Within a matter of days in 2016, Jon Peters said he heard similar stories involving officers who worked with him at the Los Angeles Police Department.
The officers said they had been been stopped while driving off duty by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy on a motorcycle in the Santa Clarita area. They were told they were speeding, which they disputed.
The deputy then told the officers that he’d write them up instead for not having proof of insurance. When the officers attempted to show their insurance, Peters said, the deputy had a curious response: Don’t show me that, he’d say. Then I’ll have to write you up for speeding.
“I was like, ‘Well, this isn’t right,’” Peters, former assistant chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, told The Times in an interview.
In November 2016, he called the captain of the Santa Clarita Valley sheriff’s station to report the alleged misconduct. Now, three years later, two deputies have been charged with perjury and filing false reports, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
Michael Berk, 58, faces four counts each of filing a false report and perjury, and Justin Fisk, 40, faces two counts of each charge. Both deputies, who were assigned to the Santa Clarita Valley station, pleaded not guilty Thursday.
Peters said he spoke with two LAPD officers who had contact with one of the deputies, but heard stories that other officers may have been stopped in the same manner.
The traffic stops occurred between September and November 2016. The drivers, who all happened to be other law enforcement officers, had valid insurance at the time, the D.A.'s office said.
It’s unclear what would motivate a law enforcement officer to issue tickets for not having proof of insurance instead of speeding, though the penalties for speeding are generally stiffer.
“I just have a hard time fathoming why a deputy sheriff, or any police officer, would engage in that kind of conduct,” said J.P. Harris, a retired sheriff’s lieutenant who serves on the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission. “If you’re going to give somebody a break, just let them go.”
Harris said there’s no quota for writing citations. And most supervisors, he said, evaluate productivity by looking at the quality of the tickets. For example, moving violations that are high-risk and put people in danger are worthwhile because they prevent people from getting hurt.
“No proof of insurance tickets, I don’t know that that really furthers that aim,” he said.
The deputies are due back in court in February.
The pair came under investigation in November 2016 after Peters told Roosevelt Johnson, captain of the sheriff’s station at the time, that the two defendants possibly had issued falsified traffic tickets, according to the complaint. Johnson declined to comment when reached by phone Friday.
Sheriff’s Department investigators first presented the case to prosecutors in October 2017, said Greg Risling, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office. Prosecutors received additional information about the case in April 2018. It’s unclear why it took so long to file charges.
Ron Hernandez, president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said he has no problem with members of law enforcement being held to a high standard when it comes to abiding by the law.
“We look forward to our deputies receiving their due process as the case makes it way through the legal system,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Department said in a statement that it has begun the process of suspending pay for the deputies. “We are now waiting for the outcome of the criminal case in order to proceed administratively,” the statement said.
Bail was set at $25,000 for each deputy.
If convicted, Berk faces a possible maximum sentence of five years in state prison, while Fisk faces up to three years and eight months in prison.