Monday, April 19, 2010
Court Upholds School Police Officer’s Sexual Assault Conviction
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal on Friday upheld a Los Angeles School District Police officer’s conviction for sexually assaulting a young woman while purporting to conduct a field sobriety test and search for weapons.
Div. One ruled that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marsha N. Revel erred in admitting evidence of a prior uncharged incident involving officer Ian King and a student at the school where King was assigned, but said the error was harmless in light of the “virtually uncontradicted and overwhelming” evidence against King.
The panel, for the same reason, also rejected King’s numerous assertions that his defense counsel was constitutionally deficient based on the lack of any prejudice attributable to the attorney’s alleged shortcomings.
In May 2007, King detained a black Mercedes being driven by a 21-year old woman identified in the decision as “Nicole D.” after observing the vehicle make an illegal U-turn in the parking lot of a small grocery store near the intersection of La Brea Avenue and Adams Boulevard.
Nicole testified that she was “a little lost” at the time, and “nervous” because she was not familiar with the area. She said that the officer, whom she later identified as King, asked her if she had been drinking, and she admitted to consuming one beer with friends two hours earlier.
Field Sobriety Test
King allegedly then told the woman he would have to perform a field sobriety test and “pat [her] down to make sure [she] didn’t have any drugs or weapons.” Nicole said King asked her if she had ever been searched by police before, and she told him she had not.
During King’s search of her person, Nicole claimed, King groped her breasts and twice inserted his fingers into her vagina. She testified that she did not believe this was appropriate, but that she did not think she could object.
After the search was over, Nicole drove away and reported the incident to the Los Angeles Police Department.
At trial, a witness testified that she had seen King arresting a young woman at around the same time and location that Nicole claimed the assault had occurred and that she had seen King’s hand underneath the woman’s dress.
Troubled by this, the witness said, she circled back and saw King still had his hand under the woman’s dress. The woman then called 911 and reported what she had seen.
Evidence was also admitted regarding an uncharged 2006 incident involving King and an 18-year old identified as “Regina S.,” then a senior at University High School, where King was working. Regina said that King had called her into his office in a remote area of the school’s administration building, and then asked for oral sex and to see her pierced navel.
The information filed against King arising from the incident with Nicole charged him with sexual battery by restraint, unlawful genital penetration by a public official by threat of arrest or incarceration, and two counts of unlawful sexual penetration accomplished by force or duress.
A jury convicted him of all five counts and King was sentenced to 20 years in state prison.
On appeal, King contended that his trial counsel had been ineffective in that he failed to file a written motion to exclude Regina’s testimony, among other omissions.
Writing for the appellate court, Justice Jeffrey W. Johnson noted that King’s counsel had made an oral objection to the admission of this evidence and the issue was “litigated vigorously” at a hearing. He also rejected the assertion that a written motion was also required.
But Johnson reasoned that the commonalities between the two incidents were too superficial for the prior incident to be admitted.
Johnson noted that “both women were young and relatively close in age, King made a purposeful effort to direct each of them to isolated locations, and used his authority to control them in the first place,” but he emphasized that King had not engaged in physical contact with Regina as he had with Nicole, and that he had apparently targeted Regina personally but come across Nicole purely by chance.
These dissimilarities in King’s conduct toward Regina and Nicole were too significant to demonstrate King’s propensity to commit sexual assault, Johnson said.
The justice concluded that this error was harmless, however, based on the “ruinous nature” of the direct and circumstantial evidence against King “independently offered by two eyewitnesses of wholly independent origin and through a wholly independent chain of reporting.”
Johnson added that “King simply cannot show that but for his attorney’s performance, there is a reasonable probability the result would have been different,” and rejected King’s remaining claims arising from the effectiveness of his representation.
Justices Frances Rothschild and Victoria Gerrard Chaney joined Johnson in his decision.
Attorneys on the case were Gerson S. Horn and Jerald W. Newton of the Law Offices of Gerson S. Horn and Deputy Attorney General Yun K. Lee.
The case is People v. King, 10 S.O.S. 2091.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company