Federal appeals court urges crackdown on sexual misconduct by police

 Federal appeals court urges crackdown on sexual misconduct by police
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt, pictured in 2011, wrote in the current case: Such conduct ... jeopardizes defendants' right to a fair trial." (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A federal appeals court called on police departments Thursday to investigate and discipline officers who engage in sexual misconduct with crime victims and others involved in investigations.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made the exhortation in the dismissal of a lawsuit against the city of Glendale by a man who said he was wrongly prosecuted because his wife had an affair with the Glendale police officer who arrested him.

The court condemned the officer's conduct, but said it did not affect the decision to arrest and prosecute the man. The decision upheld a lower court's ruling dismissing the lawsuit.

"This is not the first case we have had in recent months in which a police officer in Los Angeles County has engaged in similar conduct with a woman involved in a case which the officer was assigned to investigate," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the three-member panel.

Glendale fired Officer Michael Lizarraga after learning of the affair. Lizarraga had arrested Robert Yousefian, a lawyer, in 2007 for hitting his father-in-law with a glass candle holder. Yousefian alleged that he acted in self-defense after the elderly man whacked him with his cane.

Yousefian's wife provided evidence against her husband and then engaged in an affair with the arresting officer, the court said.

Yousefian was eventually acquitted of assault and elder abuse charges.

"We would urge municipalities and other employers of law enforcement officers to ensure that conduct like Lizarraga's is neither permitted in the course of officers' official duties nor condoned thereafter," Reinhardt wrote.

In December, the court upheld the dismissal of a similar case in which a West Covina police officer had an affair with an alleged rape victim. The court said the officer, Tyler Kennedy, also wrote a book that recommended lying to women to get them to consent to sex.

The police chief did not fire Kennedy as a sex crimes investigator because his book did not mention he was a police officer and he wrote it on his own time, the court said.

A West Covina police spokeswoman said Kennedy no longer worked for the department and referred questions to an assistant city manager. The official declined to comment about the officer's departure.

In Thursday's ruling, the court called the Glendale officer's behavior "reprehensible."

"Such conduct by police officers puts in jeopardy the integrity of legitimate prosecutions and jeopardizes defendants' right to a fair trial," Reinhardt wrote.

Mark Geragos, who represented Yousefian, called the ruling "symptomatic of what is going on in the 9th Circuit."

"They see all this bad conduct by cops and prosecutors, and they are tired of it," said Geragos, who plans to appeal. "The way to curb this is hit them civilly and let the juries decide."

Twitter: @mauradolan