News

Menlo Park cop caught with prostitute keeps job

Case sheds light on confidential police disciplinary process

Hearing a knock at the Motel 6 door, a prostitute wearing a black catsuit answered, $20 bills stashed in her cleavage. In the bathroom, Sunnyvale police officers found a veteran Menlo Park police detective wearing nothing.

End of his career? Nope.

Officer Jeffrey Vasquez, 48, returned to duty in the Menlo Park Police Department late last year, following an internal affairs investigation triggered by the bust. He had also been charged with misdemeanor solicitation by the Santa Clara County District Attorney. What internal sanctions he faced remains unknown; the state's confidentiality laws prevent discovery of penalties levied by his employer.

The leak

Under California law, internal affairs investigations -- even the fact that an investigation has occurred -- are confidential personnel matters. So are complaints of misconduct and police disciplinary records.

But the investigation came to light anyway more than a year later. On Oct. 17, 2012, Menlo Park City Manager Alex McIntyre sat talking about city business with his predecessor, Glen Rojas, at a communal table near the bar at the Menlo Hub, a Menlo Park restaurant. Their conversation carried to an Almanac reporter sitting at the other end of the same table.

Part of their discussion involved the city's binding arbitration policy, invoked when a police officer appeals a disciplinary penalty after failing to convince city management to reverse it. Apparently the city "lost royally" during arbitration, Mr. McIntyre said, forcing Menlo Park to reinstate the officer. The city manager said he told the council that paying the officer to leave instead of returning to work would be "a million dollar check."

He expressed frustration that some members of the City Council wanted to discuss the matter publicly despite regulations prohibiting disclosure.

Without naming Officer Vasquez, the city manager mentioned the officer's length of service and gender. Only two current officers matched the description; a painstaking search of employment data, police logs and court records led the Almanac to a Santa Clara County Superior Court file that detailed the case against the officer.

"You overheard a conversation between two colleagues," Mr. McIntyre told the Almanac during an interview in January. He said he didn't remember precisely what he said at the Hub, and stated that it's not unusual for a city manager to consult his predecessor.

As for the case itself: "(City Attorney) Bill McClure said I can't say anything."

Officer Vasquez told the Almanac he'd been ordered not to talk about it by the interim police chief. At an hourly rate of $52.40, his annual base wage is approximately $109,004. Should he retire at age 50 with at least 25 years of service, he'd receive 75 percent of his final salary as a pension; that increases to 90 percent if he retires after 30 years.

The officer's attorney did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did Bryan Roberts, who was serving as Menlo Park police chief at the time of the incident.

The motel

Jeffrey Vasquez jeopardized his 24-year career with the Menlo Park Police Department when he went to the wrong place at the wrong time on Feb. 18, 2011.

According to court documents, a Sunnyvale police officer acting on a tip was watching a motel room for signs of 32-year-old Natalia Ramirez, who had two outstanding bench warrants. He knocked on the door. Once inside, the officer asked Ms. Ramirez what was going on.

"She replied that it was what it looked like. I asked her if it was prostitution, she replied by saying yes," the police report stated. Her male companion did not reveal himself as a fellow law enforcement officer until a check of his driver's license alerted the Sunnyvale police that he was.

Detective Vasquez was in Sunnyvale to serve a subpoena related to a Menlo Park sexual assault case, he told the officers, "and this was not the first time he had solicited a prostitute for sex," according to the filing. Upon learning that the target of the subpoena wouldn't be home until later, the report states the detective said, "I had an hour to kill" so he called "My Redbook," a site listing local escorts and their phone numbers.

Ms. Ramirez confirmed that she advertised on Redbook and said that Detective Vasquez had called her, asking to come over later, according to the Sunnyvale police report. She didn't remember what name he had used.

The Menlo Park police officer "admitted that he was there for sex" and that he had found her on Redbook. They hadn't engaged in sexual activity before Sunnyvale police arrived or discussed specific prices or services, according to the report.

Asked why he didn't immediately identify himself as a police officer, Detective Vasquez reportedly responded, "I don't want to be a dick and ask for preferential treatment."

Senior officers from Sunnyvale and Menlo Park arrived on the scene after a series of calls -- standard procedure when an incident involves a fellow officer, according to law enforcement sources. Capt. Carl Rushmeyer of Sunnyvale showed up, then Watch Commander Tim Brackett and Sgt. Matt Bacon of Internal Affairs, both from Menlo Park.

Ms. Ramirez, who has a criminal record for drug possession and prostitution, was arrested on the bench warrants. The report noted that Sunnyvale police turned a "distraught" Detective Vasquez over to his Menlo Park colleagues and forwarded the case to the district attorney.

Charged with misdemeanor solicitation, Officer Vasquez hired Redwood City attorney William Rapoport to handle the case and pleaded not guilty in June 2011.

A month later -- on July 11 -- the prosecution asked to dismiss the case. The problem? Prosecutors were notified the day of Ms. Ramirez's trial that the officer who had interviewed her was unavailable to testify. According to Deputy District Attorney Rob Baker, who supervised the case, the officer was caring for his wife as she endured a life-threatening medical crisis. A Sunnyvale officer confirmed the circumstances related to the dismissal to the Almanac and said his department had hoped the case could have gone forward.

"I wanted to prosecute the case, that's the reason we charged it," Mr. Baker said. "But in light of the (misdemeanor) charges, we didn't feel it appropriate to force the cop to come to court when his wife was going through something that serious."

Losing a key witness left the case against both Ms. Ramirez and Officer Vasquez dead in the water. "We couldn't prove the case against the cop because the (officer) who actually observed him in the room with the prostitute wasn't available," Mr. Baker said.

The court would regard the confessions recorded in the police report as inadmissible hearsay, he explained, without the testimony of the officer who took the statement.

Compounding their dilemma, Ms. Ramirez had not waived her time to a speedy trial. Mr. Baker said, "We literally had to go to trial on that day or within 10 days."

His team looked for workaround strategies to no avail. They concluded that ultimately they weren't going to be able to use Ms. Ramirez's statement. "What's the jury going to think when the primary officer doesn't show up to testify? If I was to dismiss the case against her, his defense attorney would then know we couldn't prove the case against him," Mr. Baker said. A pre-trial conference for the charge against Officer Vasquez had been set for the same day as Ms. Ramirez's trial.

In the end they asked the court to dismiss the case for lack of evidence. "With misdemeanors, you only get one bite at the apple. The case gets dismissed, and that's it," Mr. Baker said. "Had this been felony conduct, we could have dismissed and then refiled it."

The ties that bind

The dismissal of the criminal case sheds some light on how Officer Vasquez was able to return to duty. The city of Menlo Park's administrative mechanisms also contributed to his reinstatement.

Personnel procedures separate criminal proceedings from administrative hearings, according to the city's human resources director, Gina Donnelly. "You have to be careful not to impede a criminal investigation," she said.

As with all other city employees that the Almanac questioned about the case, Ms. Donnelly said she couldn't talk about Mr. Vasquez and could answer only general questions about the disciplinary process.

"An employer can't take disciplinary action based solely on an arrest. It depends on what they're arrested for, if there's a nexus to their employment and whether there's a conviction. All city employees are held to a very high ethical standard, and police officers are held to an even higher standard."

The standard of proof for an administrative hearing is lower than that for a criminal trial. "It's 'more likely than not,' similar to the standard in a civil case," Ms. Donnelly said, as opposed to "beyond a reasonable doubt" in a criminal case. But while court proceedings generate public records, administrative hearings don't.

Three levels of discipline exist: a letter of reprimand, suspension, and the most serious, dismissal. An officer may appeal the decision within the department and then to the city manager, Ms. Donnelly said. If challenged again, the case goes to binding arbitration.

Binding arbitration is written into the city's contract with the police unions, according to City Attorney Bill McClure. The contract spells out the steps: The union and city first try to agree on an arbitrator. If they don't, the State Mediation & Conciliation Service supplies a list of five names, and the union and the city take turns eliminating names until one remains; that person then serves as arbitrator.

No single set of guidelines applies to the criteria an arbitrator uses to reach a decision, Ms. Donnelly said.

The contract states: "The award of the arbitrator shall be final and binding." In other words, that person can overrule whatever disciplinary decision the city made.

Many jurisdictions in California, including San Jose and Palo Alto, use binding arbitration. Sources familiar with the process said it makes removing a problem police officer nearly impossible.

Credibility under oath

How does a troubled past affect an officer's future credibility in court? In 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court in Brady v. Maryland ruled that prosecutors must disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense, including misconduct by a police officer who might be called as a witness in a case if that misconduct could discredit or impeach the officer's testimony.

As in other jurisdictions, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said his office keeps a "Brady list" of police officers charged or convicted of an offense, and discloses that information to the defense when the officer will testify while facing charges or serving probation. He said some crimes, such as misdemeanor drunk driving, allow the removal of the officer from the list after he completes probation.

Other crimes, such as a moral turpitude offense or one related to credibility, such as filing a false report, keeps the officer on the list in perpetuity. The Brady list is not public record; the information "is accessible only to our attorneys in handling their cases," Mr. Wagstaffe said.

A police officer charged with soliciting a prostitute may not make the list. Mr. Wagstaffe said that case law considers solicitation by the prostitute as an act of moral turpitude, but wasn't sure whether that held true for the john. "Doesn't seem like it should be different, but the law is a strange thing in so many distinctions it draws."

The district attorney, having never seen a case on that point, said the question would require some research.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by disclosure
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 15, 2013 at 9:13 am

Prosecutors don't have to disclose a cop's arrest record if the defense can just Google articles like this.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Use some common sense
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2013 at 10:02 am

Good investigative journalism by the Almanac. But let's explore this:


A month later -- on July 11 -- the prosecution asked to dismiss the case. The problem? Prosecutors were notified the day of Ms. Ramirez's trial that the officer who had interviewed her was unavailable to testify. According to Deputy District Attorney Rob Baker, who supervised the case, the officer was caring for his wife as she endured a life-threatening medical crisis. A Sunnyvale officer confirmed the circumstances related to the dismissal to the Almanac and said his department had hoped the case could have gone forward.

"I wanted to prosecute the case, that's the reason we charged it," Mr. Baker said. "But in light of the (misdemeanor) charges, we didn't feel it appropriate to force the cop to come to court when his wife was going through something that serious."

GO TO TRAFFIC COURT ANY DAY IN SUNNYVALE. IF THE COP DOESN'T SHOW UP, THE TRAFFIC JUDGE NOW RESCHEDULES THE HEARING FOR ANOTHER DAY RATHER THAN DISMISS THE CASE (AS HAS BEEN TRADITION FOR MANY YEARS).

This is just nonsense. If there was a one-time problem preventing the cop from testifying because his wife had a medical condition, the trial should have and would have been delayed for a short period of time to accommodate that circumstance. This was simply law enforcement (including the Santa Clara D.A.) figuring out a way to drop the charges without making it seem blatant.

But it is blatant.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 15, 2013 at 10:37 am

The officer's situation was not one that would be resolved within 10 days. Continuances are fine - if the defendant waives their right to a speedy trial. She didn't.

Sandy


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Some Guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 15, 2013 at 10:48 am

Wow, what are the odds the arresting officer couldn't testify against another officer, thats just one huge, lucky break, coincidence for Ramirez. Wow, just wow.
SO corrupt, and I bet NO ONE cares.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Use some common sense
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2013 at 10:55 am

Sandy, I admit the story weaved by the prosecutor is sophisticated, but it doesn't make sense. There aren't many emergencies that last ten days. Additionally, the fact the officer allegedly couldn't show up to testify against the prostitute has nothing to do with the viability of the case against the john/officer proceeding.

"If I was to dismiss the case against her, his defense attorney would then know we couldn't prove the case against him," Mr. Baker said.

This just simply is not true. Prosecutors offer deals to defendants all the time in exchange for cooperation, etc. It doesn't preclude others involved in the same criminal activity from being prosecuted. The crime of soliciting prostitution, which the cop was charged with, does not require the prostitute be convicted or even charged. It would simply require credible testimony that he was caught in an act of soliciting prostitution. Sometimes, the prostitute is even an undercover police officer herself, who is not charged or convicted.

That's where the story doesn't hold water. It sounds to me like the police union snapped into action and made sure some breaks were issued. It was sophisticated to make the no-show on the prostitute instead of the john to add some deniability. But, I'm with Some Guy. It's incredibly corrupt.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 15, 2013 at 11:04 am

Charging him created a public record of the incident. If they wanted to cover this up, all they had to do was not file the charge. No one would have been the wiser.

Sandy


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 15, 2013 at 11:05 am

The real crime here is that our "public servants" are so poorly managed that firing one is next to impossible, no matter what they do.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Use some common sense
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2013 at 11:06 am

That assumes pressure was not applied after he was arrested and charged, but before the trial took place. I believe it was, it is common practice, and that's what happened.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Use some common sense
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2013 at 11:10 am

P.S. – Sandy, here are two steps you could take for article #2. It might really elucidate what is a larger issue than this one officer. I would hope to be proven wrong on my instincts here, but I bet I'm right.

1. Did the Sunnyvale police list this arrest on their blotter of arrests for that day?

2. You know the name of the testifying officer. You know the original trial date. His time cards/work records are public information, and you can get them. Did he show up for any shift on the trial date and the ten days thereafter?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 15, 2013 at 11:31 am

Yes, I agree with Joseph Davis, not only are public servants poorly managed, and hard to fire, but city management is so intent on the status quo that they make decisions without investigating deeply. With myopic vision, they are the worse hypocrites when it comes to who stays or goes - because they don't even know that they are the hypocrites.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Lurker
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2013 at 12:40 pm

[Please do not use Town Square to discuss connections with other named people. If you have relevant information, email it to the Almanac -- editor@AlmanacNews.com ]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 15, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Curious to know why prostitution can be considered a sex crime, yet the John isn't labeled a sex offender. In particular, a public servant? In this case, it looks like no one was convicted or proven guilty.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 15, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Reminds me of Greg Munks, SMC Sheriff, getting caught in a brothel raid in Las Vegas. It's pretty difficult to respect "Law Enforcement" as a career of high standards when so many officers won't prosecute offenses perpetrated by the brotherhood. Creates a special zone of privilege for misbehavior, doesn't it?
Add this insider benefit to abuses of overtime pay, disability compensation, double-dipping, etc., and is it any wonder that the general public has a hard time believing the old fairy tale about police being our guardians and protectors?
Violators of the law should be punished, even if they are law enforcement personnel. Give them the same consideration (sarcasm here) a civilian would receive.
Time to bust up the police unions, too.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Lurker
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm

[Post removed. The ABC story cited said the company was a "favorite" on a computer, but does not refer to the company being involved with child prostitution or pornography. If you have relevant information, please email it to the Almanac but please don't use Town Square to accuse named people or organizations of illegal behavior. ]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by 4T9R Fan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 15, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Folks,

Does anyone remember when Jerry Rice was arrested (in Mountain View) at a "massage parlor", supposedly there (as I believe he asserted) to get a "deep tissue massage", but found it turned out to be a joke played on him by teammates? That story came and dissappeared rather quickly. Good Ole' Jerry kept his job, and I don't remember anyone complaining about that. Granted, an officer should hold up the law, but how many of your sons and daughters have heard of this guy, versus Jerry Rice?

Editor's note: According to the Chronicle, there were no arrests: Web Link And Jerry Rice is not a law-enforcement officer.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Central Menlo = prostitution nor the solicitation of are not considered sex crimes. Or have I been not paying attention and the laws have changed?

Am I the only one concerned that a top city official & former top city official were speaking about this incident in *public*? Menlo is small- of course they were overheard discussing secret squirrel city business.

"He expressed frustration that some members of the City Council wanted to discuss the matter publicly despite regulations prohibiting disclosure." How ironic. McIntyre's a moron for doing this. Apparently, Menlo Hub really is what it purports to be - "Where Live Music, Martini's and Memories happen" - emphasis on the latter.

So now the Vasquez has paid some sort of professional disciplinary price, what actions will be taken to discipline McIntye? Was he drinking? If so, how much did he drink? Did the City of MP pay for his drinks? Was this an official meeting?

If Menlo employees are to be held to a high standard, as quoted, howzabout applying that to the city manager, discussing personnel matters in a bar w/in hearing of others?

All of it is disturbing. Amateurish all around, but disturbing. I'm not surprised by Vasquez's actions - cops commit transgressive acts frequently. I am surprised that in these times, in a small city, city officials were as stupid as the cop.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Snicker snicker
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 15, 2013 at 3:25 pm

An on-duty police officer killing a little time while on a stake out in another county is found at a Motel Six, naked with a whore in a cat suit. It doesn't get much better than this. Keep this in mind the next time you get stopped making that illegal u-turn. Better yet, keep this in mind when you read the next article about a 49 yr. old police officer retiring with 90% of his pay and some of the best health insurance money can buy. This fellow will probably retire in 2 years. He got reinstated and the city is contributing to his retirement right now as we read this article.

Our new City Manager certainly did inherit a pile of dung when he signed on in Menlo Park.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2013 at 3:40 pm

BTW, what happened to the prostitute, legally? I'm sorry she didn't have the out that Vasquez did.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Use some common sense
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2013 at 3:42 pm

According to the article, he arresting officer didn't show up for her trial, and it was felt inconvenient for him to show up at any time during a ten-day period, so she walked. I believe that was a favor called in by Vasquez's union to justify not prosecuting him. She was an unintended beneficiary of that.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Thanks, Use - I didn't pay attention to that. Gotta wonder who called in the tip to the Sunnyvale DPS.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fan of giving a guy a break
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 15, 2013 at 3:59 pm

That's taking 'deep under cover' duty very seriously.

CLM?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by 4T9R Fan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 15, 2013 at 4:22 pm

I stand corrected, JR was not arrested. Just had to make a bathroom stop, I'm certain.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2013 at 4:45 pm

I'm not saying that he should keep his job, but getting his name and photo published in the local newspaper with people discussing it is fairly punishing...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Holly L.
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 15, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Holly L. is a registered user.

To the Editors: It's very easy to find news stories through Google about the ties between myredbook.com and underaged prostitution. There have been stories on this dating back to at least 2006.

Here's one by San Francisco Examiner writer Mike Aldax back in 2011

Recent San Mateo County prostitution arrests related to myredbook.com
By: Mike Aldax | 09/07/11 7:17 AM
SF Examiner Staff Writer

Two recent underage prostitution busts in San Mateo County are tied to myredbook.com, a raunchy hookups website that lists reviews of escort and massage parlor services.

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner: Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Holly L.
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 16, 2013 at 10:25 am

Holly L. is a registered user.

The Almanac's scoop is up on SF Weekly now. Shame that SF Weekly didn't credit the Almanac, though:

Web Link


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