September 3, 2021
The Honorable Gavin Newsom
Governor, State of California
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Submitted via email to Leg.Unit@gov.ca.gov
RE: AB 1455 (Wicks) – REQUEST FOR SIGNATURE
Dear Governor Newsom:
The Emanuel Law Group respectfully requests you sign AB 1455 (Wicks).
AB 1455 is needed to ensure those who have been raped or sexually assaulted by on-duty police officers are provided a realistic opportunity to seek civil redress for their harms. This bill extends the statute of limitation for victims who were sexually assaulted by a law enforcement officer to ten years after the date of judgment in a criminal case for the crime of sexual assault or after a judgment for a different crime when the original charge includes sexual assault; or within 10 years after the law enforcement officer is no longer employed by the law enforcement agency.
Consider the case of Noah White Winchester who was convicted of sexually assaulting three women in San Mateo County while serving as a police officer for that city and a fourth woman in Sacramento County when he worked as a police officer for the Los Rios Community College District. Reports have concluded that Winchester would utilize police resources to research his victims to ensure they were vulnerable to his threats—i.e., targeting those with criminal records or on probation. Winchester was employed by three different police departments before finally being apprehended and is now serving 81 years to life in prison for his sexual assaults of four of his victims.
None of these victims sued Winchester or the departments that employed him within the time allowed for the very same reason they were vulnerable to his intimidation in the first place: Winchester was still on-duty as a police officer; still carrying and authorized to discharge his weapons; still empowered to arrest them or their loved ones; and still able to bring to bear the intimidating power and deadly force that facilitated the assault.
As former California Supreme Court Justice Arabian wrote in his concurrence in Mary M. v. City of Los Angeles (1991) 54 Cal. 3d 202, 224:
A police officer is sworn to protect and to serve. In the pantheon of protection, we look to law enforcement officials as our first and last hope. When the police officer’s special edge–the shield, gun and baton, the aura of command and the irresistible power of arrest–is employed to further a rape, the betrayal suffered by the victim is an especially bitter one.
Indeed, a victim of sexual assault by a priest can attend another parish, and a victim of sexual assault by a doctor can see another nearby physician. But, absent uprooting their lives to a different jurisdiction, victims of sexual assault by on-duty police officers cannot escape the reach and awesome power of the person whose conduct would serve as the basis for a public lawsuit.
Because of society-wide stigma, powerlessness, fear of not being believed, and apprehension of reprisals, nearly 80 percent of all rapes and sexual assaults go unreported. Against that backdrop, consider the additional plight of a woman who is sexually assaulted by a police officer who chose her in part because she was vulnerable or has a criminal record. She must decide whether to seek compensation by filing a lawsuit while the officer is still permitted to arrest her or her loved ones, still permitted to carry and discharge a weapon, and still cloaked in the credibility-enhancing authority of his office.
This is not theoretical. As Sherry, a U.S. Navy Veteran who was raped by Officer Winchester, explained when she bravely testified at the Assembly Judiciary Committee in April:
Officer Winchester found me at my worst and he knew it. Predators like him use the authority of their badges to hunt women like me. I was vulnerable, homeless, alone and losing my battle with addiction. The officer was on the clock, right by his patrol vehicle, with his badge, his gun and the flashlight he used to inspect my body as he threatened to arrest me before making me follow him into a dark area where he raped me, over and over. What could I do? Call the police. I was powerless.
We should not as a matter of policy require vulnerable women who have already been sexually assaulted by police officers to overcome both the trauma of their assaults and the officers’ uniquely powerful – indeed, possibly lethal authority over them and their families as a pre-condition to them seeking compensation for their life-altering ordeal. Yet, as applied to these kinds of sexual assaults by police perpetrators, that is current law.
In addition to being an injustice imposed upon victims, such a policy practically blocking civil suits against officers for their on-duty sexual predation removes a financial incentive for departments to identify such problem officers and prevent future victimization.
This bill strikes a far fairer balance among the practical ability of sexual assault survivors to avail themselves of the courts to obtain compensation for (quoting Justice Arabian) this “especially bitter” betrayal of the public trust; the desire of police departments for repose; and the prospect of liability to play a meaningful role in prompting police departments to monitor and address conduct of clearly problematic police officers, which serves the broader public’s benefit.
Please sign AB 1455 (Wicks).
Todd P. Emanuel Pamela E. Glazner