One of the victims of former Kern County sheriff’s deputy Gabriel Lopez told the court Wednesday she called law enforcement 2 -1/2 years ago because she was in need of help.
Instead, Lopez, one of the responding deputies, took her into a back room and sexually assaulted her. Now, she said, she fears law enforcement and is afraid to ask for help if something goes wrong.
“Apologies are nice, but they can’t change what happened and how it affected someone’s life,” she told Judge John S. Somers before Lopez’s sentencing.
The Californian generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.
Somers noted Lopez, 28, had for the most part led a law-abiding life. But his assaults against two women while serving as a deputy, in a position of power and trust, effectively rendered his victims powerless against him.
If they fought against him, he had the power to have them arrested.
Somers denied Lopez’s request for felony probation and sentenced him to two years in prison. He will have to register as a sex offender upon his release.
Lopez pleaded no contest in July to all the charges filed against him: two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment and two counts of sexual battery.
Before sentencing, Lopez told the court he was sorry and has dealt with guilt and remorse for his actions. His voice shook at times as he described letting down his friends, family and himself.
“I hope the victims in this matter find the power to forgive me for my actions,” he said.
The former deputy had been on patrol only a little more than two weeks before the first accusation against him came to light.
A woman reported that on March 25, 2013, Lopez and another deputy arrived at her Tehachapi residence to conduct a burglary investigation.
The woman was handcuffed by Lopez and led into another room to search her for weapons, but he inappropriately touched her, at one point reaching under her clothing, deputies said.
The woman said Lopez returned to the residence later that evening, after the other deputy had left, and again touched her inappropriately after having her remove her clothing.
Another woman, 18, came forward and told deputies Lopez inappropriately touched her March 26 of that year after telling her he needed to search for weapons and drugs, deputies said. Lopez was investigating a peace disturbance inside her home.
Sheriff Donny Youngblood has said it's sheriff's department policy that generally a male deputy will not conduct a strip search or even a patdown of a female, and that two deputies are to be present during such searches.
The law firm of Chain Cohn Stiles is representing two of Lopez’s victims — including a woman whose assault was not part of the criminal proceedings — in a lawsuit against the county. Attorney David K. Cohn said the client who was present at sentencing was relieved Lopez received a prison term, but thinks he deserved more than two years.