A Monterey Park police officer was convicted Monday of sexually assaulting three women during traffic stops, a streak of misconduct in which prosecutors say he forced women to expose themselves and in two cases groped them.
Israel Sanchez committed the string of assaults in the summer of 2014 against female drivers who were ages 19 to 28, prosecutors said.
A jury in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom convicted Sanchez, 41, who is currently on unpaid administrative leave from the Monterey Park Police Department, of five counts of sexual battery by restraining, five counts of assault under the color of authority, three counts of false imprisonment by violence and one count of soliciting a bribe. (A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said that the trial prosecutor argued that the defendant told one of his victims, "If you do this for me, I won't tow your car.")
During closing arguments, Sanchez's attorney, Michael Goldfeder, questioned the credibility of the victims, telling jurors they made up allegations to retaliate against his client, who previously had arrested one of the women on a drug charge.
"There's no untoward conduct taking place," he said. "There are no crimes in this case."
But L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Hyunah Suh told jurors that Sanchez had a habit of needlessly insisting on searching women during traffic stops and of using a specific word — "nice" — to describe their body parts. He also used his flashlight to "ogle at women," Suh said. The prosecutor shot down the defense's claim that the women tried to frame Sanchez in a move of reprisal, telling jurors that the women were strangers.
"They all told similar stories," Suh said. "These women are telling the truth."
The investigation began, the prosecutor said, after one of the victims — the daughter of a California Highway Patrol officer — came forward. The other two women, Suh said, "had to be tracked down."
Before playing part of a video recording of Sanchez interacting with one of his victims, Suh told jurors the officer ought to have followed his own advice. "Fate should have it," the officer says in the clip, "that if you're doing bad things you're going to get caught."
In court Monday, Sanchez sat with his hands pressed together and his head bowed. The courtroom quieted as the clerk read the verdict for the first charge: "Guilty."
Whimpers came from the audience, where members of Sanchez's family sat holding hands. As the clerk read the 13 remaining "guilty" counts, Sanchez sighed and rested his head on the table. He then swiveled in his chair and looked at his family. "I'm sorry," he mouthed.
Moments later, the judge looked at Sanchez and said, "He is remanded." As two bailiffs took Sanchez into custody, the former officer waved to this family. A woman wailed in the audience.
Sanchez, who faces up to 11 years in prison, is scheduled to be sentenced April 24.
Times staff writer Alene Tchekmedyian contributed to this report.