The Orange County Register
A top aide to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón’s allegedly threatened to include an Azusa police officer who arrested him earlier this month for public intoxication in a database for dishonest cops, several prosecutors said Wednesday.
Joseph Iniguez, 36, who is Gascon’s chief of staff, became belligerent and threatening toward the officer after the Tesla driven by his fiancé was stopped for an illegal U-turn around 11:30 p.m. Dec. 11 in the 900 block East Alosta Avenue, the prosecutors told the Southern California News Group. All of the prosecutors asked not to be identified because they fear retaliation.
“At one point he told the officer that pulled them over ‘you f—– up’ and then said he’d put him in the Brady system,” one prosecutor recounted.
Under a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland, law enforcement officers who have a record of knowingly lying in an official capacity are added to a so-called Brady list. Prosecutors then must notify defendants and their attorneys whenever an officer on that list is involved in their case.
Once an officer is in the Brady system, his or her credibility can be attacked in court. For some, such a move can be career-ending, a prosecutor said.
Iniguez was arrested for allegedly being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, a misdemeanor offense, and booked into jail. He was released about four hours later.
Iniguez told the Los Angeles Times he and his fiancé were driving home from a wedding and stopped at a restaurant in Azusa when a police officer approached their vehicle. Additionally, Iniguez said he stepped out of the car to film the interaction because he was concerned for the welfare of his fiancé, who was not arrested.
Iniguez, who could not be reached for comment, has filed a complaint against the arresting officer with Azusa police, sparking an investigation, although it isn’t clear by whom.
Potential conflict of interest
In a statement, the Azusa Police Officers Association called Iniguez’s complaint frivolous, retaliatory and an abuse of power, and said Gascon’s aide is making a “spectacle” out his arrest.
“The problem is Mr. Iniguez is refusing to relay all of the facts of the incident,” union President CJ Wilkins said. “The facts of the case will eventually be released, and when this frivolous and retaliatory complaint is complete, I am most certain the officer will be found to have been in complete compliance with the state law, and department policy. The officer that arrested Mr. Iniguez did so with full legal authority and without malice.”
The Tesla that Iniguez was traveling in likely has a sensory system that automatically captured video of the traffic stop and his subsequent arrest. However, neither that recording nor the video shot by Iniguez of the incident has been released.
However, a bigger issue is that Iniguez is the head of the district attorney’s Justice Integrity Division that oversees officer misconduct, creating a conflict of interest in impartially investigating the incident.
“So he gets arrested, threatens a cop, and comes to work on Monday overseeing (justice integrity) officers,” one prosecutor said. “Office policy requires he notify the bureau director, then be removed from that position pending an investigation which never happened.”
Alex Bastian, a special adviser to Gascón, declined to specifically comment on Iniguez’s arrest because it involves a personnel matter. Any potential criminal matters arising from the incident will be forwarded to the California Attorney General’s Office for review to avoid a potential conflict of interest, he said.
Wilkins isn’t optimistic Azusa Police Chief Mike Bertelsen will objectively investigate the arresting officer’s actions involving Iniguez.
Union critical of police chief
“Fortunately for Mr. Iniguez, Azusa Police Department is currently being led by a police chief whom is cowering to Iniguez’s political pressure,” Wilkins said. “The chief will seek to please Mr. Iniguez and investigate a by-the-book arrest, instead of supporting his officer, who is a seasoned field supervisor, with several awards that he has received throughout his career for being exemplary and brave.”
Among the officer’s awards are several recognitions from Mothers Against Drunk Driving for reducing alcohol-related traffic collisions, Wilkins said
“ The Azusa Police Officers Association stands behind the officer that made the arrest, and for doing his job, unlike the department administration,” he said. “Mr. Iniguez and his office are quick to blame officers for wrongdoing, but they refuse to look in the mirror to put any fault on themselves when they get caught so intoxicated in public they can no longer care for their own safety.”
Chief blasts union
Bertelsen fired back in a statement that the union does not speak for the Police Department.
“The men and women of our Police Department do an outstanding job every day serving our community with honor and they have my full support,” Bertelsen said, criticizing the union for engaging in bullying tactics and vowing to cooperate in a thorough investigation.
“The union’s leaders have resisted implementation of body-worn cameras and internal affairs investigations into alleged on-duty and off-duty misconduct,” the chief said. “I am disappointed that the union’s leadership is engaging in this type of behavior at a time when they should be working with us to prevent and solve crime, fill vacancies and ensure our policies meet the expectations of our community.”