Gerry Serrano has dual ambitions this election season. As president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association (POA), the powerful union at his helm is spending almost half a million dollars this year to get a slate of preferred City Council candidates to join cop-friendly council members Jose Solorio and Juan Villegas and Mayor Miguel Pulido, who won election in 2016 when the union spent about $400,000 on all races. Meanwhile, Serrano is making his own bid to become a councilman in Garden Grove’s District 1, following incumbent Kris Beard’s decision to not seek re-election.
The Garden Grove Police Officers Association endorses him, and the Association of OC Deputy Sheriffs and the Los Angeles School Police Association have contributed to Serrano’s campaign. So has Solorio’s campaign committee in a tit-for-tat, since he received the Santa Ana POA’s backing in 2016.
In both cities, a familiar campaign platform emerges for Serrano: public safety. The police sergeant pledges to hire more officers in Garden Grove, just as POA-backed candidates in cash-strapped Santa Ana have done. It’s a campaign promise Serrano can bolster with decades of law-enforcement experience.
But public safety must have been far from Serrano’s mind on Oct. 9, 2011, when Westminster police arrested him for a DUI after he plowed into the back of a Subaru Impreza carrying two passengers, including a 7-year-old.
Police and traffic-collision reports obtained by the Weekly show how what might have been a simple exchange of information following a fender bender took a strange and hostile turn.
As recounted by the Impreza driver, Serrano became nervous when the man’s then-wife quickly called Westminster police. He told officer Paul Walker that Serrano begged to resolve the situation without police and even offered money to take care of the damage he caused.
But then nervousness gave way to belligerence, he said. Serrano disrespected his wife while slurring his speech. A dispatcher cautioned the victim to stay put, which he did.
But Serrano didn’t. According to the other driver’s then-wife, Serrano said something about having to get to his daughter’s game in Huntington Beach before pitching an index card with his contact information into their car and fleeing the scene. The Impreza followed the pickup truck but lost the trail; police told the man to go to an IHOP, where he met Walker.
While conducting the investigation, Walker received a call from then-Westminster detective Benjamin Jaipream; Serrano called the detective while away from the scene and had been instructed to return.
Serrano told Walker that the other driver slammed on the brakes, giving him no chance to avoid a collision, and that the other driver had threatened to beat him up. “I could smell the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his breath,” Walker wrote. “I asked him to remove his sunglasses, and he did. At that point, I noticed Serrano’s eyes appeared watery and bloodshot and his speech was slurred.”
Serrano denied drinking anything alcoholic, but an unconvinced Walker had Serrano follow his finger with his eyes. Serrano failed the first time around; when Walker tried a second time, per his report, Serrano put his red baseball cap back on and quit a few seconds into it.
Serrano then proceeded to lecture Walker. Boasting about a 20-year career in law enforcement, he said the other driver should be under arrest for criminal threats, using police code. That prompted the Westminster cop to ask why he didn’t bother calling police if he believed he was the victim of a crime. Serrano countered by noting his call to Jaipream on the professed grounds of wanting the number for Huntington Beach police.
The claim seemed nonsensical, and Walker took it as further evidence of intoxication, especially since Serrano swayed around in a circular motion and appeared tired. “It has been my experience that people impaired by alcohol will often make irrational statements that don’t make sense to others,” Walker wrote.
Oh, and Serrano refused to take any field sobriety tests.
And then officers found an open, empty flask in the Chevy pickup’s glove compartment.
At the Westminster jail, the belligerence continued. Walker claims in his police report that Serrano tried to “chest bump” him, flipped him off once out of cuffs and called him a “piece of shit.”
“I ignored Serrano as I believed it was simply the alcohol that was impairing his judgement,” Walker wrote. But Serrano’s supposed antics couldn’t be ignored when it came to him refusing a blood or breath test. Lynn Fulton, a licensed vocational nurse, readied to perform a forced blood draw when Westminster police had to take a second-look. “Based on Serrano’s behavior in jail, it was determined unsafe for Fulton to perform the test,” Walker wrote.
That decision allowed Serrano to walk away from his arrest with no criminal charges.
Westminster police sergeant Edward Esqueda confirmed the case number from police reports and generally noted there’s instances in which people arrested for a DUI can be cited and released with only a blood test refusal documented, especially if they are uncooperative and no nursing staff is stationed at the jail near the end of a detoxification period. Esqueda also told the Weekly that they turned the Serrano case over to the Orange County district attorney’s office (OCDA), for criminal filing. That’s where the case died.
“I can confirm this case was received and rejected due to insufficient evidence,” said Michelle Van Der Linden, an OCDA spokeswoman. “A [field sobriety test] was not conducted, and blood was not taken, so there was no evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The Weekly reached the other driver by phone, who declined to comment but confirmed the collision occurred.
To this day, Serrano denies any wrongdoing. “In 2011, I was involved in a non-injury traffic accident, and it was determined I did not break the law,” Serrano claimed in an email. “My record is clean.”