Deputy knew of charges

Times Staff Writer

An Orange County sheriff’s deputy found dead shortly after being charged with molesting a 12-year-old boy had learned of his impending arrest by accessing an internal computer system, authorities said Friday.

Gerald Stenger, 41, who was found about 2 p.m. Wednesday at an Aliso Viejo parking structure with what law enforcement officials believe was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, had discovered the charges filed against him that morning from a county computer system, said Susan Kang Schroeder, a spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney’s office.

Prosecutors had entered the case into the system about 9:30 a.m., she said, unaware that, as a law enforcement officer, Stenger had access to it from the computer in his Santa Ana office. Later, Schroeder said, prosecutors discovered that Stenger had accessed the Case Management System more than 400 times in the last several weeks, most recently about 9:40 a.m. Wednesday -- just 10 minutes after the complaint had been entered and an hour before officials, fearing that Stenger might be suicidal, asked a court to seal it.


In fact, Schroeder said, the case was sealed before noon, but by then it was too late. “We had planned on arresting him about the time he was found,” she said.

Stenger, a 20-year veteran of the department, was charged with molesting a boy he met through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County, where he had served as a volunteer from 1991 to 1995. According to law enforcement officials, the molestation began in 1995 and continued for two years.

Schroeder said the district attorney’s office began investigating the case several weeks ago, after receiving it from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which had conducted an investigation.

She said Stenger first came under scrutiny after the victim reported to a family member that he had been molested. Had the deputy been convicted, Schroeder said, he could have faced up to 18 years in prison.