Publication Date: Friday Jul 30, 1999
COURTS: Ex-cop makes deal to avoid prisonLuis Verbera pleads no contest to string of sexual assaults
by Marcella Bernhard
Reaching a deal with prosecutors that will allow him to avoid state prison, former Palo Alto police officer Luis Verbera pleaded no contest Tuesday to charges that he sexually attacked five women while on duty, including one handcuffed in the back of his police car.
Verbera resigned from the department in March after two women accused the officer of fondling them, sometimes under the pretense of a necessary search. Three other women came forward with similar accounts soon after the resignation.
If convicted, Verbera--who faced four felony charges of sexual battery and one charge of misdemeanor battery--would have faced up to seven years in state prison.
Instead, he will likely serve one year in county jail, possibly in a work furlough program where inmates spend nights in lockup but are free to work outside the jail during the day. Pursuant to prosecutor Joanne McCracken's request, Verbera must participate in a work furlough program in Santa Clara County.
Under the terms of his agreement with prosecutors, Verbera also must serve five years' probation, pay up to $10,000 in restitution to his victims, agree to counseling and register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Verbera's no-contest plea is essentially the same as a guilty plea, said Dave Davies, the Santa Clara County assistant district attorney responsible for the Verbera case. The no-contest plea differs only in the context of a civil lawsuit related to misdemeanor charges, where a no-contest plea, unlike a guilty plea, cannot be used as evidence against the defendant.
McCracken said the resolution was "appropriate," given the severity of Verbera's punishment and the court's treatment of Verbera's victims, who will now be spared the added trauma of testifying in court.
If they choose to do so, victims will be permitted to address the court at Verbera's sentencing, scheduled for Sept. 23.
"The victims generally feel very traumatized, but they feel a sense of relief that the case has been resolved before trial," McCracken said.
The charges against Verbera were upgraded from misdemeanors to felony offenses after the victims alleged that Verbera had physically restrained them and used his position as a police officer to threaten and intimidate, McCracken said. Verbera was accused of molesting women in his custody as well as those not under arrest, whom the officer encountered while on duty.
"We put a lot of faith in police officers and as a society put them in a position of trust," McCracken said. "When a police officer misuses that position of trust it is a very serious crime."
"This is the saddest of all cases that come before us," said Santa Clara County Municipal Court Judge Charles W. Hayden, as Verbera entered his plea Tuesday afternoon. "But I'm glad we have been able to resolve this without putting the victims through the pain and agony of protracted litigation," Hayden said.
Verbera answered Hayden's perfunctory questions and entered his plea quietly, making no remarks other than his repeated declaration of "no contest" to four charges stretching back to October 1996.
Palo Alto Police Chief Pat Dwyer said the department--which began reviewing and updating its procedures for dealing with citizen complaints before this incident--responded quickly to help the five victims.
"It was an uncomfortable series of events and very painful to the department. But I am proud that we responded very professionally and quickly to help the victims," Dwyer said.