California Highway Patrol officer Seth Taylor, 35, pled guilty last month to four misdemeanor counts of disturbing the peace, admitting to hate-crime claims in all four counts. In 2007, Taylor was involved in two separate incidents, in which he yelled racial slurs at two different groups of Latino males and, in one of the confrontations, said he would shoot one of the men. To date, Taylor, who has not had been involved in another occurrence since that time, was put on informal probation for three years and sentenced to 50 hours of community service.
The bigger problem here, however, is not Taylor’s admitted guilt, but the CHP’s alleged involvement in keeping his identity a secret, according to a petition filed by Senior Deputy District Attorney Karen Wold. She said that “allegedly, a CHP officer told (Oxnard) officers that since the incident had occurred ‘off-duty,’ they were not required to provide the name of the officer involved.” The incident in question happened during a CHP holiday function. If the assertion is true, not only did Taylor tarnish the reputation of the CHP, but the department hurt its own credibility and integrity by not wanting to reveal one of their own as a perpetrator of hate crimes.
Adam Cuevas, coastal division chief of the CHP, took immediate actions to quell such an allegation. Cuevas told the Reporter that after the petition was filed, he had a meeting with the Ventura County District Attorney, and both parties walked away with the understanding that the CHP wouldn’t tolerate lack of cooperation.
Cuevas also said that the appropriate action was taken in addressing Taylor’s offenses, and at this time, no further reprimands would be handed down. Due to pending civil litigation by the victims of the hate crimes and an ongoing internal investigation, Cuevas couldn’t comment further on the conduct of the CHP employees who allegedly thwarted the investigation by the Oxnard police department.
The truly unfortunate part is that one person’s bad decisions prompted a wave of further inappropriate actions that followed. Although no conlusion has been made regarding the other CHP employees’ lack of cooperation, the information is already out there.
While incidents of unethical behavior seem to have become commonplace lately (including Brian Sawicki, the off duty Santa Barbara police officer who was allegedly caught touching himself in public by two teenage girls in August, and Richard Handwork, a Northern California CHP officer who was arrested this week on suspicion of child cruelty and spousal abuse this week) that doesn’t make it right.
The public depends on our elected and appointed officials to keep those with the utmost power in check. And when such people get caught doing something wrong, we must expect full transparency from our government officials and agencies to see that justice is carried out — not headlines splattered all over the news media that our respected law enforcement agencies are caught in cover-up conspiracies.
Cuevas, who has served in the CHP for 27 years, wants to move forward — since the matter is being fully investigated. But such incidents are hard to dismiss. If we can’t rely on law enforcement to do the right thing, especially when it comes to one of their own, who can we trust?
We hope this situation serves as a painful lesson to everyone involved — that hate crimes can never be tolerated, and that the public needs to be able to depend on those who have the power of life and death in their hands to do the right thing, no matter what the cost.