‘Payoffs’ of victims of sexual assault by Kern County officers under local scrutiny
A five-part series examining the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct and questionable practices among local law enforcement agencies has garnered attention nationwide, including in Kern County.
The series was conducted by The Guardian, a renowned British national daily newspaper that also covers issues in the United States, which found, among other things, that police in Kern County killed more people per capita than in any other American county in 2015.
But one issue in particular highlighted in the series caught the attention of local residents and local media.
The third part in the series, “Sexual assault and the price of silence,” tackles how law enforcement officers in Kern County secretly tried to “buy off” victims in sexual misconduct cases against the men sworn to protect them.
This part of the series also includes comments attorneys Neil Gehlawat related to several cases of sexual assault involving Kern County Sheriff’s Department employees. The cases highlighted include:
- Karen Frye, who was sexually molested at Lerdo Jail by Kern County Sheriff’s Department detentions deputy Anthony Michael Lavis. The law firm filed suit against the county for civil rights violations, conspiracy, sexual assault and battery, negligence, fraud, breach of contract and excessive use of force. The department also attempted to “buy off” Frye by offering her $1,500 in exchange for her agreement to not sue the department. That case settled for $300,000.
- Jane Doe, a woman who was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison.
- Jane Doe 2, a 79-year-old woman who called the sheriff’s office during a dispute with her husband, who was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s. She, too, was sexually assaulted by Lopez in a similar fashion to his other victims. The third victim was quietly paid $5,000 by the department, and was unable to bring a civil claim.
- Two claims against the County of Kern on behalf of two females who were sexually assaulted in separate incidents by Kern County Juvenile Corrections officers while the girls were housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall. Kern County Corrections officer Cesar Holguin Navejar was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting Jane Doe 1. He is currently facing six felony charges including sexual battery, assault by a public officer and child molestation. Jane Doe 2, who was also housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall. That suspect, George Anderson, has been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation.
Local news outlets interviewed attorneys of Chain | Cohn | Clark about the cases and the County of Kern’s questionable practices, and also interviewed county counsel, who argued that the practice is both legal and ethical.
Said Gehlawat in The Bakersfield Californian article: “This is reprehensible, these payoffs. They show up with cash in hand and try to pay off these victims.”
* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Clark *
- British newspaper’s examination of Kern law enforcement casts critical light (The Bakersfield Californian)
- Sheriff’s office paying off victims sexually assaulted by deputies (KBFX-58, FOX, Eyewitness News)
- Women who have been sexually assaulted by sheriff’s deputies are offered cash settlements (KGET-17, NBC)
- First Look: Guardian article sparks discussion on alleged sexual assault case in KCSO (First Look with Scott Cox, The Bakersfield Californian)