Last Friday, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced that she cannot file criminal charges against six police officers in the Oakland sex-crime scandal. This is because her main witness, a teenager who goes by the name Celeste Guap, is stuck in a Florida jail.
O’Malley would like to charge officers from the Oakland and Livermore police departments, and a deputy with the Contra Costa county, for crimes varying from statutory rape to illegal use of a police computer system. But on August 26, the Richmond Police Department and Contra Costa District Attorney’s office used state victim-compensation funds to send Guap to the Wellness Residential Detox center in Stuart, Florida.
This was where Guap was arrested last week after allegedly biting a security guard. Although her charges were reduced on Monday from a felony to a misdemeanor, her tangle in the Florida courts complicates and delays any cases against her East Bay law-enforcement abusers.
Meanwhile, authorities in San Francisco and Contra Costa counties appear disinterested in bringing similar charges against any officers who may have committed related crimes.
Last week, the Contra Costa district attorney’s office indicated that it had “no chargeable case,” and San Francisco police told the Express they are not conducting a criminal investigation, either. This despite the fact that Guap was a minor during the abuse.
However, O’Malley said her investigation found evidence of crimes that occurred in counties outside her jurisdiction.
In response, some East Bay leaders are now asking for an independent investigation by a greater authority into the sprawling sexual-exploitation scandal, which spans four counties.
And many are also questioning why Guap was sent to Florida in the first place.
Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said she is worried for Guap’s safety and does not understand why the teenager was removed from California. “There’s a lot of people who would benefit from her disappearing. She’s a major witness in a criminal prosecution,” Kaplan told the Express.
“I do believe somebody outside of this jurisdiction ought to look at this case,” said Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks. “It’s clear that we should not allow the police to police themselves.”
Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia also expressed concern over Richmond’s decision to send Guap to Florida without notifying Alameda County authorities. That lack of communication, Gioia said, “leads to the conclusion that there should be one agency, like the state attorney general or, as a last resort, the United States Attorney, overseeing this investigation.”
Gioia, who helped found the Family Justice Center of Contra Costa County, and who oversaw the its expansion to help victims of sex trafficking, said the Contra Costa DA’s lack of interest in pursuing criminal charges is alarming.
“The pattern of behavior between several law-enforcement officers and this young woman are classic patterns of sex trafficking,” Gioia explained. He said the decision by O’Malley to pursue criminal cases while Mark Peterson, her counterpart in Contra Costa, has taken no action, elicited concern from many constituents.
“How does one have trust and faith in the legal system when you read that?” Gioia asked.
Guap said that she had sex with four Richmond cops — Lieutenant Andre Hill, Sergeant Mike Rood, and officers Jerred Tong and Terrence Jackson. She also told the Express in a prior interview that she attended a party where Richmond police officers and cops from other agencies used cocaine and other illegal drugs. She alleges they stole her cell phone when she fell asleep.
Although Guap said that the Richmond officers did not pay for sex, experts say that it is difficult for sex workers and trafficking victims to consent to sex with police because of the tacit threat of arrest.
“They did pay for it, by using their discretion not to put handcuffs on her,” said Katherine Koster, of the Sex Worker Outreach Project.
Some are questioning the Richmond police’s role in sending Guap to Florida. A sticking point is that the Contra Costa DA has told the media that no criminal case is in the works, but the state funds used to ship Guap out of state require that she be a victim of a crime.
Emily Sims, a victim and witness advocate who has worked with Bay Area police and prosecutors for more than a decade, said she has never heard of a police department going out of its way to send a sex-crime survivor out of state, especially while its own officers are investigated.
“Given the amount of rehabilitation centers we have in the Bay Area that work with trauma survivors, it makes no sense she would be sent that far away,” Sims said. “The case is here, and there are therapists locally.”
Sims added that, if the Richmond police sent Guap out of state using state funds, then the application for the money should include a police report of a crime, and also a victim’s statement, both of which could be used to prosecute officers.
The state Victims Compensation Program Board denied a records request by the Express, which sought general information about when and how local police agencies are allowed to request funds.
According to a report released by Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown, his department relied on a previous incident, one unrelated to Guap’s abuse by police officers, to secure funds to send her to Florida. The report doesn’t describe when the previous crime occurred, but Brown wrote that “representations that we ‘sent’ this teenage witness away or had her ‘removed’ to Florida distort reality.”
Officials in Alameda County don’t appear to agree. O’Malley said her office was completely in the dark about Richmond and Contra Costa’s decision to send Guap to Florida. “We were not consulted, we were not informed, and we protested,” O’Malley said at last Friday’s press conference.
Mayor Libby Schaaf echoed this statement last Thursday after announcing discipline for twelve Oakland police officers, likely some of the same individuals facing prosecution by O’Malley.
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt took exception to DA O’Malley’s claim that Guap’s pending charges in Florida could jeopardize the case. “I do think it is disingenuous of the Alameda District Attorney to whine about her witness being gone,” Butt said, adding that he didn’t appreciate O’Malley “slandering Richmond.”
The disarray among local police, prosecutors, and city and county officials has many wondering what will become of Guap, and whether any police will ever face charges for her exploitation. So far, state and federal officials have watched the scandal unfold from the sidelines.
In response to calls for an independent investigation by the state, California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office released a statement to the Express. “The allegations of police misconduct are extremely disturbing and an alarming breach of trust placed in law enforcement by the communities we are sworn to serve,” Kristin Ford, a DOJ spokesperson, wrote in an email. “The charges filed today are an important step towards ensuring those responsible for this egregious conduct are held accountable.”
Ford would not discuss further the possibility of an independent state investigation into the Guap case.