A former Glendale police officer has been ordered to stand trial for allegedly fondling four female shoplifting suspects during body searches at the Glendale Galleria, but seven other sex charges have been dropped.
At a preliminary hearing Tuesday, Los Angeles Municipal Judge Rand Schrader dismissed six of the 10 felony sexual battery charges against Anthony Pacho, who had been a police officer for three years until he was fired in November after a departmental investigation.
Schrader also dismissed one felony count of rape with a foreign object after the alleged victim testified that Pacho had not inserted his finger into her vagina as had been charged.
Pacho faces a Jan. 23 Los Angeles Superior Court arraignment on charges that he fondled the breasts of four teen-age girls while searching them in a back room at the Glendale police substation in the shopping mall.
Four Years Per Count If convicted, the former officer could face a maximum sentence of four years in state prison for each count.
Pacho, 27, was arrested in November for allegedly fondling nine girls, ages 14 to 18, and a 32-year-old woman. The incidents allegedly took place between May and September of last year.
However, Schrader ruled that during the searches Pacho actually touched the breasts of only four of the alleged victims. The other teen-age girls, Schrader said, were touched near their armpits and on their chests.
The judge could have reduced the charges to misdemeanors but refused, saying Pacho "was a police officer, and responsibilities should be taken into consideration."
During the two-day hearing, the defense argued that Pacho did not fondle the girls and that his actions were at worst a violation of police procedures that call for a female officer to conduct most searches of female suspects.
"These people had been placed under arrest and searched," Pacho's attorney, Barry Levin, said in his closing arguments. "What we have here is nothing more than a search with the hands brushing against the breast. There was no indication of sexual gratification. . . . Clearly, the officer's conduct may be wrong, but it is not sexual battery."
The internal investigation of Pacho began Sept. 5, when one of the alleged victims told police that Pacho touched her breasts during a search and then exposed them by lifting up her shirt. The 16-year-old Glendale girl testified that she was uncertain if Pacho's action was part of normal search procedures, but she later complained to police.
After her complaint, police interviewed other young women who had been arrested and searched by Pacho and developed the case against him from their statements.
Another alleged victim, a 16-year-old junior at Eagle Rock High, testified that Pacho fondled her breasts for two minutes while she was searched at the police substation after being arrested on suspicion of shoplifting with two friends.
"After he searched me, he said, 'When you go back into the holding cell, tell your friends nothing,' " she said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Larry Diamond said the fact that the alleged victims were alone when Pacho searched them indicates that the former officer "knew he was doing wrong" and that "his intent was clear."
"It is obvious that the acts were done for sexual arousal, and more so, for sexual abuse," Diamond said.
Pacho, a resident of West Covina, had been working at the mall substation since November, 1983. He did not testify at the preliminary hearing.
Glendale police Sgt. Dean Durand, who supervises the officers at the Galleria, said the city's police manual states that, unless a male officer believes a female suspect is concealing a weapon, he is forbidden from conducting a body search.
Under normal procedures at the substation, Durand said, female suspects are searched by a female community service officer who works at the Galleria. If the officer is not in the office, female suspects are taken to police headquarters, where they are searched by female officers.
He said a state law that took effect in March prevents male officers from searching female suspects in most cases. Durand said Pacho and the other officers assigned to the Galleria patrol were informed of the law before it took effect.
Levin said that according to Durand's statements to police investigators, Pacho was not informed of the state law. Further, Levin said, the former officer is a victim of "creative report writing on the part of police."
He said that after the initial fondling complaint was made against Pacho, police investigators "recruited" other alleged victims, all of whom were facing criminal charges.
"What these witnesses testified to was that what my client did was not a sexual act," Levin said. "The police investigators formed an opinion that somehow these searches were a perverted thing to do, knowing that these girls were scared because they had been arrested for shoplifting. When a person is scared in that way, police have a lot of leeway."