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L.A. County sheriff's sergeant accused in assaults had been focus of prior misconduct investigations

Before he was accused last month of sexually abusing three women, Mark Fitzpatrick was investigated on other sex assault allegations. He has pleaded not guilty.

July 05, 2009|Richard Winton

For days after he allegedly sexually assaulted a woman during a May 2008 traffic stop, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Mark Fitzpatrick left messages on the woman's home phone in an effort to see her again, according to audio recordings obtained by The Times.

"I just want to call and tell you good night," the married sergeant said during a 4:22 a.m. call, made just hours after the alleged assault. "I can't wait to talk to you soon."

Four days later, when his messages apparently went unanswered, he struck a more desperate tone.

"Getting the hint you don't want me to call and bug you anymore," Fitzpatrick said. "I hope I am wrong. . . . I really like you."

Prosecutors last month charged Fitzpatrick with sexually assaulting the 31-year-old single mother from Downey. They allege he pulled her over, threatened to arrest or deport her and then touched her genitals against her will.

That same month, he sexually abused two other women while on duty, prosecutors said.

Fitzpatrick, through his attorney, has denied any wrongdoing.

According to interviews and law enforcement records, these are not the first accusations of sexual misconduct against Fitzpatrick during his 19 years with the Sheriff's Department.

County prosecutors reviewed a similar on-duty sexual assault complaint against him 10 years ago but declined to file criminal charges because of insufficient evidence, according to records of the district attorney's office.

And Sheriff's Department officials had investigated charges that he exposed himself to women twice while off duty, law enforcement sources said.

"The pattern here makes it a most troublesome case," said Michael Gennaco, head of the county's Office of Independent Review, a county watchdog agency.

"It is unfortunate that more wasn't done in 1999 to identify additional victims," he said.

District attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said prosecutors were aware of other accusations, "but we aren't going to comment on the exact number yet, or the circumstances."

The charges against Fitzpatrick and the evidence that the department knew of previous allegations underscore the problem law enforcement agencies face in dealing with charges of sexual assaults by officers.

Sexual assault cases in general are often difficult to prove because of the lack of witnesses other than the accuser and accused.

The problem is even more difficult when the person alleged to have committed the assault is a sworn officer.

Although authorities have declined to release many details about the current allegations against Fitzpatrick, the woman has filed a civil lawsuit in which she gives her version of events.

She said she was driving in Paramount at 2:50 a.m. when Fitzpatrick pulled her over and questioned her about being drunk. She alleges that he said he suspected she was drunk and informed her she was driving on a suspended license and without insurance.

Fitzpatrick asked her what she would do to avoid going to jail and then asked her to show him her breasts. He touched her breast, the suit states. Fitzpatrick then followed the woman to her home and in the driveway touched her genitals, the suit alleges.

That allegation is similar to what another woman told authorities Fitzpatrick did to her on June 26, 1999. According to district attorney records, Fitzpatrick and his patrol partner stopped a car they suspected was being driven by someone under the influence of alcohol.

As Fitzpatrick's partner walked the driver to the patrol car to determine whether she had been drinking or using narcotics, Fitzpatrick questioned the passenger. Fitzpatrick told her to open her blouse and lift her bra so he could check for drugs, the documents state. The woman said Fitzpatrick fondled her, according to the records. He then made her lower her pants and he touched her genitals, the woman alleged.

He then asked for her telephone number, she alleged. She said she wrote a friend's number in his notebook, according to the report. The driver told authorities that as she was walking back to her car, she heard Fitzpatrick tell her friend "so I can call you at 8," or something to that effect.

After the deputies drove away, the women reported the incident to South Gate Police. Sheriff's officials were notified and started an investigation. According to district attorney records, detectives waited to see if Fitzpatrick would call the telephone number the woman said she gave him. He did not. Investigators then questioned the deputies, who acknowledged stopping the women's vehicle but denied any wrongdoing. Fitzpatrick told investigators he only made small talk with the passenger.

Investigators had a criminalist test Fitzpatrick's fingers for DNA evidence and seized his notebook, the records state.

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