Federal Judge Calls Fullerton Police Department's Handling Of Allegations Of Sexual Misconduct By An Officer 'Shocking'

A U.S. district court judge's decision earlier this week further tainted the already ailing image of the Fullerton Police Department.

In a court document posted on the Friends For Fullerton's Future blog, U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford writes some cutting words about the department and their handling of allegations of sexual misconduct by an officer. 

Officer Albert Rincon, who was hired by the department five years ago, allegedly had a habit of detaining women and either making sexual propositions to them, groping them, or doing both, the document states.

Rincon admitted that, in violation of city policy, he never called for a female officer to help pat-down women he detained. The policy states that  "whenever practical" pat-downs should be done by an officer of the same gender as the person being searched.

Another city policy requires officers to wear a digital audio recorder and turn it on when they contact a subject. Perhaps even more damning than ignoring the pat-down rule, is the fact that  Rincon consistently turned off the audio recorder at some point during the detention of the women. "This is different than simply forgetting to switch it on. This means that Rincon chose to leave no audio recording of the arrest," Guilford writes. When asked about why he turned off the recorder, Rincon had no explanation, the document states. 

The city of Fullerton found out about the allegations in early November of 2008 and launched an investigation. By the end of the month they had put Rincon on paid administrative leave and notified the Orange County District Attorney's Office so they could investigate, too. 

Curtis McLean, an investigator in the DA's office, looked into twelve cases in which Rincon had arrested women. Of the twelve cases, seven women made claims of misconduct. McLean sent his results to the DA's office, but they decided not to file criminal charges. "There are no facts in the record that reveal why," Guilford writes of the DA's decision. 

Farrah Emami, a spokeswoman for the DA's office, said that after reviewing the case they weren't able to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Not only could the DA not corroborate some of the victim's stories, but they also found out that several of the victims knew each other, Emami said. Several of the women had gotten together and talked before reporting their stories, which were all very similar, Emami said. 

The city did its own disciplinary investigation, the document states, but found that in six of the seven cases, there "was no evidence of improper conduct." Rincon was given four reprimands and he had to take training on what's "practical" in pat-downs. It's unclear whether the reprimand impacted Rincon's record, Guilford writes, but he notes that Rincon was not fired. 

Guilford called the city's handling of the situation "weak" and "shocking," noting that it raised questions about the custom and practice around sexual assault in the department. "Requiring Rincon to attend 'pat-down' training is weak sauce that does nothing to hide the unpleasant taste of complicity...At the end of the day, the City put Rincon back onto the streets to continue arresting women despite a pattern of sexual harassment allegations." 

Sgt. Andrew Goodrich, a spokesman for the Fullerton Police Department, said Rincon is currently on paid administrative leave, but said he couldn't comment further, because the city's lawsuit was still pending.


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