Palo Alto cops arrest one of their own

Publication Date: Wednesday Mar 17, 1999

POLICE: Palo Alto cops arrest one of their own

Officer allegedly committed sexual battery while on duty

by Loren Stein

The last thing any police department would wish for are headlines trumpeting the grim news that one of its own has been investigated, arrested and charged with criminal acts while on duty. That is exactly what the Palo Alto Police Department is facing this week as news quickly spread that nine-year veteran officer Luis Verbera was charged Friday with two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery in two separate incidents.

"It's very painful to endure this kind of situation; it's certainly caused a major effect throughout the department," Chief Pat Dwyer said Monday. "People are saddened by the fact there's an officer involved. But we're also proud of how we dealt with it, with a quick, thorough and effective investigation that treated the officer fairly."

Dwyer said that officers conducted a month-long internal investigation after receiving a complaint in mid-February that alleged Verbera attacked a woman while on duty. The investigation also uncovered another incident where Verbera allegedly attacked a different woman; neither of them were under arrest at the time.

The first incident allegedly occurred in early November, the most recent on Feb. 11, said Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Dave Davies, who filed the misdemeanor charges against Verbera in Palo Alto Municipal Court on Friday. After a bench warrant was issued for his arrest, Verbera turned himself in that day and was placed on administrative leave. He was later released on his own recognizance. Arraignment is scheduled for April 28.

"The investigation clearly established the misdemeanor of sexual battery," said Davies. Sexual battery is defined as unwanted sexual touching using forcible restraint. Davies, who reviews all police misconduct cases for the district attorney's office, said he is unaware of any previous complaints filed against Verbera.

"Statistically, there are not a lot of prosecutions for peace officers for crimes," he said. "We assume the reason is that officers don't commit many crimes. If they do, they are prosecuted the same way as anyone else, based on the same rules and procedures."

According to Davies, the most recent local case of a police officer committing sexual battery was in 1996, when a Los Altos police officer was convicted in a jury trial of five counts of felony sexual battery and was sentenced to three years in prison.

The last Palo Alto police officer charged with a crime was Frank Benaderet Jr., who in 1996 was sentenced to three years in prison for insurance fraud, tax fraud and perjury.

Verbera, ironically, was a former detective with the sex crimes unit. He had investigated several high-profile cases, including the notorious Peninsula serial rapist, Romel Reid, who attacked women for several months in 1995 and 1996. Reid last year pleaded guilty to six counts of rape or attempted rape and four of assault. Verbera also investigated the murder of Palo Alto physicist Bert Kay.

Verbera allegedly committed the batteries while on the graveyard shift after he was reassigned to patrol duty. Such rotation is routine, serving to spread expertise throughout the department, Dwyer said. Prosecutors and police would not divulge any further details of the alleged crimes.

Police are now conducting a separate, internal investigation that will determine whether Verbera should be fired. While the investigation is expected to be concluded by the end of the week, Dwyer noted that Verbera will have the opportunity to file an administrative appeal. Dwyer will make the final decision if firing is recommended, he said.

Verbera, who is married and has children, could face up to a year in jail for conviction on two counts of sexual battery, said assistant attorney Davies. 

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