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Laguna Beach police officer’s lawsuit accuses Fullerton of false arrest and defamation over elder abuse case

Laguna Beach police officer’s lawsuit accuses Fullerton of false arrest and defamation over elder abuse case
James McBride and Wendy Wagner, at left, and Rock Wagner, right, appear at a news conference with then-attorney Michael Fell, center, in March. (File Photo)

A Laguna Beach police officer and his sister are suing the city of Fullerton and the Fullerton Police Department after they were arrested last year on suspicion of elder abuse against their parents with “no probable cause,” according to their attorney.

Officer Rock Wagner of Lake Forest, his sister Wendy Wagner and her partner, James McBride, of Huntington Beach filed suit Thursday in Orange County Superior Court claiming false arrest, defamation and wrongful death, among other allegations.

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The Laguna Beach Police Department and the Orange County district attorney’s office said in March that criminal and internal affairs investigations had concluded that “allegations of misconduct could not be supported.”

Stephen Hale, a spokesman for Fullerton, declined to comment Monday on the ongoing litigation. However, he said the “city of Fullerton and the Fullerton Police Department remain committed to a high standard of professionalism, which includes a thorough investigation of this claim.”

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Authorities alleged last fall that the Wagners and McBride had defrauded Bonnie and Roland Wagner, parents of Rock and Wendy Wagner, of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The three were arrested Nov. 28 on allegations of elder abuse and fraud.

Fullerton police led the case because it reportedly involved a financial institution based there.

Soon after his arrest, Rock Wagner was put on administrative leave by the Laguna Beach Police Department.

However, Gary Casselman, attorney for the Wagners and McBride, said Monday that they “were doing what children do when they are caring for elderly parents.”

Wendy Wagner and McBride were arrested at their Huntington Beach home, where they lived with and cared for the Wagner parents, court documents said.

After the arrests, Bonnie and Roland Wagner were removed from the house, barred from contact with the suspects and placed in residential care, where they later died.

Casselman said the suspects and their photos were paraded for the media, though evidence against them wasn’t there.

“The investigation was nonexistent to minimal,” Casselman said. He described the case as “basically a rush to judgment.”

“Their names have been smeared,” Casselman said. “The case was so poorly documented that the district attorney refused to file any criminal charges whatsoever.”

Rock Wagner, who works patrol, returned to work in March.

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