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Ex-Cop Faces Federal Trial on Sex Counts

Crime: Officer fired in Alhambra for allegedly molesting a woman he pulled over is accused of civil rights violations after an FBI probe.

April 13, 2002|DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former Alhambra police officer was arrested Friday on charges of violating a female motorist's civil rights by sexually assaulting her.

Benny Marquez, 32, was taken into custody by FBI agents on two criminal counts accusing him of acting under the color of law.

A federal grand jury indictment said Marquez pulled the woman over for a traffic violation during the early morning hours of Jan. 25, 2001, and during an ensuing exchange told her to choose between being his "friend" or receiving several expensive traffic tickets.

Marquez, a seven-year police veteran, was accused of fondling her before letting her go without issuing a ticket.

Later that day, the indictment said, he went to her home, forced his way inside and tried to have sexual intercourse with her despite her protests.

The woman filed a complaint with the Alhambra police. Marquez was relieved of duty and later fired following an internal affairs probe.

His attorney, Dieter Dammeier, called the charges outrageous. Whatever transpired, he said, was consensual.

Last November, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office declined to file charges against Marquez, citing insufficient evidence. Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman, said a prosecutor reviewing the allegations concluded that Marquez's conduct was unprofessional, but that it was not clear who initiated the relationship with the woman or if the alleged sexual acts were forced.

Gibbons said the district attorney's office had explored whether to charge the former officer with sexual battery and assault with intent to commit rape based on an investigation by sheriff's detectives.

Meantime, the FBI was pursuing its own probe of the incident in collaboration with sheriff's investigators. On Thursday, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Marquez with depriving the woman of her civil rights under the color of law. The crime carries a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison. Under federal sentencing guidelines, however, Marquez would face much lighter punishment if convicted.

Dammeier said he was shocked by the federal indictment. He said the Sheriff's Department had "tracked down every female they could who ever had contact with Marquez and this was the only complaint they came up with."

He said the woman, a Chinese immigrant who speaks poor English, flirted with Marquez during the traffic stop and exchanged telephone numbers with him. At her home later that day, he said, Marquez and the woman consensually kissed and fondled each other, but she became alarmed and asked him to leave when she heard someone else in the house.

In January, the woman brought a federal lawsuit against the city of Alhambra and Marquez for severe emotional injuries and distress. The case was recently settled for an undisclosed sum.

Steven Sugars, who represented the woman in the civil suit, said she had initially agreed to go on a date with Marquez, but later that day she called and told him not to come to her home. The officer showed up anyway, made his way inside and forcibly tried to have sexual intercourse with her, her lawyer said.

"He wouldn't take no for an answer," said Sugars.

Marquez is being held pending a bail hearing on Monday.

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