A Central Coast legislator has introduced a bill he says will close a legal “loophole” that may have helped a Paso Robles police sergeant under investigation for sexual assault dodge criminal charges and quietly resign.
Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, a Republican who represents San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties, introduced a bill Feb. 22 that he says will allow prosecutors to charge police and public officials with either a misdemeanor or a felony if they exploit their color of authority to seek sexual arousal, gratification or abuse.
According to Cunningham’s office, “battery (currently) cannot be charged if a public official uses his or her authority to threaten a victim to comply with a command or face fear of incarceration or deportation.”
His bill, AB 1599, would make it a crime for a person “to cause another person to touch an intimate part of either of those persons or a third person for the specific purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, by threatening to use their authority to incarcerate, arrest, or deport the victim or another person, if the touching is against the will of the victim and the victim has a reasonable belief that the perpetrator is a public official,” the proposed law reads.
Paso case motivated action
Cunningham cites as one reason for the bill the case of former Paso Robles Sgt. Christopher McGuire, who resigned from the department in October after a Sheriff’s Office detective concluded McGuire should be prosecuted on sexual assault charges.
Portions of the Sheriff’s Office detective’s report, obtained by The Tribune in December, shows that McGuire was accused of rape by one woman, sexual battery and harassment by a second, and a variety of inappropriate on-duty conduct by a third.
Despite the alleged rape victim’s statements, DNA evidence of a sexual encounter, and other evidence that the Sheriff’s Office said pointed to McGuire having committed crimes, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office’s said it would not to pursue any charges against the officer in November.
“(Due) to inconsistencies in victim accounts and no law expressly prohibiting his use of authority, the District Attorney’s Office was unable to charge (McGuire) with battery,” Cunningham’s office wrote in the news release. “This must change.”
The new sexual battery definition would also apply to people imitating a public official, Cunningham said.
During an interview with Tribune and KSBY-TV and reporters Tuesday, Cunningham clarified that he is not privy to details of the McGuire case beyond what has been reported in the news, and does not know whether AB 1599, if previously in place, would have definitively led to charges against McGuire.
Such amendments to criminal statutes cannot be applied retroactively, meaning even if passed, McGuire would not be subject to the new law for his alleged past actions, Cunningham said.
Going after ‘bad apples’
However, the two-term assemblyman and former prosecutor with the District Attorney’s Office said it is his office’s hope that the new part of the law will allow prosecutors to catch the next “bad apple.”
“Police officers are trusted and valued members of our society and communities. Unfortunately, there are a few instances where some abuse their badge and target victims because of their perceived authority,” the news release reads. “We must make sure ‘bad apples’ are caught and not on our streets anymore.”
Cunningham said Tuesday that the bill was inspired by a Tribune editorial that called for a law against public officials who “use a position of authority to sexually prey on women who should be able to depend on police to keep them safe.”
According to Cunningham’s office, the bill will likely have its first hearing sometime in April.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct an incorrect hearing date for AB 1599.
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