A yearlong Associated Press investigation uncovered about 1,000 officers in six years who lost their licenses to work in law enforcement for rape, other sex crimes or sexual misconduct. The number is unquestionably an undercount because it represents only those officers who faced an administrative process known as decertification, and not all states take such action or provided records. California and New York, for example, did not provide records because they have no statewide process for decertification. Even among states that provided records, some reported no officers removed for sexual misdeeds even though the AP discovered cases via news stories and court records.
Below are 10 cases from across the U.S. that reflect how such crimes can occur, and the devastation they leave behind. Most of the officers have been convicted and are serving time. Some await trial.
CHRISTOPHER STEIN EPPERSON
Christopher Epperson, 37, of the Wasatch County Sheriff's Department in Utah, is serving three years' probation in the sexual assaults of two inmates. Epperson pleaded guilty to two federal counts of deprivation of rights under color of law for the offenses in 2009 and 2010 while he was a deputy sheriff working in the county jail. He had groped two female inmates. A separate civil lawsuit against Epperson, the county and the sheriff's department was filed by one of the women nearly five years ago but remains ongoing; the second woman later joined the litigation. The lawsuit alleges a pattern of behavior by Epperson that began with flirtation, smiles and winks, and grew more serious to include forcing one woman to be photographed shirtless and to fondle the officer, and attempted sodomy. Epperson has voluntarily relinquished his state law enforcement license.
Sergio Alvarez, 40, of the West Sacramento Police in California, is serving 205 years to life after being convicted of kidnapping five women and then raping them or forcing them to perform oral sex. The victims testified at Alvarez's criminal trial last year, recounting how he picked them up while they walked alone in the darkness along a strip known for prostitution, drugs and homelessness. Investigators found a personal "spycam" that Alvarez used to record some of the sex acts. One of the women referred to Alvarez as a "creepy cop" she tried to avoid, but couldn't. California doesn't decertify officers for misconduct, though Alvarez relinquished his badge when he was arrested.
Jonathan Bleiweiss, 35, of the Broward Sheriff's Office in Florida, began serving a five-year sentence in February after he was accused of bullying about 20 immigrant men living in the country illegally into sex acts. The victims shied away from testifying, so prosecutors reached a plea deal revolving around false imprisonment charges, allowing Bleiweiss to escape conviction on any sexual offenses and thus avoid being labeled a sex offender. Prosecutors said he used implied threats of deportation to intimidate the men. His guilty plea means the state will decertify him.
Michael Garcia, 39, of the Las Cruces Police in New Mexico, was sentenced last year to nine years in prison for sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl interning at the department. Garcia, at the time assigned to a unit investigating child abuse and sex crimes, was one of the girl's mentors. The victim said the assault made her give up her dream of being an officer and left her crippled by depression, anxiety and nightmares. In court, she said Garcia "took my spirit away from me" and that "it had never occurred to me that a person who had earned a badge would do this to me or anybody else." Under questioning by an investigator, Garcia said a brief lapse had cost him his career: "Three minutes for the rest of my life." Garcia was ordered to forfeit his law enforcement certification.
Daniel Holtzclaw, 28, of the Oklahoma City Police, is scheduled for trial Monday, accused of sexual offenses against 13 women, including rape, forced oral sodomy and sexual battery. He has pleaded not guilty. The former college football star is accused of targeting mostly poor women from the same rundown neighborhood. Prosecutors say he often used the same ploy of accusing the women of concealing drugs beneath their clothes, then directing them to expose themselves. Central to their case is GPS data they say place him at the scenes of the alleged crimes. Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty says Holtzclaw took advantage of those made vulnerable by their pasts; some of the accusers have criminal records. "It's somebody that he as a police officer felt like he had power over. And he abused that power," he said. Holtzclaw has been fired. He declined comment, and his attorney did not respond to messages.
William Nulick, 44, of the Tulare County Sheriff's Office in California, is awaiting trial after being charged with sexually assaulting four women in 2013. Two who speak only Spanish claim Nulick pulled them over and led them into remote areas, asking for sexual favors in lieu of writing them tickets. Two others claim to have been groped in inappropriate pat-downs. All told, Nulick faces 18 criminal counts, including oral copulation under the color of authority, accepting bribes in the form of sexual favors, and false imprisonment. At a preliminary hearing, Detective Paul Gezzer said one victim told him she "was afraid she was going to die." Nulick's attorney, Galatea DeLapp, said her client admits accepting a sexual favor as a bribe but denies a charge of false imprisonment. Nulick resigned from the sheriff's office. California doesn't decertify officers for misconduct.
William Ruscoe, 46, of the Trumbull Police in Connecticut, began a 30-month prison term in January after pleading guilty to second-degree sexual assault of a 17-year-old girl he met through a program for young people interested in law enforcement. The girl said she began receiving text messages from Ruscoe that grew sexual and that he eventually professed his affection for her and gave her a silver bracelet with a heart-shaped charm that said "Made with Love." In an incident at the officer's home, he removed her cadet uniform and sexually assaulted her. At one point, she said, he handcuffed her. Ruscoe has been decertified.
Darrell Best, 46, of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty in October to sexually abusing two teenagers who were members of the church where the officer was head pastor. The girls said the abuse occurred on several occasions and included incidents at Best's church and police headquarters. The officer also pleaded guilty to producing child pornography after detectives found sexually explicit pictures of the victims on his phone. "It takes a particular type of depravity, boldness and recklessness for a sexual predator to take photographs of his victim," the government argued in a court filing. Best is due for sentencing in February; his plea agreement calls for an 18-year prison term. His attorney, Nikki Lotze, called his guilty plea "an important step in accepting responsibility." The police department said Best resigned in August. The District of Columbia says it does not decertify officers.
Rex Newport, 47, of the Colville Police Department in Washington state, was sentenced last year to 2½ years in prison for unlawful imprisonment with sexual motivation and other charges. Newport had entered an Alford plea, which allows a defendant to plead guilty while maintaining innocence. According to a detective's report, a woman said Newport followed her home from a bar and entered her apartment in the remote town near the U.S.-Canadian border. According to a probable cause affidavit, she went to a neighbor's apartment when he left to take a call on his radio, fearing he would come back to attack her. She saw him come and go and thought it was safe to return, but he was waiting inside. Newport handcuffed her, then removed the cuffs before having sex with her. After she reported the assault, police identified four other women who accused Newport of propositioning them while on duty. The state decertified Newport.
Walter Nolden, 34, of the San Antonio Independent School District Police, was released from jail last year after being given a yearlong sentence related to improper searches of young girls. Nolden was a campus officer at Page Middle School, where six girls in seventh and eighth grade made similar accusations — that the officer had them expose their breasts or peered down their shirts when he conducted searches for drugs. Some of the girls claimed he groped them. Nolden ultimately pleaded no contest to a charge of official oppression. One of the girls said Nolden told her the search was necessary "to make sure she didn't have anything." Nolden was decertified.