Ventura County Settles Sex Suit Against Deputy

Times Staff Writer

A former Moorpark woman who says she was forced to have sex with a sheriff's deputy so he would protect her against drug and driving charges has settled a federal lawsuit against Ventura County for $162,500.

Jamie Sharples, 22, and the county Board of Supervisors this week settled a June civil rights claim filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleging that then-Deputy Jose Araujo coerced sex from the former exotic dancer several times last fall and forced her to serve as an informant in drug cases against her friends.

The Sheriff's Department referred a potential criminal case against Araujo to the district attorney's office, authorities said, but prosecutors declined to file charges.

While Sharples maintains she was raped, a statement released by Sheriff's Capt. Jeff Matson said an investigation found that sex was consensual. Rape "under color of authority" was one potential criminal charge.

"The relationship was inappropriate [but] was entered into consensually by both parties," Matson wrote. "The district attorney declined to file any criminal charges because the case did not meet the threshold for a criminal prosecution."

The Sheriff's Department did conclude that Araujo, 34, a six-year patrolman who resigned in the midst of an internal investigation in April, had committed a "level of misconduct" that was "inappropriate."

Araujo could not be reached for comment. Sharples, who lived with her father and young son in Moorpark until recently, was unable to comment because of a confidentiality agreement with the county.

But her attorney, Joe Freeman, said in the lawsuit that the woman first had sex with the deputy in October 2002 after four months of harassment that allegedly began when Araujo arrested her on an outstanding warrant for driving without a license.

She decided there was no other way, the suit said, for her to continue to operate her car and keep charges of drug use from another arrest from being filed. Even then, according to the suit, she protested the intercourse but did so quietly so she would not wake her son. The deputy forced himself on her, anyway, the suit maintained.

"Through continued pressure and harassment, Defendant Araujo, using the threat of authority ... finally succeeded in pressuring plaintiff into having sex with him at plaintiff's father's house while her father was away on a trip," Freeman wrote in a court document. They had sex several times over a two-month period after that, the suit said.

Oxnard lawyer Alan Wisotsky, who represented the Sheriff's Department in the case, said Araujo never raped Sharples. "But was it coercive? Probably," Wisotsky said. "It's not something she wanted to do."

The lawsuit contended that Sharples was stalked by the deputy, who would allegedly call her in her car if she was not at home and press her to see him again.

"[She] felt she was being forced into sexual servitude, which she found extremely distasteful and unwelcome," the suit stated.

The first incidence of sex, which Araujo allegedly insisted be without a condom, led to Sharples' pregnancy in December and an abortion -- paid partly by Araujo -- the following month, the lawsuit said. At the same time, Sharples learned that prosecutors had charged her with being under the influence of drugs, despite Araujo's alleged assurances that he would keep the case from being filed.

"[She] became very depressed and attempted suicide, and is currently under medical care," Freeman wrote in a court document filed in September.

Wisotsky and Freeman said the $162,500 settlement was fair, considering the complicated facts of the case and a precedent set in 1991 by the state Supreme Court. It held in a Los Angeles case that employers are responsible if police officers have sex with a citizen they encounter on duty while using their "color of authority."

"Forty-nine out of 50 times a verdict would have been rendered against us in this case," Wisotsky said. "And if you look at lawyers' fees and the potential for a runaway verdict, it seemed very prudent to settle at this price," he said.

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