In 2013, a former police trainee was called to testify about an allegation that a sworn officer had assaulted her in 2006 while she was learning the ropes at the Fontana Police Department in Southern California.
The former trainee, or cadet, testified that the incident occurred during a ride-along in Fontana, a city east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County. Officer John Garcia drove up at night to a deserted area where she said he told her that “little gangsters” were defacing walls with graffiti.
According to a court transcript, she said that after inspecting the area together, Garcia, her mentor, began joking about wrestling and allegedly began grabbing the 18-year-old’s wrists. He allegedly pinned down her arms with bear hugs while trying to kiss her, according to a court transcript, and she pushed him and knocked the radio on Garcia’s belt, causing it to crackle. The officer stopped, she said, and although she was shaken, she got in the police cruiser with him to return to town.
The next day, as documents show, she reported the alleged attack to superiors and an investigation began. Her testimony on the matter came in litigation against the officer by other women.
Garcia claimed that “he was simply going over defensive tactics techniques” with the cadet, a skeptical police investigator later testified. And in the end, although prosecutors decided not to pursue a charge of battery recommended by the investigator, Garcia was told he had failed a period of probation with the Fontana PD and quietly left the force in 2006 after about a year on the job.
Two years later, though, Garcia was a cop again — this time as a sworn officer with the Fontana Unified School District Police Department.
What transpired from that point on, critics of the decision to hire Garcia say, illustrates a need for improved and independent oversight of school police officers and their conduct.
“There are multiple issues that have huge public implications for policing,” said Brian Hannemann, an attorney in San Bernardino County.
Hannemann represents four current or former female school police employees who worked as dispatchers or as security aides and who have filed civil lawsuits against Garcia and the Fontana School district. Two of the women have already won jury awards totaling more than $1.8 million against the school district. That doesn’t count the nearly $2 million in attorneys’ fees that a judge awarded Hannemann and other plaintiffs’ attorneys in November.
The school district plans appeals. The other two women’s cases are still pending.
The women allege that after Garcia joined the school police, he raped or otherwise sexually assaulted or harassed them. The women also allege that some supervisors in the school district police retaliated — firing one of them — after they began to complain in 2011.
“It is an insular, crony set-up,” said Hannemann of the Fontana school police.
After joining the department, Garcia was appointed to lead a burgeoning school-police mentoring program for “at-risk” teenage students called the Fontana Leadership Intervention Program, or FLIP. By 2011, troubling allegations also emerged behind the scenes about Garcia’s behavior in that role.