Key witness against OPD officers may be released soon, allowing DA to file charges
on September 13, 2016
The Alameda County District Attorney can proceed with charges against seven Bay Area officers involved in the “Celeste Guap” case as soon as Guap is released from a Florida jail—something a Florida prosecutor said “could be soon.”
The young woman, who goes publicly by “Guap,” has been at the center of an Oakland Police Department scandal since September, 2015, when an OPD officer’s suicide note revealed that he and other officers had sex with Guap. The scandal eventually grew to encompass dozens of officers across multiple departments and led to the resignation or dismissal of three Oakland police chiefs in nine days.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced Friday that she is planning to file charges against five Oakland officers and two officers from other departments. The charges, which are different for each of the officers, include oral copulation with a minor, engaging in an act of prostitution and conducting a search of official criminal justice data and computer systems without an authorized purpose.
Separately, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced last week that a total of twelve officers will be disciplined for their role in the Guap case, subject to union proceedings.
But before charges could be filed, Guap traveled to a rehab facility in Florida, a trip that media reports have linked to Richmond city officials. Some Richmond officers were linked to the exploitation of Guap in press reports, although an internal investigation by the Richmond Police Department asserts its officers committed no crimes.
While at the rehab facility, Guap allegedly assaulted a security guard, according to a criminal information document filed in the 19th Circuit Court and signed by David Lustgarten, the Martin County assistant attorney. She was charged with felony aggravated battery, and is currently held in a Martin County, Florida jail.
This has stymied O’Malley’s attempts to file charges in Alameda County against the police officers. Teresa Drenick, a spokesperson for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, said since Guap is the key witness in the case, she must be present in California in order for the charges against the officers to proceed.
“Officers charged with crimes have a right to a speedy trial. They can have a trial within a certain constitutional amount of time should they choose to do so,” said Drenick. “We have to make sure that we have our witnesses lined up. So, we needed to make sure that we know when we’re able to secure her presence in Alameda County in order to come to court to testify.”
But on Tuesday Lustgarten said he has downgraded Guap’s felony charge to a misdemeanor, dropping it from aggravated to simple battery, because there wasn’t enough evidence to support a felony charge.
“After speaking with law enforcement, the victim, witnesses and reviewing video, there was no way that I could file ethically a charge of aggravated battery,” said Lustgarten. “I could prove beyond reasonable doubt a simple battery.”
This means that Guap may be released from jail earlier than anticipated.
“I’ve made [Guap] a plea offer. If she accepts it, it could be soon. If she doesn’t accept it, her lawyers have the option to file the motion to reduce her bond, and a judge would have to make that determination,” said Lustgarten, adding that her release could happen as soon as today, meaning September 13, though it will likely be later than that.
Lustgarten said he couldn’t reveal the details of the plea offer because it could influence a jury in the event Guap doesn’t accept the deal and her case goes to trial. If she accepts the deal, he said, she could be released as soon as a judge is available to approve the arrangement.
According to a notice to appear retrieved from the Martin County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller’s website, Guap is scheduled to appear in court in Florida on October 13. This does not necessarily mean that she must stay in jail until then—she could be released on bond, or the date may change if she accepts the plea.
Update Sept. 14, 2016: Attorneys for Guap announced she has accepted the plea deal and will be freed from jail today. Oakland North will continue to cover this story as it develops.
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