A California Highway Patrol officer has been placed on leave after being accused by a Santa Ana wife and mother of groping her in two separate incidents, first during a traffic stop, and later outside her home.
The woman, who spoke through an interpreter at a Los Angeles news conference with attorney Juan Dominguez, said she was going public with her claim to ensure no other women are victimized.
"It is very difficult to talk about," said Ruth Chavez, the 45-year-old mother of three who spoke out Wednesday.
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The unnamed officer was placed on leave pending the outcome of an investigation by the Santa Ana Police Department "for alleged behavior that occurred while the employee was on duty," said Capt. Ryan Shackleford, with the CHP's Santa Ana office.
Santa Ana police declined to comment on the investigation.
Chavez and her husband were driving south on I-5 near Red Hill Avenue April 6 during evening rush hour when the officer pulled them over, ordered her to get out, and then touched her inappropriately, according to Chavez.
"Obviously made her extremely uncomfortable," said Dominguez.
They said the officer sited Chavez's husband for driving without a valid license, then allowed the couple to drive off. Two hours later the officer showed up at their Santa Ana apartment, inside a gated complex.
Chavez was walking back from the store, and the officer encountered her on the stairs, then escorted her to his patrol vehicle, she said.
"He positions his patrol car to the side of the parking lot, and opens the two doors of his SUV patrol car, and positions her between the two doors, and again proceeds to grope her genitalia, her breasts, in a sexually inappropriate manner," Dominguez said.
The officer stopped when a neighbor came by, and before leaving said he would be back, according to Chavez.
Instead, she went to Santa Ana police.
The officer did not speak Spanish, but used an electronic translator to communicate in Spanish with Chavez, she said. Her attorney noted that she has had legal U.S. residency for two decades.
"I want to emphasize to the public that the alleged conduct of this employee does not reflect the values, hard work, dedication and professionalism of the CHP," according to a CHP statement.
The CHP statement did not reference whether there is any video of the alleged incidents. Many CHP vehicles are equipped with in-car cameras.
There are multiple security cameras in the complex where Chavez lives. Dominguez acknowledged he has not seen the video, but believes police have it, and said he has been told one camera corroborates a CHP vehicle at the complex that night.
Below is the full text of the CHP statement by Capt. Ryan Shackleford, commanding officer, CHP Santa Ana:
"The CHP is aware of an investigation involving one of its officers by the Santa Ana Police Department for alleged behavior that occurred while the employee was on duty. I want to assure the public that we take any allegation of misconduct by our employees, whether on or off duty, very seriously. The CHP is fully cooperating with the investigating agency. In addition, the CHP is conducting its own investigation into the allegations. While the investigation is being conducted, the employee has been placed on administrative leave and his peace officer powers have been revoked."
"The CHP is a proud and professional organization. I want to emphasize to the public that the alleged conduct of this employee does not reflect the values, hard work, dedication and professionalism of the CHP and its more than 11,000 employees, who proudly work each day to provide the best in Safety, Service, and Security to the people of California."
Any questions regarding the criminal investigation should be directed to the Santa Ana Police Department.