Purple Berets


When the Batterer
is a Cop

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No Justice in Battering Cop Case

In response to our last newsletter, hundreds of you sent postcards to the California Highway Patrol and public officials demanding they reopen the internal investigation into domestic violence allegations against CHP Officer Curt Lubiszewski. Lubiszewski was acquitted of those charges after a highly irregular, nightmare criminal trial that effectively prosecuted victim Mitzie Grabner and the Purple Berets rather than Lubiszewski. (For a full report of the trial, see the Violence Against Women Section of our website.)

Still, there was explicit evidence of domestic violence against two different women over a 14-year period, a threatened restraining order by a third, as well as testimony to Lubiszewski's threats to "eat his gun." Surely that's enough to allow the CHP to take disciplinary action (preferably firing) to rein in their woman-hating officer.

There was also the CHP internal "investigation" conducted by Lubiszewski's sergeant and longtime friend, Scott Bertelson. It was an investigation littered with halfhearted interviews, witness intimidation, and vows by his commander that Lubiszewski wouldn't be disciplined unless convicted in criminal court. (Neither CHP policy, nor any other police policy would agree.) Not surprisingly, the "investigation" concluded that the domestic violence allegations were "not sustained."

Since the CHP's internal affairs (IA) policy provides for a higher level review when the complainants feel the investigation's findings were bogus, Mitzie Grabner, Bonnie Garrett (Lubiszewski's ex-wife for 9 years) and Purple Berets filed separate requests for such a review in May. The Berets request outlined six areas of biased or insufficient investigation (including a number of complaints that were never investigated), and detailed at least seven violations of the CHP's own Internal Affairs policies in the conduct of the investigation.

CHP Motorcylce CopOur complaints had hardly had time to reach Sacramento when we all received form letters saying the prior investigation was just fine and there would be no review. Shortly afterwards, letters followed from Attorney General Bill Locker and Gov. Arnold ("The Groper") Schwarzenegger putting their official stamp of approval on the CHP's whitewash. At this point, all efforts to get the CHP to clean out the batterers in their midst have stalled.

Why the CHP Case Went Nowhere
In the days and weeks following the trial and the CHP's refusal to review the case, a number of striking facts surfaced that just might shed some light on why things came down the way they did. Nearly every officer or command staff-person who reviewed the case has himself been implicated in some type of scandal or misconduct.

Capt. O'Shea was commander of the Rohnert Park CHP office when the original complaints were filed. He had ultimate responsibility for the investigation, and it was he who had Curt's buddy head it up, despite our protests. Early on, both the victims and Purple Berets had meetings with O'Shea. Immediately thereafter, the captain was put "on leave" and unavailable for comment.

Not long after the trial, Purple Berets received the following e-mail, quoting a source inside the CHP:

Well, O'Shea got caught with his pants down. The CHP did their usual run around ... going to fire him but then let him off and retire early kind of crap! I wonder who else in that RP office knew of this stuff and who was covering for whom??? What is up with that particular office??

Then there's CHP Commissioner D.O. "Spike" Helmick, who headed up the Sacramento commission that made the final decision not to sustain any of the domestic violence complaints against Lubiszewski. Imagine our surprise when we turned on TV news one night to see Helmick blubbering tearfully on camera and announcing he would be "retiring" and replaced as head of the commission. We've never learned why he was removed . . . only that, in his own words, "(Sniffle) I don't want to go!" (A purple beret to anyone with information on what led to Helmick's dismissal!)

Then on July 9th, news hit that CHP Assistant Chief Art Acevedo, a prominent candidate to replace Helmick, was in trouble. According to the Press Democrat, Acevedo "has been the subject of a recent state sexual harassment investigation and a $5 million civil claim for allegedly showing nude photographs of a subordinate officer to high-ranking officials while on duty . . . Acevedo kept sexually explicit photographs of the woman in the glove compartment of his state-issued car and displayed them to various supervisors between 1995 – when his brief affair with the officer ended – and 2002, according to claims filed with three state agencies . . ."

When he took the photos, Acevedo was a sergeant – guess where! – in the agency's internal affairs bureau! At the time the lawsuit was filed, the CHP had taken no disciplinary action against Acevedo.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could, with a stroke of a pen, re-open the Lubiszewski investigation or, better yet, initiate a statewide investigation into the Highway Patrol. But the governor has his own problems with sexual harassment and assault, and is un-likely to do the right thing to protect women from male violence. Nor is Attorney General Bill Locker, who has refused to investigate both the governor and Lubiszewski.

Rotten to the Core
So frankly, we're stumped as to where to turn for justice. Clearly the Highway Patrol is incapable of investigating its own officers for domestic violence or sexual harassment/assault. We're currently looking into possible action by the California Assembly and others.

In the meantime, one thing is clear: any woman who gets involved with a CHP officer does so at her own risk.

The Only Good News: the District Attorney
But there is one ray of hope for victims of police domestic violence. After the CHP verdict came down, Purple Berets met with D.A. Stephan Passalacqua to discuss how his office could ensure that future cases have at least a chance for justice.

Passalacqua agreed to have a deputy D.A. respond to the scene of police-involved domestic violence cases, just as they do in homicides. He also agreed to have either his investigator or one of the specialized police domestic violence teams do the investigation under the D.A.'s direction. At the very least, a deputy D.A. will be present in all police interviews with the victim.

He also agreed to statistically track these cases, and investigate other necessary changes to insure that other women being beaten by cops won't have their cases destroyed like Mitzie Grabner's. It's a start.

November 2004


© Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
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Copyright © 2001 Purple Berets

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