A Richmond Police Department internal investigation into 11 officers connected to the Celeste Guap case has recommended that one officer be fired, another demoted, two more suspended — one for 80 hours, the other for 120 — and that five other officers receive letters of reprimand.
Two of the 11 officers linked to the region-wide sex scandal — in which as many as 30 law enforcement officers from multiple agencies reportedly had sexual contact with a teenager who is a self-proclaimed sex worker — cannot be disciplined as they no longer work for the Richmond Police Department, according to a Friday statement from the city. They left for reasons unrelated to the investigation, police say.
City officials say they are legally prohibited from releasing the names of the officers.
Moving forward, if any of the involved police officers dispute the findings, they can request a private hearing, after which Chief Brown will make a recommendation to City Manager Bill Lindsay to either uphold the level of discipline, reduce it or to eliminate it.
The city manager will make the final decision on the proper discipline and will then notify the affected police officers. Those officers will then have 14 days to request a binding arbitration if they disagree with the decision.
In July, RPD placed one officer, identified by media outlets as Officer Jerred Tong, on paid administrative leave over this case, while several others were reassigned from duties as school resource officers following community outcry.
In a statement Friday, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said he is “disappointed and outraged” at the behavior of the officers involved, adding that their actions hurt the positive efforts RPD has made to become a “national model for community-involved policing.”
In a response statement, the president of the Richmond Police Officers Association (RPOA) said his members were disappointed by the disciplinary actions.
“The members of the RPOA are committed to ensuring the public trust with the citizens we serve and we understand that these developments are a setback to those efforts,” said Benjamin Therriault President, RPOA president. “However, we respect our members’ rights to due process and have their version of the story told to an impartial and unbiased third party. The RPOA is hopeful that any member who receives discipline will be judged within the scope of proven misconduct, not unjust political pressure.”
An investigation into the sordid case involving Celeste Guap began after Oakland police Officer Brendan O’Brien committed suicide and left behind a note. As many as 30 members from multiple local law enforcement agencies, including O’Brien, had reportedly had improper relationships with Guap (which is an alias, not her real name), a self-proclaimed sex worker. Some of the officers had sex with her prior to her turning 18, which appears to be leading to felony charges.
None of the Richmond police officers had contact with Guap when she was a minor. That is partly why their actions were deemed “noncriminal” by the internal investigation.
To varying degrees, however, the 11 RPD officers investigated were found to have violated department policies in their connection with the Guap case, Chief Allwyn Brown stated in a letter to Richmond City Council last month.
The internal investigation looked into more than 10,000 text messages and cellular phone records, over 5,000 social media pages, and contacts with 45 individuals, city officials said. The investigation took 750 work hours to complete. Guap delivered 13 hours of “recorded, voluntary testimony” over five interview sessions.
RPD released the information amid claims that it sent Guap to rehab in Florida possibly to to disrupt the misconduct investigation. Brown denied the claim, insisting RPD did nothing wrong, while Lindsay said Guap chose to go to Florida.
“The Richmond Police Department has been purposeful in trying to protect the human dignity of the teenage witness since the investigation was opened,” the city statement on Friday said.
“I am confident that the Chief of Police, the City Manager and Office of Professional Accountability have done a thorough job and we are glad to put this investigation behind us,” Mayor Butt said. “In terms of discipline for the officers, this marks the beginning of a process which will continue to unfold.”