By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
No one disputes that an on-duty Irvine police officer got an erection and ejaculated on a motorist during an early-morning traffic stop in Laguna Beach. The female driver reported it, DNA testing confirmed it and officer David Alex Park finally admitted it.
When the case went to trial, however, defense attorney Al Stokke argued that Park wasn't responsible for making sticky all over the woman's sweater. He insisted that she made the married patrolman make the mess—after all, she was on her way home from work as a dancer at Captain Cream Cabaret.
"She got what she wanted," said Stokke. "She's an overtly sexual person."
A jury of one woman and 11 men—many white and in their 50s or 60s—agreed with Stokke. On Feb. 2, after a half-day of deliberations, they found Park not guilty of three felony charges that he'd used his badge to win sexual favors during the December 2004 traffic stop.
Park, 31, was red-faced and unable to control his twitching foot in the moments before the verdict was announced; if convicted, he would have faced prison. When he was found not guilty, he briefly embraced Stokke. In the public seating section, tears flowed from his gray-haired mother's face. His father, a mechanic, closed his eyes and threw his head back. Outside the courtroom, surrounded by his family, a smiling Park said he felt vindicated.
Veteran sex crimes prosecutor Shaddi Kamiabipour—who'd called Park "a predator" during the nine-day trial—said she was disappointed with the verdicts. She also dismissed Stokke's contention that the Orange County District Attorney's office had overcharged the case. At stake, Kamiabipour said, was the principle that no one—not even a horny cop who'd once won honors for community service—is above the law.
"Park didn't pick a housewife or a 17-year-old girl," Kamiabipour said in her closing argument. "He picked a stripper. He picked the perfect victim."
* * *
In the wee hours of Dec. 15, 2004, Lucy (only her first name was used during the trial) finished her final shift at Captain Cream in Lake Forest, not far from the Irvine Spectrum. Management had let her go after an incident involving a female customer in a bathroom stall. According to court records, there had been a small amount of cocaine, kissing and breast fondling.
Meanwhile, Park was on patrol in the southwest portion of Irvine. Prosecutors believe he was craving a sexual rendezvous, and so he watched for Lucy's white BMW to leave the strip club parking lot, then tailed her, waiting for an excuse for a stop. Park insisted he'd been cruising on the 405 north and coincidentally saw Lucy's vehicle weave and speed.
Kamiabipour, the prosecutor, shook her head in disbelief. She knew the facts—that the officer had waited at least eight or nine minutes before stopping the stripper on a secluded section of a highway that was out of his jurisdiction.
"He was stalking her," she said.
Four months earlier, Park had stopped Lucy under similar circumstances. That time, he'd ignored a plastic drug baggie he'd found in her car and her suspended license. But the stop wasn't a waste of time. After friendly chit-chat, the officer had scored Lucy's phone number. Telephone records show that Park called the stripper the next morning. She told him she was too busy to meet.
On the witness stand, Park explained that he'd called Lucy out of concern for a citizen's safety. He also shrugged his shoulders when Kamiabipour slowly listed the first names of nine Captain Cream female employees—Annette, Denise, Rashele, Marlia, Brandi, Andrea, Deborah, Laura and Shannon—whose license plates he'd run through the DMV computer in the weeks prior to his sexual encounter with Lucy. (Another coincidence, according to Stokke.) Jurors also learned that Irvine Police Sgt. Michael Hallinan had previously warned Park as they left work to stay away from the strippers.
Park, who works in construction nowadays, conceded that he'd been given the warning but claimed that he had no clue it was Lucy in the vehicle or that she had an invalid driver's license, even as he approached her car window.
Kamiabipour believed she'd caught the 6-foot-3 cop in a lie. Records show he ran the bosomy, 5-foot, 110-pound dancer's license plate before the stop, did not call for backup despite the potential for an arrest and failed to tell his supervisor or dispatch that he was leaving Irvine. Several Irvine officers testified that Park's behavior that night was odd.
"[Park's] testimony was just incredible," said Kamiabipour. Irvine city officials must have doubted his story, too. After an exhaustive police internal affairs investigation, they felt it was prudent to give Lucy $400,000 to make her civil lawsuit go away—for fear a jury might give her much more.
In a secretly-recorded phone call to Laguna Beach police shortly after the incident, Lucy recalled that she'd told Park she had no license. Park began "rubbing himself up against me," she said. "Then, he said, 'What are we going to do here, Lucy?'"
Park unzipped his pants, took his penis out and got an erection, she explained. "Basically, the officer made me give [him] a freaking hand job and he let me go. I'm so freaked out about it."
(Lucy also told police, prosecutors and the jury that Park had also fingered her vagina and fondled her breasts before he ejaculated on her.)
"I was confused," she told the Laguna Beach dispatcher. "He called me afterwards. I'm scared, you know . . . What's an Irvine cop doing hanging out at a strip club in Lake Forest?"
Telephone records prove that Park made a 19-minute call to Lucy shortly after their encounter. The officer—who told the woman he was "Joe Stephens," an Orange County Sheriff's Department deputy who had died months earlier—said it was a friendly call to make sure she'd arrived home safely. The stripper said he told her to keep her mouth shut.
And then Kamiabipour introduced the bombshell evidence from a high-ranking Irvine police officer: on the night Park tailed Lucy out of the city, the global positioning system in his patrol car had been disconnected without authorization.
"I checked and [the GPS] was not working," said Lt. Henry Boggs.
An unexplainable coincidence, Park's defense countered.
* * *
For all his boneheaded mistakes, Park madea sharp decision picking his legal counsel. Stokke (and John Barnett, Paul Myer and Jennifer Keller) is among the elite of the local defense bar. His fine suits and mastery of courtroom procedures compliment the folksy, grandfatherly style he uses to charm juries. And there was this unspoken advantage over the prosecution: longtime courthouse observers have no memory of an Orange County jury convicting a police officer of a felony.
It wasn't a surprise that Stokke put the woman and her part-time occupation on trial. In his opening argument, he made it The Good Cop versus The Slutty Stripper. He pointed out that she'd once had a violent fight with a boyfriend in San Diego. He mocked her inability to keep a driver's license. He accused her of purposefully "weakening" Park so that he became "a man," not a cop during the traffic stop. He called her a liar angling for easy lawsuit cash. He called her a whore without saying the word.
"You dance around a pole, don't you?" Stokke asked.
Superior Court Judge William Evans ruled the question irrelevant.
Stokke saw he was scoring points with the jury.
"Do you place a pole between your legs and go up and down?" he asked.
"No," said Lucy before the judge interrupted.
"You do the dancing to get men to do what you what them to do," said Stokke. "And the same thing happened out there on that highway [in Laguna Beach]. You wanted [Park] to take some sex!"
Lucy said, "No sir," the sex wasn't consensual. Stokke—usually a mellow fellow with a nasally, monotone voice—gripped his fists, stood upright, clenched his jaws and then thundered, "You had a buzz on [that night], didn't you?"
As if watching a volley in tennis, the heads of the male-dominated jury spun from Stokke back to Lucy, who sat in the witness box. She said no, but it was hopeless. Jurors stared at her without a hint of sympathy.
In his closing argument, Stokke pounced. He called Lucy one of those "girls who have learned the art of the tease, getting what they want . . . they've learned to separate men from their money."
Kamiabipour wasn't amused. "Dancer or not, sexually promiscuous nor not, she had the right not to consent," she told jurors. "[Park] doesn't get a freebie just because of who she is . . . He used her like an object."