Judge slams Fullerton police for keeping alleged groper on duty
The Fullerton Police Department, already reeling from criminal charges filed against two officers in the death of homeless man Kelly Thomas, has been reprimanded by a federal judge for allowing a police officer accused of groping women to return to street patrol.
The department permitted Officer Albert Rincon to continue working the streets even after seven women alleged that he sexually harassed or groped them during arrests.
In a strongly worded opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Guilford last week refused to throw out a lawsuit filed by two of Rincon's alleged victims. In the wake of the ruling, the city of Fullerton tentatively agreed to settle the case, according to attorneys and court records.
Guilford questioned why the department gave the officer a “weak reprimand” despite accusations from multiple victims that raised "disturbing allegations of police misconduct.”
“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. A reasonable juror could conclude based on these facts, that the city simply did not care what officers did to women during arrest,” Guilford wrote in denying a motion by the city to dismiss the case. The judge said the city’s actions “suggests a tacit authorization.”
Rincon is now on administrative leave and the city has agreed to a deal to resolve the lawsuit filed in December 2009, Sgt. Andrew Goodrich, a department spokesman said. Sources familiar with the settlement but not authorized to discuss it put the settlement amount at about $500,000. Neither Rincon nor his attorney could be reached for comment.
The judge’s opinion comes two weeks after Orange County prosecutors filed second-degree murder charges against one officer and lesser charges against a second in the July death of Thomas. That case has sparked outrage in the city, with activists and some city officials questioning the actions of officers and department brass.
-- Richard Winton
Photo: Fullerton Police Department has been under fire. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images