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King City Police Scandal Highlights California's History Of Corruption

Ariana Shives |
March 5, 2014 | 9:16 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

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A six-month investigation shows that the six King City, Calif. officers arrested on multiple corruption charges preyed on lower-income, Latino residents for years.  Complaints have been rolling into the city for nearly four years, but the corruption could easily have been an issue long before that. 

The officers, who represent one third of the city's department and have titles ranging from officer to sergeant to police chief, are being indicted on charges of bribery, conspiracy and embezzlement in connection with a car theft scheme.

California has a history of police corruption dating back decades; this, however, is the most prominent and largest-scale example since 1999.  Based on the characteristics of the conspiracy cases in the past, the pattern in California appears to be more prominent because of its diversity.  

California’s particularly large, vulnerable population of undocumented workers leads to more opportunity for corruption because many people are afraid to report misconduct for fear of being discovered themselves, according to a 2013 national study by the University of Chicago. The study found that almost half of all Latinos surveyed would not report any crime in fear that their immigration status would be questioned. This makes it easier for individual misconduct to slide by under the radar and for schemes to fester. Also, Latinos make up 41 percent of incarcerated men in California prisons, further highlighting Latinos' fear to report crimes, stand up against police misconduct and mistrust of police departments.

California’s rate of police impropriety, though, is not actually higher than the national rate, it just occurs in a different way.

Interim Police Chief Bruce Miller's brother, Brian, owns a towing company in King City, one of four that contract with the city police department to impound cars. Suspicion arose when it was discovered, as was reported by the D.A.'s office, that Brian Miller’s towing company was receiving 87 percent of the department’s business.  Further investigation uncovered an in depth scandal and a department wracked with corruption.

SEE ALSO: For L.A.'s Illegal Street Vendors, Selling Food And Avoiding Police Is A Full-Time Job

The officers of the King City police department were reportedly funneling impounded car's through Miller's towing company.  Officers would give King City residents higher fees and impound their cars for longer periods of time than was appropriate and residents who couldn't speak English, were afraid of the officers or couldn't afford the skyrocketed fees would simply have to forfeit their cars.  Brian Miller and the officers would then either keep or sell the cars for their own profit.

King City, a town of 13,000, is 80 percent Hispanic. Many of its residents don’t speak English and plenty are undocumented, so they failed to report much of the deception. Thus Interim Police Chief Bruce Miller and Sergeant Bobby Carrillo, who reportedly spearheaded the scandal, were able to impound cars and charge exorbitant fees without much pushback. So either the department made hundreds of extra dollars or kept the car when its owner couldn’t afford to get it back.  Sgt. Carrillo kept one of every 10 to 15 impounded cars.

One resident told the LA Times, “the police are taking our property.  They are taking our cars. They take our money.  And we can do nothing about that.”

Interim Chief Bruce Miller, his brother Brian Miller, former Police Chief Nick Baldiviez, Sergeant Bobby Carrillo, Sergeant Mark Baker, Officer Mario Mottu and Officer Jaime Andrade (who was arrested on unrelated firearm charges) were arrested last week and were all released within hours on bails ranging from $10,000-60,000 while they await trial.

These officers are also under fire for a discrepancy surrounding the funds associated with a recent bank robbery.  The money recovered from the robbers, who have been convicted, was of a smaller amount than it was supposed to be.

"What was seized, what was turned into evidence and what was turned over to the FBI was four different amounts," an anonymous law enforcement official told Monterey County Weekly.

Bruce Miller is denying all allegations against himself and his department.

In light of this and the California Department of Corrections' investigation into Friday's inmate beating in Soledad, police integrity in California is being questioned. Corruption in California is likely more prominent especially now as the number of undocumented workers taking up residence in the state rises every day. 

Alex Simpson of the California Innocence Project says that corruption in police and sheriff systems is inevitable.

“When you are in a situation of authority you must be mindful, any one of us could be subject to temptation… this sort of thing does happen and has happened since the beginning of time," he explains.

The California Innocence Project (CIP) is a Western School of Law-based organization dedicated to releasing wrongfully convicted inmates in the state of California.  CIP and the national Innocence Project network have compiled data regarding convictions across the country and police or prosecutorial misconduct have been found in around 17 percent.  These and other cases occur in one of two ways, either through systematic misconduct or individual cases of misconduct.  Systematic misconduct is much less common and usually more harmful.

In December, 1998, LAPD officer Rafael Perez was sentenced for his involvement in one of the largest reported cases of police misconduct in history. Perez and nearly 70 other officers were involved in a scandal that centered around the stealing and dealing of drugs recovered by the department’s narcotics section. A timeline of the events can be found here.

San Francisco and Burbank have also seen their fair share of corruption. In 2010, Burbank officers were found to have used excessive force against subjects and engaged in a massive cover up scheme, and the department was condemned for its widespread discrimination, according to the LA Times.  In 1991, San Francisco saw a scandal similar to Rampart when officers were accused — but never actually convicted — of tipping drug dealers off to raids, accepting bribes for protection and even dealing drugs themselves.  An officer in the department accused many of his coworkers of conspiracy, threatening him with physical force and even death when he planned to report them, notes a 1991 LA Times piece.

SEE ALSO: Critics Applaud L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca's Resignation

Most recently, L.A. county Sheriff Lee Baca resigned amid a flurry of sheriff misconduct and abuse allegations.  In January, 18 current and former deputies were indicted on various charges, including unjustified beating of inmates and use of excessive force, discrimination and harassment.  Baca, who had been the county’s deputy sheriff for four terms, was not indicted or found to be in connection with any misconduct.

As of July 1, 2013, the number of Hispanic residents in California equaled the number of whites, as was reported by ABC news, and according to a 2013 article from the Public Policy Institue of California, California is home to approximately two million undocumented immigrants, 1.6 million of which are Hispanic.  Though these residents have some protection under California law, they are largely at risk for deportation or punishment, fear of which which often overrides any desire they have to speak out against mistreatment.

California prides itself on its diversity and openness to Hispanic residents — but they are not treated with equality.  Instead, as has been shown in corruption cases as of late, some officers take advantage of the vulnerability of these residents and use it to their own immoral and illegal advantage.

Reach writer Ariana Shives by email here



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