Attorneys representing a juvenile police Explorer Scout have filed a federal lawsuit against Santa Maria, the widow of deceased police Officer Alberto Covarrubias Jr., and various members of the city’s Police Department alleging the teenager was raped repeatedly by Covarrubias in January and also faced fear, intimidation and death threats.
Covarrubias was shot and killed by fellow officer Matthew Kline, who is one of many officers implicated in the suit, in the early morning hours of Jan. 28 as supervisors tried to arrest Covarrubias as a result of the alleged sexual relationship with the 17-year-old girl.
The 29-year-old officer was on duty and dismantling a sobriety checkpoint when he was killed after allegedly firing a shot as he struggled to avoid arrest.
The Covarrubias shooting is one of eight officer-involved shootings in northern Santa Barbara County in the last nine months, and it has created a growing divide between many members of the community and the police department.
The 19-page suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court by Woodland Hills attorneys Terry Goldberg and Bradley Gage, lists five causes of action including a lack of training and supervision rising to the level of deliberate indifference, as well as negligent supervision and sexual harassment.
It includes Gloria Covarrubias, the officer’s widow, as the representative of his estate.
The suit alleges that on Dec. 31, 2011, Covarrubias “embarked on a nefarious scheme to intimidate and rape” the juvenile plaintiff, referred to in the suit as Jane Doe, and that Covarrubias and other defendants acted under the direction of the Police Department and former Police Chief Danny Macagni.
Macagni resigned Friday after being put on administrative leave earlier last week.
Assistant Santa Maria City Attorney Philip Sinco said Thursday that the city has not been served with the complaint, and therefore he has not read it.
“In any case, we are unlikely to have any significant comment to make concerning the allegations in the lawsuit until after substantial discovery has been completed in the case, which could take several months," Sinco said.
The suit alleges that police officers, including Covarrubias, who had just married his second wife, “used the Explorer program as a means to achieve sexual gratification, and used their law enforcement authority to threaten their victims into going along and remaining silent.”
The suit goes on to say that members of the Police Department, including Kline, were aware Covarrubias was engaged in an inappropriate relationship with “Jane,” and that he raped her on a number of occasions.
“Covarrubias told Jane that if she did not sleep with him that he would kill Jane’s boyfriend and her family,” the suit states. “Covarrubias emphasized that as a police officer he would be able to get away with it. Further, he would be protected by his fellow officers and the Santa Maria Police Department.”
The suit charges that Covarrubias was armed with his service weapon each time he threatened “Jane,” and that “even after the city was formally alerted about the sexual molestation of Jane, it failed to act immediately. As a result, Jane was raped before the Department took any action.”
“The Santa Maria Police Department’s failure to intervene in its officers’ inappropriate relationships with Explorers and their knowing failure to prevent officers from using pretense of state employment in such conduct demonstrated a deliberate indifference to the rights of citizens of the United States and gave rise to a reasonably forseeable violation of the rights of Jane Doe,” the suit states, adding that the department’s “concealment of the improper activity of its officers was so entrenched or ingrained ... as to constitute a policy of the Santa Maria Police Department.”
The suit states that as a “result of the negligent manner the investigation was conducted and the arrest of Covarrubias executed, Jane suffered significant emotional distress.”
It seeks an unstated amount of compensation for, among other things, economic and non-economic damages; medical, hospital, ambulance, legal and other expenses; civil penalties; and punitive damages against non-municipal defendants.