Police Abuse

Taxpayers Pay Steep Price For Coddling Bad Cops

After a large jury verdict award over a rapist cop, the Orange County Sheriff's Department says it's looking into changing its policies.

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If the Orange County, Calif., Board of Supervisors votes to appeal the $2.25 million jury verdict recently assessed against the county in the case of a deputy accused of a vile on-duty rape, then you know what little value supervisors place on the safety of the public. That's a lot of cash, but given the infuriatingly negligent behavior of the sheriff's department, taxpayers are fortunate the verdict wasn't far higher.

According to the lawsuit, former deputy Nicholas Lee Caropino was called to then-22-year-old Alexa Curtin's house after she had an argument with her then-boyfriend. Curtin, the daughter of a former Real Housewives of Orange County cast member, alleges the deputy drove her to her car, made inappropriate comments about her underwear found in the car and ordered her to stay put.

Curtin alleges that "he then returned to the scene, in his vehicle and out of uniform, got into the passenger seat of her car, and raped her," according to the Orange County Register report. The details alleged at the trial were graphic and deeply disturbing, but not fit for a family website.

Some people do awful things, and it's no surprise that some people are accused of doing them under the color of authority. But the county was rightly hit with this verdict because of its policies. Two months earlier, "a then 18-year-old San Juan Capistrano woman made similar accusations against Caropino," the Register reported, "alleging the deputy came to her home following her release from jail… and sexually assaulted her there."

If you had an employee accused of raping a young woman, would you allow that employee to continue to work around other young women? And if you did, you would be deserving of a lawsuit, no?

The department allowed Caropino to continue working on patrol duty. The sheriff's department didn't conduct an internal affairs investigation. The departmental policy is to stall any investigation while a criminal investigation is underway. It's rare for district attorneys to press charges against officers and the county's scandal-plagued DA Tony Rackauckas declined to press charges. In the meantime, the alleged rape of Curtin took place.

The judge informed jurors in the civil trial to assume the rape took place and look at whether the Orange County Sheriff's Department was at least partially responsible for it, given that "Caropino invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when he was asked about the incident," according to the Register. The county fought the matter, hiring a private attorney who specializes in defending accused cops to handle the case.

Even Supervisor Todd Spitzer, a DA candidate closely allied with police, expressed disgust. Sheriff Sandra Hutchens "just cost the taxpayers of Orange County $2.25 million because she allowed a deputy sheriff to continue to work patrol while he was under criminal investigation for sexual misconduct," he wrote on Facebook. "I am sickened to see the gross deterioration of the sheriff's department."

Another article in the Register interviewed law-enforcement officials from other Southern California departments, who argued that Caropino "might have been taken off patrol duty when he was first accused of rape" in their departments. In my experience covering these issues, however, police agencies typically put the rights and concerns of the officers above those of the public.

The union-dominated system—ranging from the Peace Officers Bill of Rights to the state Supreme Court's Copley decision mandating secrecy of administrative allegations against officers—is about protecting the employee. In yet another example, police unions have successfully gone to court to stop the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department from turning over to the district attorney the names of around 300 deputies accused of "moral turpitude."

A 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision and some ensuing case law mandates that DAs provide the defense in criminal cases with information that could be beneficial to the defendant. That includes information from "founded administrative investigations" about officers accused of immoral conduct, accepting bribes or gifts, police brutality and other serious misbehavior. The idea is that the defense needs to know if a police witness is credible.

In addition to these official legal protections, I've found that officers accused of bad behavior are protected (and their defenses funded) by unions. They also are protected by a culture among police and prosecutors that is, at best, lackadaisical about accusations against fellow members of the Brotherhood. Usually, the only recourse for alleged victims is the civil justice system. That's better than nothing, but the public gets to pay again.

After this verdict and surrounding bad publicity, the sheriff's department has said that it is considering a change in policy. Will wonders never cease? But don't worry, the Register reports that the Orange County spokeswoman "said the county didn't condone 'the alleged conduct of former deputy Caropino.'" Well, that should make you feel much better next time a deputy pulls over your daughter on a quiet country road.

This column first appeared in the Orange County Register.

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  1. One solution is to make local government officials pay some of these awards from their paychecks.

    Its like a captain of a ship, they are the law but they also historically go down with the ship when its sinking.

    1. I would like to see them paid from the police pension.

  2. Again, all awards should come out of pension funds.

    1. Oooh! I like that idea!

    2. I think it should come out of their budget.

      We were going to buy you a shiny new helicopter, but…

    3. Great idea

    4. The right ‘free-market’ solution is to eliminate presumptive immunity for police officers entirely, and require that each law enforcement officer carry personal civil liability insurance. The premiums for this insurance could be part of the benefit package in the employment contract. In the event of a civil judgement involving tortitious acts on the part of a particular officer, then the insurance company will have to pay that bill, not the taxpayers of the local municipality.

      This will have the added benefit of ensuring that the ‘bad apples’ don’t just get fired by one police department, and hired by another one down the road. Once a particular officer is a known risk, the insurance companies will refuse to insure them, and thus no other police department will be able to put them back out on the streets with a badge and a gun to be dangerous bullies to other citizens.

      1. This could be implemented as part of ‘Medicare for all’ as a sop to the insurance companies for being cut out of the health-care market

  3. “The details alleged at the trial were graphic and deeply disturbing, but not fit for a family website.”

    edit:

    The details alleged at the trial were graphic and deeply disturbing, AND not fit for a family website.

  4. Guess who’s proposing the most effective solution:

    Remove contract provisions, local policies, and provisions in state Law Enforcement Officers’ Bills of Rights laws that:

    allow officers to wait 48 hours or more before being interrogated after an incident
    prevent investigators from pursuing other cases of misconduct revealed during an investigation
    prevent an officer’s name or picture from being released to the public
    prohibit civilians from having the power to discipline, subpoena or interrogate police officers
    state that the Police Chief has the sole authority to discipline police officers
    enable officers to appeal a disciplinary decision to a hearing board of other police officers
    enable officers to use the contract grievance process to have an outside arbitrator reverse disciplinary decisions and reinstate officers who have committed misconduct
    prevent an officer from being investigated for an incident that happened 100 or more days prior
    allow an officer to choose not to take a lie detector test without being punished, require the civilian who is accusing that officer of misconduct to pass a lie detector first, or prevent the officer’s test results from being considered as evidence of misconduct

  5. And this:

    Keep officers’ disciplinary history accessible to police departments and the public

    Remove contract provisions, local and state policies, and provisions in state Law Enforcement Officers’ Bills of Rights laws that allow police officers to:

    expunge or destroy records of past misconduct (both sustained and unsustained) from their disciplinary file
    prevent their disciplinary records from being released to the public via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request

    Ensure financial accountability for officers and police departments that kill or seriously injure civilians

    Remove contract provisions, local policies, and provisions in state Law Enforcement Officers’ Bills of Rights laws that:

    require officers to be given paid administrative leave or paid desk-duty during an investigation following a police shooting or other use of deadly force
    prevent officers from receiving unpaid suspensions as discipline for misconduct or allow officers to use vacation or discretionary time to pay themselves while on suspension
    allow officers to receive paid leave or paid desk-duty after being charged with a felony offense

  6. Its a shame the press spends so much time covering a few, small hand fulls of NAZIS when police abuse and cover ups are the real threat to liberty.

    1. police abuse and cover ups are the real threat to liberty.

      That’s exactly why it’s not being covered.

  7. “”If the Orange County, Calif., Board of Supervisors votes to appeal the $2.25 million jury verdict “”

    They better be careful about that. On appeal, a judge could rule 2.25M was not enough.

    So 2.2M is too much, but 2.2M and lawyer fees for a losing appeal is not too much.

    1. Imagine the cuts to the police department if the judgement is sustained. Violent crime like rape could increase.

  8. he was under criminal investigation for sexual misconduct

    It is sad the definition of the word “rape” now includes regret and lewd comments yet a candidate for DA cannot even use the word when it does apply.

    1. Mattress girl stares at you.

  9. “Taxpayers Pay Steep Price For Coddling Bad Cops”….for the millionth time but not to worry because there may be a policy change this time.

    What a f’n relief.

    “Taxpayers Pay Steep Price For Coddling Bad Cops”…but obviously not steep enough

    “Taxpayers Pay Steep Price For Coddling Bad Cops”…but still no national conversation on the topic nor even mere mention of reform as lip service.

    “Taxpayers Pay Steep Price For Coddling Bad Cops”…and the copsuckers keep on sucking.

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