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Ex-LAPD cadets accused of taking police cruisers on joyrides to face criminal charges, sources say

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A group of Los Angeles Police Department cadets attend a graduation ceremony at USC Galen Center in June 2017, days after a scandal rocked the youth program. Prosecutors will bring criminal charges against three ex-cadets who were allegedly involved in the theft of LAPD cruisers.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Three former Los Angeles Police Department cadets will face criminal charges in connection with a scandal that rocked the department’s signature youth program last year, sources told the Los Angeles Times.

Prosecutors filed charges in recent weeks against the teens, who were among a group of seven cadets accused of taking LAPD cruisers on joyrides and stealing department equipment in June 2017, according to two sources with knowledge of the investigation.

The sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case. The alleged thefts sparked an investigation that ended in the arrest of former LAPD Officer Robert Cain, who was charged with sexually abusing a 15-year-old member of the cadet program.

Luis Carrillo, an attorney representing Cain’s accuser, also confirmed that the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is pressing criminal charges against “several” of the cadets arrested last year. Prosecutors declined to charge his client, according to Carrillo, who said he did not know exactly what charges were filed.

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The LAPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement, the district attorney’s office said the agency could not comment on the matter because of state confidentiality laws regarding criminal cases against juveniles.

Seven cadets were arrested and accused of theft in June 2017. The three facing criminal charges include the supposed “ringleader,” a teen so highly regarded within the LAPD that he was featured in promotional materials for the program, a source said.

Prosecutors are also reviewing possible felony theft charges against the only adult arrested among the cadets, 20-year-old Leonel Flores, according to Shiara Davila-Morales, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office. The LAPD presented a case in connection with theft allegations in January, she said.

A person who answered the phone at Flores’ home declined to comment.

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The sources declined to discuss the exact charges filed against the teens. The Times is not identifying those cadets because they were juveniles at the time the alleged crimes were committed. The Times has previously attempted to interview the cadets, who either declined to speak or did not respond to requests for comment.

The cadet scandal surfaced last June, when an investigation into a pair of missing LAPD cruisers led detectives to a 16-year-old cadet assigned to 77th Street division, investigators have said. Detectives went to the teen’s South L.A. home and spotted the stolen cruisers, kicking off a car chase that ended in a pair of crashes.

Ultimately, seven cadets were arrested and accused of taking at least three LAPD cruisers out on “joyrides” and stealing police equipment that included Tasers, radios and bulletproof vests. A search warrant obtained by The Times last year revealed that the cadets had access to the stolen cruisers for at least six weeks, driving as far away as Corona and Santa Clarita.

They often drove with their lights and sirens blaring, at one point racing through South L.A. to Hawthorne to move one of the cadets’ personal vehicles in the hopes of avoiding a parking ticket, according to the warrant.

The teens were blatant in their actions, according to the warrant, driving LAPD vehicles to several events that officers would have been present at. The stolen cruisers were also used to conduct motor vehicle stops in Huntington Park and Inglewood, according to the warrant. The alleged ringleader told other cadets he had special permission to drive the cars, and another said he was given access to a vehicle by the officer who ran the equipment room at the station, the warrant said.

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Ex-LAPD Officer Robert Cain has been charged with sexually abusing a teen cadet involved in the scandal.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

An LAPD investigation into the thefts also revealed evidence leading to allegations that Cain had sexually abused one of the cadets allegedly involved in the thefts. Cain was charged with oral copulation of a person under the age of 16, lewd acts upon a child and unlawful sexual intercourse last year.

He is due in court next month and has previously denied wrongdoing, records show. In January, Cain was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading no contest to illegal weapons charges in San Bernardino County. Police found a cache of weapons in Cain’s Rancho Cucamonga home just days after his arrest last year.

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The LAPD has also presented a case to prosecutors alleging Cain played a role in the theft of department property, according to Davila-Morales. The case remains under review, she said.

Carrillo, who has filed a notice of claim against the city alleging that lax police oversight of the cadet program allowed Cain to abuse his client, praised prosecutors for deciding not to charge the young girl, who is now 16 years old and no longer in the program.

“She was the victim in all of this because of the negligence of the LAPD,” he said. “She was the one who was victimized by the man who was twice her age.”

In the months following the cadet scandal, the LAPD and its inspector general each launched reviews of policies governing the program, leading to a series of changes that tightened supervision and training. The policy changes also limited officers’ social media and phone contact with cadets.

Times staff writer Nicole Santa Cruz contributed to this report.

james.queally@latimes.com

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Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in California.


UPDATES:

5:35 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information about an adult who was also arrested as part of the investigation into the thefts of LAPD property.

This article was originally published at 4:15 p.m.


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