A federal jury awarded $2.25 million on Friday, Aug. 4, to an Orange County woman who alleged an on-duty sheriff’s deputy raped her in Dana Point only four months after another woman accused the same deputy of sexual assault.
The jury found that the county was liable because of a sheriff’s department policy that allowed former deputy Nicholas Lee Caropino to stay on patrol duty, and remain in contact with the public, even as he was under criminal investigation for the first sexual assault allegation.
Alexa Curtin’s lawsuit alleged that in April 2014, Caropino pulled her over as she was leaving her home, following an argument with her boyfriend. She alleged that after the deputy made inappropriate comments about her underwear, which he found in her car, he ordered her to stay put. He then returned to the scene, in his vehicle and out of uniform, got into the passenger seat of her car, and raped her. Curtin was 22 at the time.
Two months prior, in Feb. 2014, a then 18-year-old San Juan Capistrano woman made similar accusations against Caropino, alleging the deputy came to her home following her release from jail in Sept. 2013 and sexually assaulted her there.
Curtin’s attorneys argued that the county was partially responsible for Caropino’s second alleged assault due to a sheriff’s department policy that stalled the agency’s internal probe while a criminal investigation was underway. That policy meant Caropino was not placed on leave until nine months after the first sexual-assault allegation, said Jeremy Jass, one of Curtin’s attorneys.
“The problem is, during those nine months, he was in the field,” Jass said. “And it was during those nine months that he raped Ms. Curtin.”
The sheriff’s department did not immediately respond to questions about whether the department would reconsider its policy.
A District Attorney criminal investigation into Caropino’s conduct resulted in no charges.
However, the judge in the civil trial told jurors that there was no question the rape occurred, and that their job instead was to determine if the sheriff’s department’s policy contributed to it. The judge said there was no evidence to dispute Curtin’s testimony because Caropino invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when he was asked about the incident.
Caropino and his attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.
County supervisors authorized lawyers to fight Curtin’s case in February, rather than…