Monday, July 21, 2008
Ninth Circuit Upholds Deputy’s Conviction in Sexual Assaults
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday affirmed the conviction of a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy on charges he sexually assaulted three women while on duty in 2002 and 2003.
The panel rejected claims by Gabriel Gonzalez, who is serving a 30-year sentence for the crimes, that the conviction was tainted by improper hearsay and other inadmissible testimony.
Senior Judge John Noonan wrote:
“Gonzalez, thirty-seven at the time of the crimes, was a graduate of California State University at Long Beach. He had been gainfully employed since he was 26. He had no criminal record. He had been a member of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department since 1997. To read his case is to read the story of a police officer inexplicably gone bad. His fall is great, his sentence hard. Bearing all this in mind and recalling that identifications are sometimes mistaken, we have reviewed the record and found that we cannot say that our confidence in the verdict has been shaken or that the convictions were produced by error.”
Gonzalez was indicted after one of the victims, a South Gate resident responding to a telephone survey about that city’s police department, said she had been raped by an officer six months earlier. When the department followed up, an investigator suspected from the woman’s explanation that the perpetrator actually was with the LASD.
The department was notified, and an investigator noted a similarity between the victim’s description of the attack—she said the officer pulled her over, forced her to strip, and then raped her—with an allegation he was probing involving a prostitute who said she was forced to have oral sex with a deputy.
After the South Gate victim, after looking at photos of six sheriff’s deputies and every male South Gate officer, identified Gonzalez as her attacker, the FBI was called in. The bureau searched the records of the computer in Gonzalez’ patrol vehicle, identified several women whom he had stopped, and sent them letters asking whether they had encountered “a police officer” who had behaved inappropriately
Three of the women related similar stories. An officer pulled them over, questioned them about their personal lives, and touched them on their hips, waists, and/or breasts.
One of the women identified Gonzalez from a photo. A grand jury indicted him for fondling that victim, as well as for the rape of the South Gate woman and the incident involving the prostitute.
The three victims, along with the other two women, testified at trial. Jurors in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California found Gonzalez guilty on all counts and Judge Christina Snyder imposed the 30-year sentence.
On appeal, Noonan agreed that Snyder erred in allowing the officer who interviewed the South Gate victim to recount her explanation of the assault. The testimony was inadmissible hearsay, the judge said, in the absence of an express or implied claim that the woman had falsified her own version of the facts.
The error was harmless, however, Noonan concluded, because the jury would in any event have believed that the woman was raped, and the officer’s vouching for her credibility had little effect on the identification issue given her own testimony that she was “100 percent sure” that Gonzalez was her assailant.
The judge went on to reject the defense contention that Snyder admitted improper propensity evidence by allowing the victims of the uncharged assaults to testify.
While the incidents were not identical, Noonan explained, the testimony was admissible to establish a pattern in which the defendant used his authority as an officer to stop women alone at night and engage them in private conversation before commanding them to sit, squat, stand, or undress, touching their private parts—in more than one instance saying he was searching for drugs—and then releasing them without citation or arrest.
Judges William A. Fletcher and Ronald M. Gould concurred in the opinion.
The case is United States v. Gonzalez, 06-50461.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company