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Female deputy accuses top sheriff's officials of sexual misconduct

January 12, 2013 |  8:21 am

L.A. County Sheriff's Department investigators are probing a deputy's allegations that she was the victim of sexual misconduct involving three top sheriff's officials.

"I take this very seriously, and I will find out what did or did not happen," Sheriff Lee Baca said in a statement.

The deputy is the daughter of a top aide to the sheriff.

Capt. Joseph Stephen of the Malibu station confirmed that he was one of the targets of the probe and had been questioned by investigators Friday. He denied any wrongdoing. Also being investigated are retired Chief Ronnie Williams and Capt. Anthony Ward, who was heading up the auto-theft unit until he recently retired, according to four sources. Williams denied any wrongdoing, and Ward could not be reached for comment.

All of the sources asked for anonymity because the investigation is ongoing and they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The deputy who leveled the allegations referred a reporter's inquiry to her attorney. Her attorney initially said, "I think she wants it to come to light," but later canceled an interview. The Times generally does not name potential victims of sex crimes.

Sheriff's officials said the probe was in the preliminary phase.

The deputy's allegations involved sexual coercion by officials who outranked her, sources said.

She made the accusations after facing her own allegations of misconduct, sources said. Court records show she has a pending felony charge of vandalism and misdemeanor counts of battery. She pleaded not guilty. She has been placed on leave without pay, according to a spokesman.

Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Stephen said he was waiting to find out if he was going to be removed from his command. He called the deputy's allegations "absolutely, unequivocally" untrue but declined to say if they had had a sexual relationship.

"I don't want to get into that," he said.

Stephen said he never directly supervised the deputy. He accused her of trying to deflect attention from her own legal troubles. "She's trying to save her own skin," he said. "She's trying to lash out and see what sticks."

Williams, the retired chief, told The Times that he has not been interviewed by investigators. He said he never supervised the alleged victim, and that although he is her "partial friend," the relationship is platonic.

"She never was assigned to my division. How could I coerce her to do anything?" said Williams, who left the department four years ago.

-- Robert Faturechi and Richard Winton