Fourteen hours after a respected local attorney dropped a number of verbal bombs on the Bakersfield Police Department, alleging police corruption and poor oversight, BPD Chief Greg Williamson went before the microphones Friday to say that while serious problems have come to light, Thursday night’s allegations by veteran attorney David Torres were overstated.
At a press conference inside his downtown office Friday morning, Williamson sat at his desk before a row of cameras and acknowledged the shame Torres’ client, former BPD Detective Damacio Diaz, has brought upon the department.
In a plea agreement made public Thursday, Diaz admitted to a litany of crimes while he was working as a cop, including taking bribes, large-scale distribution of methamphetamine, working in partnership with a known drug dealer, stealing evidence and providing police intelligence to criminal partners.
In addition to Diaz, Williamson said he expects one additional indictment of a former police officer to be handed down in connection with a federal corruption investigation of his department.
But Williamson discounted Torres’ assertion that a “substantial amount of police corruption” exists within the department and that a number of officers will soon be indicted.
Five additional officers were under federal investigation, Williamson acknowledged. But they have been cleared, at least at the federal level, he said.
“We had a meeting with the U.S. attorney and with the FBI and the DEA, along with our investigators, last week on Friday,” the chief said, “and they brought forward the information that the five officers were not in violation of federal law — however there may be some policy violations in regard to that.”
Williamson said he talked with the assistant U.S. attorney Friday morning.
“These five individuals … are not going to be indicted by the federal government — unless more information comes forward.”
The BPD is now investigating internally whether those officers violated any departmental policies, Williamson said. The five officers were placed on paid administrative leave last week after the U.S. Attorneys’ Office named them as targets of its investigation, Williamson said.
Williamson said he could not divulge the names of the five nor could he name the officer who is expected to be indicted. He did confirm that person left the department in mid-May on a disability retirement.
However, sources inside the department who did not want to be named told The Californian that the former cop is one-time Detective Patrick Mara, who was Diaz’s partner in 2012. City officials said Friday that Mara retired on May 13.
Mara could not be reached for comment.
In his plea agreement, Diaz admitted to seizing some 10 pounds of meth as evidence in September 2012 and returning approximately one pound of it to the department.
According to the plea deal filed in federal court, “Diaz admits that he and his partner unlawfully converted approximately nine pounds of actual methamphetamine to their sole possession, which they later sold for profit.”
Williamson said he first was made aware of potential corruption in February 2015.
“We were involved in a case, a drug narcotics case with several officers, and it was divulged to us by one of the suspects that there was possible corruption within the department. I immediately placed Diaz on leave. That’s where the (Diaz) indictment in November came from.”
The chief took particular exception to the notion that Diaz is now motivated to clean up the department.
“I can tell you that his attorney has made him … out to be some sort of crusader or savior who will save our community from corruption. And I can tell you this, he is no Serpico,” Williamson said, referring to the famous New York cop who exposed corruption in the NYPD in the 1970s.
“I can tell you he didn't tell any authorities any of the information he had until the indictments were handed down and he's facing a $10 million fine and life in prison.”
After hearing Williamson’s comments Friday, Torres reiterated his support for law enforcement. The veteran attorney has long been known as a cop’s lawyer, and he’s provided legal representation to many law enforcement officers over his long career.
He said in a text message that he and his client “have the utmost respect for law enforcement and the hundreds of officers who risk their lives on a daily basis to serve and protect our community.
“Let me clarify,” Torres continued, “I am not alleging there is rampant corruption in the BPD as we speak. There was, however, for several years, on a large scale, and how it was never caught by superiors is beyond me.
“However, every organization has its bad apples, and it seems as though the federal government’s investigation has plucked them. If there are some bad apples remaining, I am certain that they are on notice to turn their lives around.”
Torres took issue with Williamson’s suggestion that the five officers were somehow tricked or convinced by Diaz to skirt the law.
“The chief says these five officers were ‘manipulated’ into violating policy and procedures by Damacio,” Torres said. “As far as I know, Damacio did not work with these officers, his partner did. Moreover, I am certain that as sworn police officers, they know the difference between right and wrong, legal and illegal.”
Manipulation, he said, is not a defense that would stand up in a court of law.
“Diaz is not a ‘crusader’ as the chief described him,” Torres said. “In fact, Damacio is a man entirely distraught and humiliated by his conduct.”
Yes, he was caught red-handed. Yes, he could have opted not to debrief the government on his actions, nevertheless, he did, Torres said.
“He is not seeking vengeance with the BPD,” Torres argued. “He knows he brought all this upon himself. He cannot believe the actions that he and others engaged in, however, he does believe the story should be told in hopes that lessons will be learned, and changes in the department will be made to prevent corruption in the future.”
According to the terms of Diaz's deal, the former BPD detective will plead guilty to federal charges of bribery, possession and attempted possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, and making and subscribing a false income tax return.
Diaz has agreed to continue to cooperate with law enforcement in any investigation in which they require his assistance.
In exchange, federal prosecutors agreed to ask for minimum sentences for Diaz. His reduced sentence could be cut by another 50 percent, depending on the level of his cooperation.
The maximum sentence for the bribery count is 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The maximum sentence for possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine is life imprisonment.