges that she was sexually assaulting twice by then-Officer Alvarez, who twice took her behind Little Caesar’s Pizza and forced her to engage in oral copulation – and the second time also proceeded to sodomize her.
She then attempted to complain to authorities – Officer Jason Mahaffey, Officer Chris Wright and Officer Lindsey Lam.
The suit alleges, “(Officer) Lam did not respond to these seemingly shocking allegations. Plaintiff alleges on information and belief that neither of these officers took any steps to address her complaint until after Officer Alvarez was arrested.”
So, contrary to the claims of former Chief Drummond, this was not the actions of just one man; the fact that three sworn officers failed to report, investigate or otherwise address a citizen’s claim of sexual assault by a police officer is appalling. This is not a reflection simply of one person, but rather the culture of the department.
This issue cuts to the very core of the integrity of the West Sacramento Police Department. The Blue Code of Silence, which has a number of different names, is an unwritten rule or code among police officers not to report on their fellow officers any errors, misconduct or crimes.
This is precisely what we see at work here – the failure of these officers to respond not only meant that the crimes against the plaintiff here went unreported, but it also meant that additional women had to suffer as they fell prey to a police officer operating under the color of his own authority.
Of course, Mr. Alvarez is entitled to the legal presumption of innocence as he faces criminal charges, and the civil suit’s allegations have not yet been proven. However, taking the claims at face value, think about how vulnerable an individual is in this situation.
Officer Alvarez, during the first assault, arrested and handcuffed the plaintiff, placing her in his police car. He then took her to a secluded area and compelled her, while handcuffed, to engage in oral sex.
This is worse than other assaults because it happens under the color of legal authority. The victim here really cannot fight back. She fears arrest. He lawfully arrested her in the first place. So he used his authority to put her in handcuffs and prevent her from being able to defend herself.
Individuals who commit crime are bound by law to submit to the authority of the state and allow themselves to be taken into custody. When they resist that lawful authority, they are committing additional offenses that can result in further punishment.
Implicit in those laws is the basic value of trust. That trust is that the state will respect the rights of the individuals in their custody and not violate that trust by committing assaults.
This crime is even worse because, not only do we have the perpetrator, but at least three officers who allegedly looked the other way.
Chief Dan Drummond has since retired and Chief Thomas MacDonald has taken over the department. In my meeting with him back in September, he struck me as a typical veteran police officer who claimed to have zero tolerance for misconduct under his command.
This will be a critical test for the department and leadership of Chief MacDonald, who must restore community trust in the police.
—David M. Greenwald reporting