Editorials

Paso case shows sex misconduct by police isn’t just unprofessional — it should be criminal

Report details allegations against former Paso Robles police officer accused of rape

The Paso Robles Police Department allowed Sergeant Christopher McGuire to resign in October following accusations of sexual assault. A San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office report reveals details of the investigation.
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The Paso Robles Police Department allowed Sergeant Christopher McGuire to resign in October following accusations of sexual assault. A San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office report reveals details of the investigation.

District Attorney Dan Dow is proud of his reputation as a strong supporter of victims of sexual assaults.

He’s an avid proponent of the “Start by Believing” school of thought, and his office has taken on hard-to-win cases of domestic violence and sexual assault. For example, it’s twice prosecuted Rian Mabus, a man in his 30s who was accused of raping an intoxicated woman. Both trials ended in hung juries, but the office plans to prosecute Mabus a third time.

That persistence made it even harder to fathom why the District Attorney’s Office decided not prosecute disgraced Paso Robles police Sgt. Christopher McGuire for allegedly raping a woman he first met when he responded to her home on a call of suspected domestic abuse.

If ever there was a case to put before a jury, this seemed to be the one — not only for the sake of justice, but also to restore confidence that law enforcement officers are not above the law.

Plus, there was DNA evidence: A sample of semen collected from the alleged victim’s garage matched McGuire.

But the District Attorney’s Office says that’s not enough. The DNA sample is evidence that sexual activity took place, but it doesn’t prove a rape was committed.

This comes down to a he said/she said situation, and when prosecutors are deciding whether to pursue charges and they have two reasonable interpretations of the evidence — one pointing to rape and the other to consensual sex — “if one points to innocence, you have to go with that,” Dow said during a meeting with The Tribune Editorial Board.

That point of law — combined with inconsistencies in the alleged victim’s story — led to the decision against filing charges, prosecutors said.

Targets of sex abuse

It is not a satisfactory conclusion to an ugly episode.

Whether or not the sex was consensual, McGuire was way out of line in having any sort of sexual contact with an alleged victim of domestic abuse, and it’s outrageous that he can’t be criminally prosecuted.

As cliche as it sounds, we’re going to say it: There ought to be a law. It’s reprehensible to use a position of authority to sexually prey on women who should be able to depend on police to keep them safe.

Some states, including California, do prohibit police from having sex with detainees who are in custody.

But it’s not just detainees who are vulnerable, as researcher Andrea Ritche points out in an op-ed she wrote last year for The Washington Post.

“A 2015 investigation by the Buffalo News, based on a national review of media reports and court records over a 10-year period, concluded that an officer is accused of an act of sexual misconduct at least every five days. The vast majority of incidents, the report found, involve motorists, young people in job-shadowing programs, students, victims of violence and informants.”

The same article notes that survivors of domestic violence also are targets.

“One officer quoted in an investigative report by the Philadelphia Inquirer said, ‘I would see women that were vulnerable where I could appear as a knight in shining armor.’”

Records of sexual misconduct

In California, a new law that took effect the first of the year opens some police disciplinary records to public scrutiny ,which at least makes it more likely that such episodes will become public.

For example, a public records request recently uncovered information about a police officer in Burlingame who was fired for offering to help a woman with her DUI case in exchange for sex.

The case had been referred to the San Mateo District Attorney’s Office, but it declined to press charges.

“We ultimately determined that there were no chargeable violations that we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” a deputy district attorney wrote in response to a question from KQED.

Some jurisdictions are pushing back against making police misconduct records public.

The Tribune requested the county to release all records in the McGuire case, but the request was denied on Friday.

Other allegations against McGuire

From a report that was leaked to The Tribune, we know there were multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against McGuire, who resigned from the Paso Robles Police Department in October.

In addition to the alleged rape incident, he also was investigated for having consensual sex with another woman while on duty — sometimes in a police car. And, he was accused of coercing yet another woman into exposing her breasts by threatening her with arrest.

The District Attorney’s Office looked at “a lot of potential charges” against McGuire, Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth told us, including misappropriation of public funds, but it lacked the specific information needed to make a case.

For example, the woman who reported that McGuire had threatened her with arrest unless she “flashed” her breasts was unsure what year the incident occurred, Dobroth said, and since there is a three-year statute of limitations on that crime, it was necessary to pin down a date.

But it’s McGuire’s relations with the alleged rape victim — as described in the sheriff’s report leaked to The Tribune — that are especially disturbing, starting with how he met her: He was investigating a report that her boyfriend had sexually assaulted her.

At the end of the call, McGuire allegedly stayed behind after other officers left, then bullied the woman, starting with a reprimand for calling him “officer” rather than “sergeant.”

According to the woman’s account to the investigator, McGuire then instructed her to hug him, and he then grabbed her hand and placed it on his genitals.

The woman alleged McGuire returned some days later, raped her in her garage and later threatened to contact Child Protective Services and have her children taken away from her if she told anyone about the incidents.

However, there were inconsistencies that contributed to the prosecution’s decision against filing charges..

For example, the woman said she and her daughter made some baked goods for the officers who responded to her home during the alleged assault by her boyfriend. She called the Paso Robles Police Department and left a message for McGuire to that effect, which could be interpreted as an invitation to a police officer who, according to the woman, had already engaged in abusive behavior.

Again, prosecution should not hinge on whether or not McGuire was invited back into the woman’s home; he should not, under any circumstances, have used his authority to worm his way into her life in the first place.

All things considered, we believe justice would have been better served had the case been brought before a jury, though we agree current criminal laws would have made it hard to convict.

That must change.

If it’s illegal in California for a therapist to have sexual relations with a patient — which it is — doesn’t it follow that the same law should apply to other professionals who work in positions of authority and encounter vulnerable people, especially armed police officers?

Dow told The Tribune Editorial Board he may speak to local lawmakers about the need for stricter laws prohibiting sexual misconduct by police.

That’s good to hear.

We believe Dow is truly serious about supporting victims of sexual abuse, and we strongly urge him to follow through.

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