Kelsie Mathews thought she’d lastly gained a bit little bit of justice.
She had labored with Los Angeles police investigators for months to show that her former boyfriend, an LAPD officer, had sexually assaulted her and acted inappropriately with different ladies and arrestees. Then, in September, she obtained a letter saying they’d corroborated her claims.
The letter additionally mentioned an “applicable penalty” can be imposed on her ex-boyfriend, Officer Oscar Rojas, however it could not be disclosed to Mathews or the general public attributable to confidentiality legal guidelines round police personnel information.
Mathews, a 35-year-old actress and tv manufacturing assistant, mentioned aid washed over her. Prosecutors had already determined to not cost Rojas criminally, citing a scarcity of proof, however the LAPD’s letter made it appear as if he would a minimum of be held accountable inside the division.
“Though I don’t know the precise punishment, understanding that my tears didn’t fall on deaf ears is a small victory and a few type of justice,” she mentioned in an emotional TikTok publish.
That feeling wouldn’t final.
Mathews’ case is one in all many in recent times by which LAPD officers accused of significant misconduct have been spared punishment by division disciplinary boards whose selections trump these of inside investigators and the police chief and happen underneath a veil of secrecy that deters impartial scrutiny.
In response to an investigation by The Occasions, the assault discovering in opposition to Rojas was quietly overturned by such a panel after what’s often called a Board of Rights continuing. Rojas, who declined to remark via an legal professional, was by no means disciplined for assault and stays an officer regardless of being really useful for termination by Chief Michel Moore.
He returned to the job and labored out of the Foothill Division till lately, when he was reassigned to house pending a brand new investigation into an unrelated matter that officers wouldn’t describe.
The problem of officer self-discipline has attracted consideration for years. Moore criticized the method in 2020 as too lenient on probably the most problematic officers. In January, Mayor Eric Garcetti mentioned the disciplinary course of wanted to be reformed as a result of it too typically resulted in stiff penalties supported by high metropolis and police officers being put aside in favor of lesser penalties or none in any respect. In March, the LAPD inspector basic launched a report discovering that most officers discovered to have wrongfully opened hearth on folks in recent times averted severe punishment or obtained no self-discipline in any respect.
Newer, all-civilian listening to boards, just like the one which heard Mathews’ case in 2021, have been discovered to be much more lenient than boards composed of fellow officers. The Police Fee is working to revise its handbook for disciplinary hearings, however gained’t say what the revisions would tackle or after they can be full, as they’re underneath negotiation with the police union.
For Mathews, the secrecy of the method made it scary and intimidating and undermined its legitimacy. The Occasions typically doesn’t title sexual assault survivors, however Mathews agreed to be recognized partially to pierce the veil across the course of and share the toll it took.
To pursue her case in opposition to Rojas, Mathews needed to open the contents of her cellphone and her most intimate textual content messages to investigators. She sat via 5 interviews reliving the moments when she alleged Rojas abused her.
She testified in particular person over the course of three days at Rojas’ listening to, the place a labor consultant for Rojas put her via a brutal cross-examination earlier than a panel of three older males. She mentioned she had the assist of a sufferer advocate and the feminine inside affairs detective working the case, however a pal who got here to face by her needed to wait exterior of the listening to room.
To comprehend months later that the slim victory she thought she’d gained didn’t finish in self-discipline for assault, and that Rojas was nonetheless an officer, was infuriating, Mathews mentioned. It made her really feel as if the LAPD deliberately misled her to assume he had been punished with a purpose to maintain her quiet.
“It’s disgusting,” she mentioned. “The system wants a complete revamp.”
Lizabeth Rhodes, the LAPD’s director of constitutional policing and coverage, mentioned the regulation bars the division from discussing particular person instances in opposition to officers, however each allegation of misconduct is “totally investigated.”
On March 20, 2019, a Crime Stoppers tip line obtained an nameless e-mail saying Rojas had been “photographing nude fashions in his uniform along with his badge and division issued gun, and posting photos on social media reminiscent of Instagram,” based on a report by prosecutors within the Los Angeles County district legal professional’s workplace.
“He additionally sexually abused his ex-girlfriend. He hides behind his badge whereas [he] preys on women,” the tipster mentioned.
Quickly after, Mathews mentioned, inside affairs confirmed up at her door.
At first she was scared, partially as a result of she mentioned Rojas had warned her that she would by no means have the ability to persuade others — particularly different cops — that he had abused her.
“He saved telling me he’s a police officer, so nobody would imagine me over him,” she mentioned.
However Mathews mentioned she additionally felt she owed it to herself and different ladies in comparable conditions to talk up. So she cooperated.
Mathews mentioned she instructed the detectives the whole lot she might bear in mind, digging again via reminiscences she had tried to bury.
Mathews mentioned she started courting Rojas in August 2018, and their relationship was poisonous from the beginning. She mentioned she tried to interrupt up with him a number of occasions over the following seven months, however stayed within the relationship for sophisticated emotional causes involving concern and “trauma bonding” — a course of just like Stockholm syndrome, by which victims can kind attachments to their abusers over time.
In response to the prosecutors’ report, Mathews described to investigators a number of events by which Rojas pressured himself on her or “sodomized” her as she screamed “Cease!” and “No!” and struggled to get away. In California, the crime of sodomy requires penetration of the anus with out consent, utilizing pressure to beat the sufferer’s will.
In a single incident, Mathews described Rojas holding her down and inserting a intercourse toy into her as she cried and tried to combat him off of her, based on the report. After he stopped, she mentioned, she went to the lavatory, realized she was bleeding, then “went to mattress, curled herself right into a fetal place, cried, and instructed Rojas to not contact her,” the report mentioned.
“Rojas instructed her she was wonderful, and was overreacting.”
Rojas made no response to the allegations within the publicly obtainable parts of the report.
Textual content messages between the 2, cited within the report, included references to abuse.
In a single, Rojas wrote, “I’m imply to you … and make you’re feeling abuse.”
In one other, Rojas contemplated them breaking apart, writing, “I assume I’m f— up and might’t change, and truthfully in case you really feel like I’m abusing you that approach it’s time for me to go away.”
Prosecutors wrote that Mathews in textual content messages to Rojas and pals “accused Rojas of transgressions, together with attempting to pressure her right into a threesome, being verbally imply to her, and interesting in ‘emotional dishonest,’” however by no means accused him within the texts of sodomizing her.
An in depth pal of Mathews spoke straight with The Occasions on situation of anonymity as a result of she feared being handled negatively by the LAPD. She mentioned Mathews had claimed on the time that Rojas was abusive, together with that he had sodomized her. The pal mentioned she had urged Mathews to interrupt up with him.
Investigators additionally reviewed photos that Rojas allegedly despatched to Mathews from work.
Underneath one image that was reviewed by The Occasions of an individual on a stretcher, Rojas had written, “I tased this man a number of occasions after we obtained right into a scuffle with him.” Underneath one other image of a person in a jail facility, the textual content learn, “That’s the mom f— that wreck my evening.”
The Occasions additionally reviewed a picture from Instagram that Rojas, an beginner photographer, had allegedly shot of a mannequin carrying a police uniform and holding a gun.
Invoice Seki, an legal professional for Rojas, mentioned neither he nor the officer would touch upon the case.
The prison evaluate
Three counts of sodomy by Rojas have been introduced by police to prosecutors within the L.A. County district legal professional’s workplace in July 2020, underneath former Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey. All three have been rejected.
Of their report on the case, prosecutors famous that Mathews and Rojas had texted about abuse by Rojas, and that Mathews had mentioned abuse by him with a pal.
They famous that Mathews’ therapist had supplied a press release to investigators saying that Mathews suffered “emotional and psychological impression in her every day life,” allegedly because of being sexually assaulted by Rojas, and that the assaults she had reported included sodomy in Las Vegas.
The prosecutors additionally famous Mathews had medical information associated to therapy for an anal situation in Might 2019 — about two months after the couple had damaged up — that Mathews mentioned was the results of being sodomized by Rojas.
Nonetheless, prosecutors concluded there was “no corroborative bodily proof” to show sodomy claims.
They mentioned there have been “inconsistencies” in Mathews’ story, together with when particular abuses happened, they usually questioned the timing of her disclosures of being sodomized to others, noting that some got here after she and Rojas had damaged up.
They wrote that Mathews was “extraordinarily upset” by alleged infidelity on Rojas’ half on the finish of their relationship, and that she had reached out to different ladies on Instagram to warn them about him, together with by accessing his social media accounts.
All of that, based on prosecutors, may very well be utilized in a prison continuing to assault Mathews’ credibility and recommend she had “a motive to manufacture” allegations in opposition to Rojas. They concluded they “couldn’t show Rojas dedicated the crime of sodomy past an inexpensive doubt” and closed the case with out submitting fees.
The prosecutor’s workplace, now underneath Dist. Atty. George Gascón, mentioned it could not touch upon the selections within the case underneath the prior administration. However a spokesperson mentioned the workplace takes all allegations of sexual assault critically and assigns prosecutors with intercourse crimes coaching and expertise to all instances involving sexual assault allegations, together with these in opposition to officers.
Patti Giggans, who has labored with victims of intimate associate abuse in L.A. for many years via her group Peace Over Violence, mentioned she was not shocked by the choice to shut the case.
Sexual assault victims have many reputable causes for not instantly coming ahead about abuse, Giggans mentioned, and minor inconsistencies of their recollections of abuse are frequent.
“In court docket,” she mentioned, “that’s all the time used in opposition to the survivor.”
Prosecutors hardly ever file fees in intimate associate sexual assault instances exactly due to such vulnerabilities, as a result of there are often few or no witnesses, and since the accused can declare the alleged abuse was consensual intercourse, Giggans mentioned.
Sadly, she mentioned, Mathews’ scenario “is a main instance of how the system was actually geared to fail her.”
Prosecutors by no means instructed Mathews of their resolution to not cost Rojas. As an alternative, she was instructed by the interior affairs detectives, who mentioned they have been nonetheless pursuing administrative self-discipline — and wanted her to testify.
Mathews mentioned she was instructed the disciplinary listening to can be tightly managed and that she and Rojas can be saved aside. As an alternative, she mentioned, Rojas parked beside her within the car parking zone and got here close to her within the hallway, claiming he was searching for the lavatory.
When Rojas was testifying, Mathews mentioned, she wasn’t allowed within the room. However when it got here time for her to testify, Rojas’ consultant peppered her with questions whereas Rojas stood behind him and stared her down, she mentioned.
Mathews mentioned the consultant ridiculed her and tried to poke holes in her story by shaming her and implying she was slutty or silly. She mentioned a earlier abusive relationship was referenced to recommend she was a continual accuser, not an actual sufferer.
By the tip, Mathews mentioned she felt victimized another time — absolutely uncovered, however in an surroundings that shielded Rojas, his consultant and the listening to officers from any scrutiny in any respect.
After she left, she heard nothing for months, till the letter got here within the mail.
“Your allegations that an worker photographed partially nude fashions in a Division uniform, despatched inappropriate images of arrestees, and sexually assaulted you over completely different dates, have been categorised as Sustained, which implies the investigation decided that the acts alleged did happen and [constitute] misconduct,” the letter learn.
It mentioned Rojas can be disciplined.
He wasn’t — a minimum of not for assault. The Occasions couldn’t decide what self-discipline, if any, Rojas obtained in relation to the opposite allegations of misconduct.
Underneath division coverage, Mathews was supposed to be told that the sexual assault discovering was reversed. However she mentioned she by no means was — till she was instructed by The Occasions.
Giggans mentioned she was pleasantly shocked the LAPD took Mathews’ claims critically and pursued them as far, which she mentioned is uncommon. However the secrecy across the self-discipline course of — and the result of the case — alarmed her.
“It speaks to this larger difficulty: the dearth of transparency, the dearth of equity, the dearth of openness, the dearth of illustration on this listening to,” Giggans mentioned. “That, I believe, must be reformed.”
Supporters of the present self-discipline course of, together with the police union, say claims that it’s too secretive are baseless. They are saying officers are topic to the identical prosecutorial scrutiny as everybody else and should be handled like everybody else in terms of noncriminal, office issues — that are virtually all the time dealt with discreetly by employers.
Union officers declare that officers typically face false accusations, and that closed-door hearings present a good technique of adjudicating such claims with out needlessly tarnishing an officer’s fame.
Transparency advocates disagree. They argue that disciplinary proceedings in opposition to officers accused of mistreating members of the general public they’re sworn to guard are a matter of public curiosity. They contend that such proceedings must be made public — simply as they have been till 2006.
That 12 months, a California Supreme Court docket ruling on the confidentiality of police information was interpreted by L.A. and different California cities as requiring police disciplinary hearings to be closed — until state legislators modified the regulation to explicitly permit entry as soon as extra.
Lawmakers haven’t performed so. In 2019, they did act to make police information associated to findings of extreme pressure, dishonesty or sexual assault open to the general public, however there are limits — together with that these findings have to be “sustained.”
Citing the 2019 regulation and the LAPD’s letter to Mathews sustaining her sexual assault allegations, The Occasions requested the division’s investigative information from Mathews’ case and was denied.
Cmdr. Bryan Lium, then-head of the LAPD’s threat administration and authorized affairs division, confirmed the authenticity of the letter Mathews had obtained, however mentioned the result had been “modified” because of the disciplinary board listening to and there have been no information that may very well be launched — that means the sustained sexual assault discovering a minimum of had been overturned.
Lium mentioned Mathews ought to have been despatched an up to date letter, however that wouldn’t be public, both.
“We won’t launch it, and I can’t disclose it, and I can’t talk about it,” Lium mentioned.
Mathews mentioned she by no means obtained a brand new letter.
Had been it not for The Occasions’ inquiries, she by no means would have identified that the result of the case had modified, or that the ex-boyfriend she assumed can be fired continues to be an officer — which she finds “terrifying.”
Mathews had additionally by no means seen the prosecutors’ report rejecting her case in opposition to Rojas.
When The Occasions shared it together with her, it made her indignant — each for herself and for different victims of sexual assault. Prosecutors appeared much less targeted on her claims in opposition to Rojas than on the potential makes an attempt by his protection counsel to discredit her, which was mistaken, she mentioned.
“That is what they do to victims,” she mentioned. “This is the reason ladies don’t come ahead.”