SANTA ANA — A 14-year Los Angeles police officer surrendered Friday to face allegations that he engaged in lewd activities in a parking lot and then led Buena Park police officers on a high-speed chase.
David Robert Bergstrom, 36, of Orange pleaded not guilty to charges of lewd conduct, evading arrest, drunk driving and trying to bribe a witness in connection with an incident that began in the parking lot of an adult theater.
"I can tell you the crimes are very serious and it's even more egregious when you see that they're committed by a veteran police officer," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Marc Kelly. "When a police officer crosses the line and engages in criminal conduct, he's going to be prosecuted like any other defendant."
Defense attorney Michael Stone said the charges against Bergstrom, who was assigned to Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division, are out of character.
"There's no questions about that," said Stone, a former Orange police officer who has known Bergstrom for more than 20 years. "This has been a blow to everybody at Rampart.
"He's one of these guys you're glad to have on the street. His personnel package is full of commendations for good police work."
Bergstrom's arrest came after a three-week investigation into the off-duty incident on July 22 outside the Studio Theater, an adult cinema in the 7800 block of Beach Boulevard.
Authorities allege that Bergstrom, who is married, was engaged in lewd conduct with a 19-year-old stripper from Anaheim in his pickup truck when he was approached by officers at about 1:30 a.m, Buena Park Police Spokesman Lloyd Schwengel said.
The officers initially suspected that another man, whom they saw peeking inside the truck, was trying to burglarize it, Schwengel said. But a closer look revealed two people engaging in sex acts inside, he said.
Upon seeing the officers, the driver started his truck and sped from the parking lot, Schwengel said.
The driver led officers on an erratic freeway chase at speeds up to 80 m.p.h., first going on the Riverside Freeway and then heading the wrong direction at exit ramps. Several police cars then chased the driver on surface streets and onto the Santa Ana Freeway.
When the driver exited the freeway, officers lost track of the truck. Several minutes later, they found the vehicle abandoned behind an apartment complex.
Police could not locate the driver, but found the woman passenger hiding under some bushes at a nearby apartment building, Schwengel said. The woman, whom police did not identify, was charged with engaging in lewd conduct and possession of methamphetamine, authorities said.
The woman, a stripper who works near the Rampart Division, told investigators the driver of the truck was a police officer, Schwengel said. The two had been on a double date and had visited another adult theater earlier that night, he said.
Detectives traced the truck's license plate to Bergstrom and notified Los Angeles Police Department, which conducted an internal investigation and requested blood samples from the officer, police said.
Los Angeles police spokesman James T. McBride said Bergstrom is no longer on his field assignment. "He has been assigned to his home," McBride said.
The internal investigation led authorities to charge Bergstrom with attempted bribery. "He tried to influence the testimony of a material witness and interfere with a criminal investigation," Kelly said, declining to elaborate.
An arrest warrant for Bergstrom was issued late Thursday, and about 8 the next morning he surrendered to authorities at the Orange County Jail. He was accompanied Friday by defense attorney Stone, who represented Officer Lawrence Powell in the Rodney G. King civil rights case.
"He's one of the most productive officers they have at Rampart in terms of getting the job done and putting the bad guys in jail," said Stone, who worked with Bergstrom in the 1970s at the Orange Police Department. "This is a real shame for this thing to develop as it did."
Neighbors on a quiet residential street where Bergstrom has lived for about 15 years were shocked and saddened by his arrest. They described Bergstrom as a proud new father and a kind neighbor who would spend Sundays mowing his parents' lawn.
Wilma Probyn, 68, who has known Bergstrom since he moved into the neighborhood, said he is the type of person who offered help to anyone who needed it. After Christmas, Bergstrom helped her take down her Christmas lights and often would take time out to go out for pizza with her granddaughter.
Earlier this year, Bergstrom and his wife invited Probyn to dinner when her husband was hospitalized. "He is just the most laid-back, nice guy," she said.
After the July 22 incident, Probyn said, the officer was devastated. Tension arose between he and his wife, who told friends she would "stand behind her husband."
Bergstrom was freed Friday on his own recognizance. He was scheduled to return to court Sept. 26 for a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to warrant a trial.
Bergstrom filed a lawsuit last year against the Los Angeles Police Department and Chief Willie Williams after he was ordered to take a 44-day leave without pay for willful disobedience in connection with a 1992 incident. Bergstrom had chased and arrested a car thief although he had been ordered repeatedly to another assignment, according to court records. He unsuccessfully petitioned a Los Angeles judge to order the Police Department to restore benefits and pay lost during his leave.
Times Staff Writer Anna Cekola contributed to this report.