Records: SDPD Officer Accused Of Sexual Assault Resigned And Never Charged
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Thursday, August 15, 2019
Credit: SDPD headquarters photo: Milan Kovacevic. Inset photo: SDPD
Newly released records give specific details about a San Diego Police officer who allegedly sexually assaulted a woman in his custody in 2013 — details that raise questions as to why he was never charged with a crime.
In early February of that year, Officer Donald Moncrief, a six-year veteran of the force, was called to pick up a woman who’d been caught at the Otay Mesa border crossing trying to cross into Mexico in a stolen car. The woman, who has not been identified, later claimed Moncrief sexually assaulted her.
The department launched an internal investigation and investigators found that Moncrief’s behavior the night he had the woman in custody, and in the days and weeks that followed, was "highly suspect."
Records of the investigation, which were released under a new state law aimed at increasing police transparency, revealed the following:
– Moncrief never searched the woman and took her handcuffs off at some point during the 25-mile drive to the Los Colinas Detention Facility in Santee. This despite that she was a known member of Del Sol, a Mexican gang, and multiple types of bullets were found in the car she was driving.
– The woman claimed Moncrief told her to masturbate while he also masturbated during their drive. She also said he asked for sex and touched her breasts before dropping her off at the prison. Investigators found semen in the front of the car by the driver's seat and in the back seat.
– Moncrief said he drove a direct route and did not stop on the way to the prison. But tracking of his squad car showed he stopped multiple times during the trip.
– Moncrief claimed that in the days and weeks that followed, he did not call the woman "at all." But telephone records show he called or texted her 26 times.
Settlement, but no charges
Despite all of this, Moncrief was allowed to resign from the force before receiving any official discipline. And while police sex crime investigators asked the San Diego District Attorney to review the case, Moncrief was never charged.
The woman came forward with her accusations in March 2014, about a year after the alleged incident occurred. Moncrief was placed on leave and resigned from the force in May of that year.
The city eventually paid out a $250,000 civil settlement to the woman.
"The last thing the DA ever wants to do is file charges against a cop," said Dan Gilleon, the lawyer who represented the woman in the civil suit. "You have to force the DA to file charges through public pressure."
Tanya Sierra, a spokeswoman for the DA's office, told KPBS this week that prosecutors did not believe they could prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
In addition to avoiding criminal charges, Moncrief can also apply for jobs in other departments and likely not have to worry that his previous conduct will come to light. The San Diego Police Department does not keep track of officers, like Moncrief, who resigned while an investigation was ongoing, said Lt. Shawn Takeuchi, a police spokesman.
"Resignations are simply listed as resignations and oftentimes, people are reluctant on telling us why they are quitting and they are under no obligation to tell us," he said.
Takeuchi said if someone resigns to avoid an administrative review, and then applies to work at another law enforcement agency, that future employer may not know anything had happened. The only way they might find out would be if a supervisor or peer said something to the prospective employer during a background check, he said.
"If the review has already begun but it has not been completed, the future employer would get to examine the investigation, assuming a release form has been signed which is standard procedure for any application," Takeuchi said.
Moncrief denied the allegations at the time and calls this week to him and his lawyers from KPBS were not returned.
A blog attributed to Moncrief says he struggled with PTSD after serving as a Marine in Iraq. A spokeswoman for the Marines confirmed Moncrief served as a Marine from 2003 to 2007, rising to the rank of sergeant, and was deployed to Iraq in 2006. After leaving the police department, Moncrief worked as a behavioral therapist at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but no longer works there, a spokeswoman confirmed.
Details of the investigation
The records in Moncrief's case were only made public recently because of a new state law, SB 1421, that went into effect in January. It requires law enforcement agencies to disclose internal records about officers investigated for police shootings and use of force, and those who were found to have committed sexual assault or lied during the course of an investigation.
In Moncrief’s case, the records detail his actions and the explanations he gave investigators.
"To be honest with you, I don't search females, I don't," Moncrief told the investigators, according to the records.
In their report, investigators made it clear they didn't believe much of what Moncrief initially told them and were outraged at his behavior.
"Officer Moncrief's inept, lackadaisical attitude towards officer safety is deplorable," their report said. "By not searching a known gang member, arrested for a felony, who was in a stolen vehicle in which multiple types of ammunition were found, Officer Moncrief endangered the life of every law enforcement official that came into near proximity."
At first, he said nothing unusual or inappropriate happened during the drive to the prison and he made no stops along the way. Later, he said the woman masturbated during the drive and admitted to stopping once to put the woman’s handcuffs back on, the records show. But he didn’t have answers for the other stops that the tracking system on the patrol car showed he made.
"Officer Moncrief had no reasonable explanation for why he would have driven a masturbating female prisoner to a remote location to re-handcuff her," the police report said.
When his cell phone records proved he was lying about the calls and texts he made to the woman, he claimed he was reaching out to the woman to turn her into a confidential informant. But he never filed the paperwork to register her.
Calls and text messages Moncrief sent to his supervisor, San Diego Police Sgt. Steven Riddle, also suggest he knew he had done something wrong.
"I was paranoid about it for 3 months," he texted Riddle in April of 2014. "I figured the next time she was arrested she would tell the officer that the cop who arrested her last time left her uncuffed and she was able to masterbate [sic] in the back seat."
Riddle texted Moncrief back, telling him he had nothing to worry about.
"There was nothing but honorable meaning behind your actions," he wrote. "You did what any Godly man would."
Riddle later told investigators he was referring to Moncrief's decision to remove the woman's handcuffs in an attempt to recruit her as an informant and did not know about the woman's allegations. Riddle faced his own administrative review for not reporting to investigators that Moncrief had told him that he removed woman's handcuffs, according to police records.
'Certain cases just don't have legs'
The woman who accused Moncrief did not come forward for more than a year. She only told her story after seeing media coverage of another officer, Christopher Hays, who was arrested for sexually assaulting two women, according to a statement she gave to police. She originally thought it was Hays who assaulted her, her statement said.
Gilleon, the lawyer for the woman, said he does not know what became of her and declined to give her name. He said it's likely the woman's background as a Mexican gang member played a role in the DA's decision not to charge Moncrief.
He also said it's possible Moncrief had other victims but because this case did not get much attention on TV, they may not have known there were other accusers and didn't come forward.
"Certain cases just don't have legs, they die out really quickly, and there's no way to get the public to know about it," Gilleon said.
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