CORONA, CALIFORNIA – A Corona police officer was accused of lying in court to cover up a drugs-for-sex exchange sting operation he and another officer were running on Craigslist against department orders, court documents state.
Corona Police Officer David Stephenson Durant, 41, of Corona, told an investigator that he was under pressure to make more arrests and wanted to learn about narcotics enforcement. In the department, such stings typically are reserved for detectives.
Durant was convicted of misdemeanor falsifying a police report and misdemeanor contempt of court. He was sentenced July 25 to 120 days in Riverside County Sheriff’s Department custody by electronic ankle monitoring, and ordered to serve three years probation, court records show.
An original felony perjury charge against him was dropped as part of a plea deal, Deputy District Attorney Michael Brusselback said.
CORONA, CALIFORNIA – The conviction comes on the heels of a criminal investigation into another Corona officer, Margaret Bell, who was recently charged for allegedly failing to report child abuse.
Durant, fired Feb. 7 after more than 10 years at the department, said on Wednesday, Aug. 1, that he could not comment on the case.
“I’m moving forward with my life,” Durant said. “I don’t have any plans on staying in law enforcement. I have other plans of moving into the private sector. It’s been a hard ordeal for my family for the year it was being dealt with.”
In court documents, Durant told an investigator he didn’t know about the Craigslist scheme.
A second officer, Richard Segovia, resigned Sept. 14 after four years in the department, according to Corona city officials. It was unclear why he continued to conduct the stings after being told to stop.
The Riverside County district attorney’s office investigated Segovia, but found he did not break any laws, Brusselback said. Segovia omitted the Craigslist scheme from his police reports, but admitted on the witness stand that he used the website, Brusselback said.
Segovia, now supervisor of airport operations for the city of Austin, Texas, declined to comment on Thursday, Aug. 2.
The patrol officers had been using a Craigslist sting to make arrests, court records show. Segovia started the “party and play” stings, in which he posed as women in ads looking for methamphetamine in exchange for sex, court documents state.
The stings are a legal investigative tool used by law enforcement. But typically, they are conducted by trained detectives, approved by supervisors, coordinated with other law enforcement agencies that may be working drug cases in the area and overseen by a special unit, experts say.
“We don’t particularly like that being done by patrol-level officers,” Corona Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Kim Velasco said. “They can’t be tied up doing this kind of investigation, plus they don’t always have the expertise needed.”
In Corona, a specialized narcotics unit handles drug stings, she said.
At one point, Segovia was told by the department to stop the Craigslist stings and was being investigated within the department, court documents show. But he continued, court documents state.
He also tried to cover his activity up in court on the stand, records showed.
“Segovia had come perilously close to perjuring himself … in his efforts to keep these activities secret and, in fact, … continued to employ online decoys, despite orders to stop,” documents in support of an arrest warrant showed.
Segovia was eventually listed as a Brady officer, a legal term used for an officer whose credibility is questioned and whose status must be disclosed to a defendant’s attorneys. This could put criminal cases involving that officer in jeopardy, experts say.
In an effort to continue the arrests but distance himself from them, Segovia involved Durant, court records show.
“Durant, himself under pressure to make more arrests and eager to learn about narcotics enforcement, willingly participated,” the arrest document filed by district attorney’s office investigator Matthew Weinstein stated.
Neither officer mentioned the online, undercover aspect of the arrests in their reports, the documents showed.
But during prosecution of one of the drug cases in March 2011, Durant was suspected of giving false testimony by not telling Superior Court Judge Edward Webster when under oath that Segovia directed him to an arrest after connecting with the defendant on Craigslist.
“He had tried to cover up for Segovia,” Brusselback said.
Durant told Webster that the arrest was “almost like luck of the draw,” court testimony records show.
Webster remembered similarities between the case and a previous drug case he heard in which Segovia testified about using the Craigslist scheme, court documents say. It was unclear exactly what similarities triggered the judge to link the two cases.
The judge’s suspicion triggered a criminal investigation into Durant’s testimony that led to the conviction, Brusselback said.
“It was absolutely coincidental,” Brusselback said.
Corona police and district attorney’s officials say they did not dismiss any of the cases that Durant and Segovia investigated together. They said the arrests were still legitimate because the defendants had drugs.
Brusselback said that cases involving the two could prove difficult to prosecute.
Cases involving officers lying under oath or falsifying police reports are serious offenses, Brusselback said.
“The veracity of an officer is always at issue in any case. And once that’s been compromised, our system breaks down in any case they’ve been involved in. It’s pivotal that an officer is always honest,” he said.