Accused Cops Have Rights Too; Such a Disappointment at the L.A. Times

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Once again, we return to the never-ending source for material for these columns: the Los Angeles Times’s penchant for stories that present the Los Angeles Police Department in a negative light. This latest example was published on Sunday’s front page in prime journalistic real property. It ran under the headline “Cop still on the job despite assault claim.”

The story is available online (paywalled; I read the story so you don’t have to) and describes Kelsie Mathews’ 35-year-old relationship with Oscar Rojas, an LAPD officer. Mathews, a television production assistant, and actress, started dating Rojas in august 2018. She remained in that “toxic” relationship for seven years. Mathews claims that Rojas sexually assaulted her multiple times during this time, including instances where she was sodomized.

It should be noted that Rojas if Mathews is correct about his allegations, deserves to be fired by the LAPD. We don’t know the truth of the allegations, and neither does the Los Angeles Times. Kevin Rector, the Times reporter, relied on Mathews’s account of Rojas’s relationship and on a report by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which was itself based on reports from LAPD inner affairs investigators. Because of inconsistencies in Mathews’s account, the district attorney’s office denied investigators’ request to file three charges of sodomy against Rojas. The D.A. did not give Rojas any special treatment. This rejection is not meant to be an admission of difficulty in obtaining convictions for sex crimes that were committed during a consensual relationship.

However, Rojas’ LAPD personnel complaint was accepted. Chief Michel Moore recommended Rojas be fired. However, the LAPD’s disciplinary system does not allow the police chief to make final decisions on such matters. A “board of Rights” is a quasi-judicial hearing that is similar to a criminal trial. It involves three civilians who weigh evidence from both internal affairs and a defense representative. Only officers found guilty by the board can be disciplined. These decisions, according to the Times, “trump those made by internal investigators or the police chief” and are kept secretive so that independent scrutiny is prevented.

Rector writes that Mathews was subject to a “brutal” cross-examination by a panel consisting of three older men. This implies that if the sexes or ages of the panel members were different, it may have had a different outcome. Rector refers to the “brutality” of the cross-examination based on Mathews’s account. Rector was not present at the hearings, which are closed to the public. Mathews was clearly not happy with the experience. However, a neutral observer might have described the cross-examination as effective in casting doubt upon her claims. The board found Rojas innocent.

Mathews informs Rector that she was not permitted in the room where Rojas testified but that Rojas supported her defense representative when she took the witness stand. Witnesses are not allowed to listen to the testimony of others witnesses in criminal trials, lest their accounts are affected. Mathews was probably anxious to be in the same room as Rojas. However, it is unlikely that Rojas was there supporting her defense representative as she alleges. The hearing rooms are set up in a similar way to a courtroom. Mathews is seated at one table with Rojas facing him, and the prosecutor to the other. The accused and his representative are facing each other. Witnesses are allowed to stand next to the panel. This is similar to a courtroom.

The Times is praising Rojas’s decision but seems to be expressing regret that an officer accused of misconduct is allowed the fundamental rights of presenting a defense or confronting witnesses. They might argue that the criminal jury will only hear the prosecution’s evidence and not the defense. A path to promotion is often through an assignment to internal affairs. Some investigators are known to not be as honest with their evidence presentation, particularly in cases where the chief of police believes the officer guilty and wants him to be fired. The Times would prefer these people to go unchallenged, with an officer’s future on the line.

Rector tells us that Rojas returned to the LAPD’s Foothill Division after his board was overruled. However, he has been sent home to await a new personnel complaint.

Rojas is someone I have never met and what I read in the story about him, I don’t know much. He may be a bad cop or a bad person, and the new investigation will prove that. It is possible that Rojas, who escaped from the LAPD’s gallows, is now being subject to a vendetta. These things happened, even though I wish I could.

Los Angeles Times editors and writers are among the first ones to protest the violation of an accused criminal’s right. Although they may not like it the cops accused of crimes have rights.