A former Bakersfield Police Department detective who was sentenced to five years in prison in October after he pleaded guilty to trafficking in methamphetamine and taking bribes will be allowed to stay out of prison until at least February.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill signed an order Thursday that allows disgraced former cop Damacio Diaz to remain free until Feb. 6 to assist with the medical needs of his father, Leopoldo Diaz.
At Diaz's sentencing Oct. 3, O’Neill had already given the veteran police officer more than two months to get his affairs in order before reporting to federal authorities Dec. 5 to begin serving his sentence. That grace period has now been extended an extra two months.
According to court documents filed in federal court, Diaz and his attorney, David Torres, requested the extension because the elder Diaz “is currently in a wheelchair and is unable to get around without assistance. He is expected to be walking or on crutches by mid-January.”
The father underwent surgery Nov. 7 after falling 20 feet from a rooftop.
Court documents added the following: “In addition, extending the surrender date would allow Mr. Diaz ample time to resolve pertinent personal issues.”
At the highly charged October sentencing, packed with family members and supporters of the former cop, O'Neill indicated during the nearly two-hour hearing that the case was among the most difficult and emotional he's encountered in all his years on the bench.
"There is no shame in admitting that this case has kept me awake at night, and few do," O'Neill said to the packed courtroom.
Diaz pleaded guilty last spring as part of a plea agreement that became public in May. He also was indicted on charges of disclosing wiretap information to a criminal partner, interfering with a criminal investigation, and other felonies, but those charges were dismissed in the plea agreement.
Diaz admitted that he and his former police partner, Patrick Mara, stole pounds of meth from dealers, and from the BPD's own evidence room, and resold it for personal gain.
Mara was also sentenced to five years for his part in the crimes.
The U.S. Attorney's Office had recommended a sentence of between roughly 17 and 22 years, but the judge had discretion — and he used it.
Many readers of this newspaper have suggested it was a case of dual justice, that is, one set of standards enforced for those viewed with favor by the system, and another set for those without resources or with no history of working in the criminal justice system.
And when a Californian photographer captured a photo of federal prosecutor Brian Delaney shaking hands with Diaz outside the courthouse following the sentencing, it seemed to add currency to the notion that Diaz was treated differently from most defendants.
"A sentence of five years is less than what we expected, but it's still a strong sentence," Delaney said that day. "Five years in jail for a law enforcement officer ... that's still a serious sentence. That' s a long time in jail for someone who once wore a badge."
Others argue that the fact Diaz wore a badge and a gun at the time the crimes were committed made his offenses worse.
Reached Thursday afternoon, longtime criminal defense attorney Kyle Humphrey slammed what he referred to as Americans' almost carnal desire to mete out extreme sentences, to brand offenders with a "permanent scarlet letter."
Humphrey, who has years of experience in both the state and federal court systems, said unlike state court judges, federal judges are appointed for life, and are therefore less influenced by pressure from the outside — pressure from victims' groups and others to hand down decades-long sentences and to "dehumanize" defendants.
"What happened to our humanity, our Christianity, when we talk about compassion?" he asked. "Why is anybody getting more than five years for what he did, cop or no cop?"
When sentences become more like vengeance, influenced by social trends and popular calls for ever-harsher punishment, the justice system has lost its way, he said.
These issues are not only relevant to the Diaz case, Humphrey argued. They are relevant throughout the criminal justice system.
"We must stop predicating our sentencing on vengeance," he said. "That's the path of Sharia law."