More Victims in Bay Area Police Sex Scandal, Victim’s Attorney Says
An attorney for the young woman at the center of a sexual misconduct scandal involving several California Bay Area police departments says there are other victims.
The scandal stems from an investigation into the suicide of an Oakland police officer with whom the woman says she was romantically involved when she was 17. The ensuing probe revealed allegations that the woman exchanged sex for favors and money, ensnaring dozens of police officers.
The woman has previously gone by the pseudonym Celeste Guap. CNN does not normally identify alleged sexual assault victims, but the teen’s attorney has publicly said she now wants to go by her real name, Jasmine Abuslin.
“We could not stand by idly when we learned of this young woman’s story, and we became very clear that she was not the only one,” attorney Pamela Price said in a news conference outside a detention center in Stuart, Florida, on Wednesday.
Price said she’s received emails from other women claiming to be sex-trafficking victims of the police.
There’s been no indication from any of the departments that there are other accusers or victims in the case.
The lawyer’s allegations were made outside a detention center from which Abuslin was released after she pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor assault charge for allegedly biting a guard at a Florida drug rehabilitation center.
Price said her client bit a driver at the facility, not a guard, after she was put in a bear hug and told she could not go home. When she tried to leave the rehab center, her attorney said, she was injected with something against her will.
Attorney: She was brought here under ‘false pretenses’
How and why Abuslin ended up in Florida is a controversy itself. The Richmond Police Department in California claims officers in the domestic and sexual violence unit worked with a nonprofit to raise the money to get the teen treatment.
The money came from the state’s victim compensation program, and Abuslin went to Florida voluntarily, Richmond police have said. Her attorney claims she was tricked.
“The leadership of that department engaged in communication with a local agency here and brought her here under false pretenses,” Price said. “I don’t know what their motive is. I will tell you as a lawyer I don’t tamper with witnesses. And anything that looks like witness tampering I’m told in Florida you all have a very strong law and basic practice that you cannot tamper with a witness. We have that same understanding in California.”
The Richmond Police Department did not immediately respond to the charge. The Oakland Police Department, which has been at the center of the controversy, referred CNN to a press release on the city’s website, but the release is more than a week old and addresses only the conclusion of the sexual misconduct probe, not the latest allegation that there are more victims.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley released a statement saying her office had nothing to do with transferring Abuslin to Florida.
“To the contrary, we protested her removal from California where she could receive the services she wanted and requested. An agency outside of Alameda County made arrangements to send her out of state, against our wishes and advise,” she said.
Firings, resignations & criminal charges
Price says she and another attorney will be representing Abuslin, whose case has led to police officers’ terminations, resignations and suspensions across a half dozen police departments and the resignation of three Oakland police chiefs.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s office already has announced it will file criminal charges against seven officers. The charges vary for each officer but include engaging in prostitution, felony oral copulation with a minor and obstruction of justice.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced a week ago that four Oakland Police Department officers had been fired for involvement in a department-wide sex scandal. An additional seven officers were suspended without pay, and another is receiving counseling.
Schaaf said at the news conference that the firings and suspensions send “a loud and clear message that we hold our officers to nothing but the highest standards of professionalism and integrity.”
The punishments bring some resolution to the scandal, which began last fall with the suicide of Oakland officer Brendan O’Brien. Officials say an investigation into his death uncovered disturbing allegations.
‘He saved me’
Abuslin, 18 at the time, alleged she had sex with O’Brien, as well as with a number of other officers from the department and officers from nearby jurisdictions.
The young woman said it started when she was 17 years old and became romantically involved with O’Brien, whom she credits with rescuing her from a dangerous pimp.
“He saved me when I was 17,” Abuslin told CNN in a phone conversation. “Instead of taking me to jail, we just kind of started something there, you know.”
O’Brien, she said, later introduced her to other officers who became customers. As the investigation widened, other officers became embroiled in the scandal.
Ultimately, four police chiefs resigned and 28 officers across several departments — including the Oakland, Richmond and Livermore police departments, and the Alameda and Contra Costa county sheriff’s offices — were alleged to have had sexual contact with Abuslin.
Some of the officers paid to have sex, the young woman alleged. Others exchanged confidential information, such as tipping her off about prostitution stings, for sexual favors.
History of scandal
The Oakland Police Department is no stranger to scandal. Since 2003, a federal monitor has been in place to ensure the department complies with a negotiated settlement stemming from a police corruption scandal.
Officers were accused of planting evidence and assaulting suspects. No accused officers were convicted, but one officer fled prosecution and to this day remains at large.
The city paid out more than $10 million to more than 100 plaintiffs and agreed to make reforms, eventually leading to the federal monitoring.
The recent firings and suspensions in the sexual misconduct case were “about making department-wide changes,” the Oakland mayor said.
“We see you. We are here for you. We are here to help you,” she added, addressing sexual abuse victims in the city.
As for Abuslin, Price said young woman — who the attorney says has been sexually exploited since she was 12 years old — is heading back to the Bay Area and needs physical protection because “she is under threat.” She did not elaborate on who was threatening her client.
The teen will seek psychiatric treatment at Stanford University, and she wants to go back to school to become a veterinarian and help other victims of sex trafficking, Price said.