Hubbard Defense Hires Ex-Officer Investigated in Corruption Probe : Courts: Dennis Sesma, now a private investigator, is an appropriate person to assemble evidence in the case, Hubbard’s attorneys say. Others are not so sure.
The former San Diego police sergeant discredited in a widely publicized police corruption probe, which enumerated serious problems with his investigative techniques, has been hired to assemble evidence for the defense team of accused San Diego police officer Henry Hubbard.
Hubbard’s attorneys acknowledged Tuesday that Dennis Sesma, who resigned from the department in 1989 in the midst of an internal affairs investigation, is the defense team’s private investigator and said they have no qualms about his background or competence.
Two weeks ago, Hubbard was charged with the attempted murder and attempted robbery of two men at Torrey Pines State Beach and named the prime suspect in a string of rapes and robberies along San Diego area beaches during a two-month span this summer.
His attorneys, Allen Bloom and Kerry Steigerwalt, say their client was framed by fellow police officers furious over his testimony in a 1990 trial that led to a suspect’s acquittal.
The attorneys say that Hubbard, a 4 1/2-year veteran, was attacked by three men on a freeway intersection the morning of the shootings, and that his flashlight, later recovered at Torrey Pines State Beach, was taken from him.
As Bloom and Steigerwalt pored over police evidence with their forensic specialist last week, Sesma, a 14-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department, joined them.
Sesma’s activities from 1984 to 1988 as part of a special narcotics street team was part of an independent 10-month investigation into alleged Police Department corruption. The street team was formed to deal with small-time drug deals and prostitution.
Led by the state attorney general’s office, the probe uncovered evidence of police misconduct involving “a former narcotics officer” that sources identified as Sesma.
Officials never were able to prove any criminal behavior, except in one instance in which Sesma and another officer “entered into a prosecutable criminal conspiracy” to blackmail a woman into turning into an informant by planning her arrest.
The county district attorney’s office chose not to pursue the allegation, citing a statute of limitations problem.
But investigators said they found indications of other official misconduct involving Sesma, including allegations that he allowed informants to keep some of the drugs they were provided to set up “controlled” narcotics buys.
Under Sesma’s supervision, there was “pervasive mismanagement, misconduct and unprofessional activity” within the unit, including sexual relationships between street team members and informants, according to a summary of the probe’s findings.
The attorney general’s office also noted “wholesale irregularities” in the way street team members paid and documented confidential informants.
“This was part and parcel of widespread violations of procedures in handling, documenting and compensating informants directed, practiced and tolerated within the street team,” the report concluded.
Steigerwalt, one of Hubbard’s attorneys, said he had initial concerns about hiring Sesma until he spoke to attorney Jack Boltax, who had used Sesma as an investigator in a drug case. In that case, the prosecution sought and received Sesma’s internal police files and found nothing detrimental.
“I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t get burned on this, so I talked to Police Department personnel,” he said. “They thought he was being screwed. Last week, when we were down there (at the department reviewing evidence), officers treated him with the utmost respect.”
Sesma said he did not expect his investigation to pose any problems for the defense because “I was never named in any report.” Although it is true that the corruption probe never mentioned Sesma by name, police sources say Sesma is the “former narcotics officer” described in the report.
One law enforcement official, who asked he not be named because he was involved in a confidential investigation of Sesma, said the former sergeant’s work in the Hubbard case could be open to question because of the police corruption report that questioned his investigative techniques.
“You always want to avoid giving the other side any ammunition to impeach your witnesses or the evidence you want to produce,” the source said. “You throw a witness on the stand procured by an unreliable investigation, that gives me the ammunition to tear the witness apart.”
Bill Holman, a deputy district attorney who is familiar with several cases involving Sesma that he said “turned into mud,” related that the former sergeant never did many investigations on his own, preferring to turn much of the work over to subordinates.
“I have some very strong opinions about Dennis Sesma,” Holman said. “He worked the cases that involved the most media notoriety, not necessarily those that were the most significant cases. The more significant cases were brought by other officers.”
Noted San Diego criminal defense attorney Milton J. Silverman said a “highly qualified investigator who is above reproach” is essential to a successful defense.
“An investigator gets information you need to present in court,” Silverman said. “His abilities and ethics and integrity are an essential part of the case because they are directly attributable to you. He is your alter ego.”
Members of the San Diego Police Department still distrust Sesma, according to Homicide Lt. Dan Berglund, and, during Sesma’s visit with the defense attorneys last week to review evidence in the Hubbard case, “everyone had the same idea: ‘Keep an eye on him.’ ”
“His reputation here is still very poor,” Berglund said. “If he gets called as an expert, you’ll be able to find enough people from this department to refute him.”