Twelve years ago, after using an online chat to tell “Amy,” a 13-year-old girl, he wanted “to eat her beautiful, young c – – t,” receive oral sex and “stuff daddy’s c – – k” inside her, California Highway Patrol (CHP) lieutenant Stephen Robert Deck drove 45 minutes from his San Diego County home to Laguna Beach’s oceanfront Heisler Park for a rendezvous.
Deck’s expectations ended miserably when the 51-year-old cop arrival at the park carrying six expired packages of condoms and was met by undercover police officers who’d been working in conjunction with Perverted Justice.
NBC’s To Catch a Predator made the private group nationally-known for exposing adults using the internet to seek illegal sex with underaged girls and boys.
This particular sting with “Amy,” who was in fact an adult decoy working for Perverted Justice, nabbed 12 men across Southern California.
Most of the defendants received a year in jail, though two got 18 months in state prison.
Deck, who’d repeatedly asked “Amy” to tell him when her parents were not home, received the most generous punishment.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Marc Kelly, a former prosecutor, decided police officers can be held to a lower standard of conduct than average citizens, stating that cops like Deck, who violate the law, have earned leniency.
Though Deputy District Attorney Robert Mestman sought prison time, Kelly gave Deck, who’d also attempted to molest two other non-decoy minors, probation, according to court records.
Nonetheless, Deck appealed his comparatively light punishment, but lost at the California Court of Appeal as well as in a follow-up complaint to U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald.
In 2014, however, the Ninth Circuit overturned the conviction for an attempted lewd act upon a child. A non-unanimous panel of judges ruled that Mestman erred in his closing statement on a technicality about when Deck, who worked at CHP’s San Clemente office, intended to commit a lewd act on Amy.
“The contention that Deck did not intend to commit a lewd act on the night of the meeting was absolutely central to his defense,” the panel opined. “In closing argument, defense counsel told the jury that, while Deck’s conduct may have been reprehensible, it did not constitute an attempt.”
Meanwhile, the panel determined that Mestman’s rebuttal closing argument that he “didn’t need to prove Deck intended to engage in a lewd act on the night of the meeting” was a legal misstatement.
“The prosecutor told jurors that although the evidence showed Deck intended to engage in lewd conduct that night, they could convict him even if they agreed with the defense that the evidence raised reasonable doubt about when Deck would have followed through,” the judicial panel wrote. “The trial court never correctly instructed the jury that, in order to convict, it had to find Deck had moved beyond preparation and intended to engage in a lewd act on the night of the meeting.”
The Orange County district attorney’s office could have abandoned the case with a loss, but chose to reopen it.
A possible new trial is inching forward with the parties scheduled for a meeting in court on July 16.
John Barnett, who has built a successful career defending accused dirty cops—including in the sensational Rodney King and Kelly Thomas cases—now represents Deck, who retired to collect taxpayer-funded medical disability checks.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.