The Contra Costa County District Attorney charged just one former police captain in his 80s with prostitution in a high-profile police abuse sex scandal, saying he didn’t have evidence to prosecute any of the others. That's because other than a bag of Cheetos, he said, no money was exchanged for sex.
Mark Peterson took a lengthy amount of time on Friday at a news conference explaining why he believed he couldn’t prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury to charge nine other police officers or deputies accused of having sex with the teen that were presented to him. He also outlined his reasons in a 16-page letter.
“It’s troubling, it’s unfortunate,” Peterson told reporters. “We want to file charges. But just because it’s ill advised and immoral, that’s not our job. This whole scandal is unfortunate and painted the whole industry in a bad light.”
But, he said after interviewing the 19-year-old “Jasmine” at the center of the case, his office feels the sex between her and multiple officers was consensual, occurred when she wasn't a minor and no money exchanged hands. That, despite the fact that last Friday, Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay fired four Richmond police officers saying their actions had "no place in a city department," and that in neighboring Alameda County, the district attorney there did charge seven officers.
During the six-month investigation, Peterson described the first case brought to him in May, when former Oakland Police Officer Terryl Smith brought a "bag of Cheetos along to the sexual encounter." But he said the orange salty treats were the closest thing to an "exchange" between Jasmine and Smith before they had sex when she was 18 in a parking lot somewhere in the county. "The evidence is insufficient to establish that the Cheetos were a 'quid pro quo' for sexual favors," Peterson said.
Other than that, Peterson didn’t feel he should charge any officer other than the 81-year-old former Oakland police captain with a misdemeanor prostitution charge. He did not identify the man because he hadn't yet filed the charge.
The cases that Peterson reviewed, and decided not to charge, include Smith, four Richmond police officers, two San Francisco police officers a Contra Costa County Sheriff's deputy and another Oakland police officer. Shortly after Peterson's decision was announced, Acting San Francisco Police Chief Toney Chaplin said his officers would now undero an Internal Affairs investigation. "I take these allegations seriously," he said.
But Jasmine's attorney John Burris was shocked by Friday's development.
He said it was "absurd charging the old guy and letting the others go free," but added that "never expected any prosecution."
"Most of the other cops provided sex [and] got protection," Burris said. "The retired, 80-plus cop who paid gets charged."
In essence, the cases are about "sex for protection," Burris said, and made a "mockery of justice to charge an 80-year-old retired cop with solicitation when many cops had sex with Jasmine."
The East Bay Express first reported that Jasmine friended the elderly former Oakland captain on Facebook in 2015, and met at a hotel on San Pablo Dam Road in Richmond when she was 18. He paid her $250 for sex, which he acknowledged to the Express. He begged the paper not to publish his name because he said he has a heart condition and he would die.
Peterson said Friday he first learned about the captain through a “newspaper article.” The East Bay Times has also written a similar version of the encounter.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, who could one day become California's next Attorney General, took a different view of what constitutes prostitution. She has long been nationally recognized for combatting sex trafficking crimes.
In September, she charged seven police officers with having illegal sex with the teen because she viewed the payment as police protection, and not an exchange of dollars, perse. Those charged in her jurisdiction include five Oakland police officers, a Livermore cop and a former Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office. Charges in those cases include oral copulation on a minor, lewd acts in a public place, and prostitution.