SANTA ANA — A Santa Ana police officer has been reinstated after a city administrative board cleared him of charges that he forced a young woman to submit to a unnecessary strip search in an abandoned substation, according to the officer's attorney.
Michael Cabrera, 39, a 15-year veteran of the force until he was fired in May 1995, will regain his badge and receive back pay and benefits, according to his attorney, John Lewis.
Cabrera still faces felony charges of assault, sexual battery and false imprisonment in connection with the alleged incident on Jan. 5, 1995, involving a 19-year-old. His ongoing criminal case is set to resume in March.
The woman claimed in a separate civil suit against Cabrera and the city that the officer took her to the closed substation, telling her she needed to take a drug test. There, Cabrera ordered her to strip and sexually assaulted her, the suit claims.
The administrative hearings, which concluded this week, were triggered by Cabrera's appeal of his firing. City attorneys presented testimony from the young woman, along with DNA evidence taken from a rubber glove discovered at the substation.
But Lewis said the DNA evidence was vague and the only case against his client was the word of his accuser.
"The DNA could not be specific about gender or race or even what type of body fluid was found," Lewis said.
Assistant City Atty. Tim Halford, the former Los Angeles police officer who presented the city's case against Cabrera, could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening. Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters also could not be reached.
Cabrera probably will be put on administrative leave until the criminal case is resolved, Lewis said. The officer faces up to four years in prison if he is convicted, but Lewis said he is optimistic that case will end in a dismissal or acquittal.
The administrative hearing, like a civil court case, is decided by a majority of evidence, as opposed to the standard in criminal cases, which is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Lewis said Cabrera's reinstatement means he has overcome his greatest challenge.
"The criminal case is the same evidence, the same charges," said Lewis, also a former LAPD officer. "If they couldn't show it in this forum, how can they possibly prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt? We have crossed the biggest obstacle."