Two Veteran Watsonville Cops Fired for Sexual Misconduct

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Police officials in Watsonville, in Santa Cruz County, fired two officers in recent years for repeatedly having sex with civilians while on duty — at least once in the front seat of a squad car and other times going to private residences while they were supposed to be working, according to documents released under a new state law that took effect Jan. 1.

Officer John Espinosa was fired in July 2017 and retired from the department as a mandatory appeal played out. Officer Jose D. Barrera was fired in April 2014 and resigned during his appeal. It’s the second time in a little more than a week that officer disciplinary records showed sexual misconduct by a police officer in Northern California.

Disciplinary records for Espinosa and Barrera were released under the state law meant to shine a light on bad cops. Neither former officer could be reached for comment Tuesday. None of their sex partners were identified in the records.

Watsonville Police Chief David Honda said in a written statement that no crimes were committed, and the cases involved consensual sex with adult partners. The cases did not involve prostitution.

For decades before the new state law took effect, records showing what officers did to get fired or disciplined were secret from the public. But the information is starting to come out.

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In addition to the Watsonville Police Department's information, last week Burlingame police released documents showing a veteran officer was fired for offering to help a woman he had arrested for DUI in exchange for sex. The documents revealed that at least two other women had also complained about the same officer.

“It is highly significant that this kind of information can be accessed by the public now. In prior years, this sort of information simply would not be known by the public, said David Harris a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who specializes in police matters. “You can’t have accountability without information.”

Officers need to be above reproach, he said.

“Police officers have every right to have love affairs, to have sexual relations, but they should not be doing that on the job, in their patrol cars, in uniform, because it is likely at best to send a very confusing signal to the public about what the authority of the police officer is being used for,” Harris said.

Records show that in September and October of 2013, Barrera had sex on “approximately five occasions” while he was on duty at an address on Silver Leaf Drive in Watsonville, and once in the front seat of his patrol car somewhere outside city limits. He also had sex while on duty three times at an address on Freedom Boulevard.

Investigators found he lied about the encounters when first questioned about them and violated seven department rules, including conduct unbecoming an officer, leaving his job during his work hours and unsatisfactory work performance.

Records of the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training show Barrera worked for Watsonville police from 1995 to 2007, then went to the Gilroy Police Department from 2007 to 2009, and returned to Watsonville in 2009.

Espinosa had sex with a civilian at least six times between November 2014 and November 2016 at an East Lake Avenue address in Watsonville, “while on duty, and in uniform,” according to documents.

He had worked for the Watsonville Police Department since 1991.

Last week, San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said he is considering whether to reopen the investigation into the former Burlingame officer. After the officer, David Granucci, was fired last year, two other women came forward with similar stories about him, but the district attorney's office was not made aware of those complaints until KQED and the Bay Area News Group wrote about them.

Wagstaffe said he had declined to criminally pursue the DUI matter because of a lack of corroborating evidence, but that might change if there are multiple witnesses who might be able to show a pattern of behavior by Granucci. Granucci’s lawyer denied that her client asked the woman arrested for DUI for sex and wrote in an email that he was the true victim in the matter.

KQED reporter Sukey Lewis and UC Berkeley graduate student reporters Susie Neilson and Josh Slowiczek contributed to this story.

This story was reported in collaboration with the Bay Area News Group and Investigative Studios, an independent nonprofit news organization affiliated with the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley.

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