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L.A. County Sheriff's Dept. investigating reports that deputy sexually abused female inmates

L.A. County Sheriff's Dept. investigating reports that deputy sexually abused female inmates
Hermann Kreimann Jr., who was hired by the Sheriff's Department in 2009, worked as a bailiff at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center for at least two years. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)

The allegations were disturbing: A female inmate reported that a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy asked her to perform a sex act as he escorted her back to a cell in the downtown criminal courthouse. She complied, she said, because she was afraid the deputy might otherwise get her into trouble.

In the following months, investigators tracked down several other female inmates who gave similar accounts of sexual misconduct by the deputy, according to a district attorney's memo detailing the allegations.

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The deputy, identified in the memo as Hermann Kreimann Jr., is the subject of an internal affairs investigation that could result in his firing, according to sheriff's Cmdr. Keith Swensson, a department spokesman. Although he declined to comment on the specific allegations, Swensson said male deputies are never supposed to be alone with female inmates in areas without security cameras.

"It's out of policy for a reason, specifically to prevent things like this from happening," Swensson said. "We would not allow female inmates to go with male deputies by themselves. … You just don't do that."

The sexual misconduct allegations are the latest to hit the Sheriff's Department. Earlier this month, the county agreed to a $6.15 million legal settlement with a woman who was raped by an on-duty deputy during a 2010 traffic stop in Palmdale. The deputy is serving a nine-year prison sentence for rape while under the color of authority and soliciting a bribe.

Two years ago, one of the department's civilian watchdogs credited the agency for taking tough disciplinary action against deputies accused of sexual misconduct and detailed more than a half-dozen investigations into such claims. One deputy was prosecuted for sex crimes with a 16-year-old girl in the department's explorer program. Another was fired after being accused of having sex with an inmate who used a wheelchair.

The latest allegations underscore how vulnerable female inmates can be to sexual abuse in custody, said Esther Lim, jails project director for the ACLU of Southern California.

Lim commended the sheriff's investigation for making the effort to track down other female inmates who had had contact with the deputy. Many incarcerated women, she said, have experienced physical or sexual abuse in their lives and would be unwilling to come forward on their own to report abuse by a jailer.

"A lot of these women are very fearful of being retaliated against," Lim said. "It's definitely a population that is very, very vulnerable."

Kreimann, who was hired by the Sheriff's Department in 2009 and worked as a bailiff at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center for at least two years, was relieved of duty in May 2014, Swensson said.

In an interview last year with investigators, Kreimann denied propositioning a female inmate and said none had propositioned him, according to the D.A. memo. He said it was standard procedure for him to escort female inmates alone.

The interview was conducted two weeks before investigators examined an attorney interview room connected to the courtroom where one of the female inmates said she performed oral sex on Kreimann. Semen found in the room matched Kreimann's DNA, the memo said. Kreimann was relieved of duty several weeks later.

The district attorney's office decided last month not to file charges against Kreimann. The two women whose allegations would be key to a prosecution refused to cooperate, Deputy Dist. Atty. Rosa Alarcon noted. Had the two been willing to work with authorities, "their statements would corroborate one another and would likely support a filing of criminal charges," Alarcon wrote.

Kreimann's attorney, Richard A. Shinee, declined to comment.

The allegations against Kreimann surfaced in November 2013, when a female inmate in the Century Regional Detention Center reported to a sergeant that she had been forced to give oral sex to a deputy a month earlier.

The deputy, she said, escorted her from a courtroom where she had appeared on a criminal case to the attorney room nearby, she said. There, according to the district attorney's memo, he asked her to partially undress and then handcuffed one of her wrists to a wall and asked her to provide oral sex, the memo said.

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She did so because she was afraid the deputy might "put another case" on her, she explained. When it was over, she reported, the deputy said he would place $20 in her jail account.

The inmate identified Kreimann from a photographic lineup, according to the memo.

Sheriff's Sgt. Amy Hansen tracked down 23 female inmates who had appeared during the previous year in the courtroom, Department 124, where Kreimann worked.

One woman said Kreimann exposed himself to her in the attorney interview room and suggested oral sex, but she declined, according to the prosecutor's memo. On a separate occasion, the inmate said, Kreimann implied that he would allow her to visit another inmate if she had sex with him.

She told investigators that Kreimann masturbated in front of her in the attorney room, according to the D.A. memo.

Another woman said Kreimann stopped her in a stairwell in February 2014 and fondled her, the prosecutor wrote. A third woman said Kreimann asked her to show him her breasts.

A fourth woman said Kreimann stood before her while she was handcuffed to a wall, placed his hand on his pants zipper and asked, "Are you ready?" The woman told investigators she believed the deputy was asking her to provide oral sex, the prosecutor's memo said.

Authorities collected DNA evidence from the attorney interview room and found five semen samples. The sample linked to Kreimann was among them; the other four remain unidentified, the memo said.

Alarcon wrote that the semen "at a minimum indicates that Kreimann was engaged in some form of inappropriate sexual activity while on duty as a bailiff, which also tends to bolster the accusations made by the women against him." The fact that the women independently gave similar accounts about Kreimann after being tracked down by investigators "lends them credibility," she wrote.

When he appears for disciplinary review, Kreimann will be required to answer questions about the semen samples found in the attorney interview room, Swensson said. Under California law, police officers can be compelled to answer questions during administrative investigations.

"He's going to have to explain why his semen was found in there," Swensson said.

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Twitter: @JamesQueallyLAT

Times staff writers Marisa Gerber and Jack Leonard contributed to this report.

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