LAWSUIT IS LATEST IN STRING OF SEXUAL MISCONDUCT CLAIMS AT EL CAJON POLICE

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An East County Magazine special report

By Miriam Raftery

March 24, 2015 (El Cajon)--An East County Magazine special investigation reveals a long string of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct claims involving the El Cajon Police Department, dating back over the past two decades.  Following a recent sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the ECPD, victims and witnesses to past sexual crimes and alleged sexual misconduct have come forward to speak with ECM about other cases.

Bonnie Price, who is organizing a protest rally Tuesday at 2:15 outside El Cajon's City Council, contends that the Police Department has a "culture of sexual harassment" that may be overly conducive to such actions.

The lawsuit recently filed against the ECPC and Officer Richard Gonsalves alleges sexual harassment and discrimination, as we reported.  In the case, Gonsalves is accused of sending nude photos of himself to women on the force and proposed a sexual threesome. He was demoted following an invesgivation but remains on the force. The plaintiff contends she was passed over for promotion due to her complaints about Gonsalves.

In 2004, four women filed suit against the ECPD and Officer Gary Ryno, alleging sexual harassment.  It is unclear what settlements were reached, but Ryno remained on the force until his retirement in 2009, the East County Gazette reported. The suit alleged that Ryno harassed the four women over "a substantial period of time, and claimed the city and the department allowed the behavior to continue. The UT reported that the suit accused Ryno of kissing a woman against her will, whispering suggestive sexual innuendos to the women, telling them of his interest in sexual mutilation and cross-dressing, as well as stalking them online.

In  the mid-1990s, ECPD Officer Michael Kennedy was convicted of having sex with a 15-year-old girl, daughter of an ECPD employee.  Details are recounted in the book Please God, Don’t Let Me Tarnish My Badge,by former ECPD officer Kevin LaChapelle.  His book also detailed scandals ranging from drinking parties with officers and under-age girls to retaliation against whistlblowers. 

ECM spoke with Kennedy’s victim, Shawn, who asked that her last name be withheld. She said Kennedy asked her to babysit for him and soon coerced her into a frightening sexual liason.

“Kennedy had his gun out the second time with me and asked me what I would do if my parents ever found out…I said I would kill myself and he said `Good,’” Shawn told ECM.  “I was young and lost.  I don’t think you ever really put it behind you.”

She said she suffered depression and suicidal thoughts. “I never went to a prom, I never had a normal life for a while. I went to counseling….Now that I am a Mom, I am definitely very paranoid about my own daughters,” Shawn revealed, adding that she currently is involved in an helping survivors at a rape crisis center.

She also stated that an underage friend of hers was also having sex with a second ECPD officer, whose mother was in a leadership position at the department Two former ECPD officers confirm that the second officer was also convicted; both asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. 

La Chapelle’s book stated that Kennedy bragged about taking Shawn’s virginity to others at the ECPD.  After learning that his colleagues were apparently committing statutory rape with young teens, he took the girls to the La Mesa Police to report the crimes; it was LMPD, not ECPD, that led the investigation into the crimes.

“Where’s that respect? Where’s that honor? If you’re a police honor you take an oath,” Shawn’s mother told ECM. She now lives in another state and asked that her name not be published.  She said the officer who had sex with her young daughter served his sentence under house arrest and is now free, working in the nursing field.

In 2007, Officer William Robert Taylor was convicted of demanding sexual favors of women that he arrested, including charges of sexual penetration under color of authority and sexual battery.

Another former ECPD employee, who asked that her name be withheld, told ECM that she was sexually harassed on the job after a relative of hers was victimized by an officer.  She told ECM that she was taken to an interrogation room, where an officer offered to show her his “dick.” She ultimately obtained a small settlement and went to work at a restaurant.

A former ECPD officer spoke with ECM, on condition his name not be published.  He had many stories to relate, some corroborating the stories related by others in this article.

At times, he says, public safety could have been jeopardized, besides the safety of women on the force.

“There is another instance where a detective slept with a witness in a homicide case and ultimately they could not prosecute him,” he told ECM. He said the district attorney feared the defense would learn of the indiscretion and impeach the officer’s impartiality.  “I don’t know if that was prosecutable, but if you ask me that’s one of the worst cases to the public. You’re talking about a homicide,” the officer said.

He and others also recalled a former officer who they said was having sex with prostitutes in exchange for letting them avoid arrest.  The source also a sergeant in charge of a cadet program held a drinking party with under age teens at his home around 2008. “One of the male cadets woke up outside … on the sidewalk and he had been sodomized,” the source said, adding that the sergeant later lost his job.

There was also a much-publicized double-murder resulting from a love triangle involving two El Cajon Police officers and the killer, a  jealous Los Angeles police officer who then shot and killed himself, the LA Times reported In 1996.

ECM has reached out to the City of El Cajon to request comment for this story and specifically, to ask what steps if any have been taken to improve procedures or provide oversight after past scandals such as officers convicted of sexual crimes and at least one prior harassment suit.  Thus far, we have not received a response.

Sex scandals can be costly.  Business Insider reported on 10 cases in which judgments ranging from $7 million to $250 million were awarded to victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.

 San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, forced from office and later convicted on sexual misconduct charges, cost taxpayers a hefty sum” $250,000 for the city to settle a sexual harassment claim against him.

The City of San Diego, however, took steps to protect employees at City Hall, such as not allowing Filner to be alone with a woman once complaints of sexual harassment surfaced and ultimately negotiating his resignation.

The San Diego Police Department, also rocked with scandals including sexual misconduct cases, recently underwent a U.S. Justice Department probe requested by the Mayor and Police Chief.  It found a lack of oversight and recommended numerous reforms. Chief Shelley Zimmerman has stated she intends to implement every one of the recommendations, as ECM has reported.

There are reforms that have been implemented in other police departments plagued by a culture of misconduct and allegations of cover-ups or lack of oversight.  One is appointment of an independent oversight board, to avoid having police investigate themselves and their friends on the force.  Another is to  request a Justice Department recommendation, as San Diego did.  A third option that police reform advocates recommend in such cases is replacement of leadership, such as appointing a woman from an outside agency to serve as chief.

Asked his opinion on the department’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations over time, one retired ECPD officer. who spoke on condition his name not be published, told ECM, “Do I think they’ve really done enough to really thwart it myself? No. When you look at guy who slept with a witness--all these guys stay on and then are promoted—you’ve got to say `What?’”

As for creating an oversight committee, he said, “I think that’s a wonderful idea.” But he voiced skepticism over whether the El Cajon City Council would be willing to appoint an oversight committee for fear of bad publicity.

In the end, covering up scandals can ultimately result in financial liability to the city of individuals commit more offenses, while taking steps to clean house and eliminate a culture that is conducive to sexual misconduct can bring positive publicity.

“I pray that once they got going with an oversight committee, officers would realize that it would help, not harm them, unless they are doing something wrong,” the former officer concluded, adding that body cameras can also help keep officers on their best behavior.

He, like many law enforcement people we spoke with, also wanted to convey that those who commit sexual offenses in uniform are the exceptions, not the rule. He estimates that over 99% of the men on the force are “good hard working guys”  and that the overwhelming majority of police officers—men and women--live up to their mission to protect and serve the public.

A rally is planned outside the El Cajon City Council Chambers (200 Civic Center Way) on Tuesday, March 24 at 2:15 p.m. to protest the “culture of sexual harassment in the El Cajon Police Department,” says organizer Bonnie Price. 

In an e-mail sent to community members, Price writes,“Women in the 21st Century should NOT be faced with sexual harassment when they go to work to earn their and their family's bread and butter.  If we don't let the El Cajon City Council know WE CARE and WE VOTE, they will continue to allow this culture of sexual harassment to continue.  The entire police department should be aware that we are watching and won't allow this to continue.”

After the protest, participants are encouraged to go inside, fill out speaker’s cards and use the public comment item on the agenda “to speak for three minutes about our outrage!” Price urges. “We want action, NOT lip service!" she concludes, "All who care about their mothers, sisters, daughters, cousins, and women friends are welcome!  This NOT a partisan issue!”

Related: City clarifies its sexual harassment policies