If former Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Lee Caropino had worked for a different Southern California law enforcement agency, he might have been taken off patrol duty when he was first accused of rape and before his second sexual-assault allegation, according to interviews with regional police officials.
Instead, a sheriff’s department policy on internal-affairs investigations kept Caropino in contact with the public in February, 2014, when he was initially accused, leading to an on-duty interaction with a second woman who claimed the deputy raped her two months later.
Now, days after a federal jury awarded $2.25 million to the second accuser and found that the sheriff’s protocol contributed to the assault, the department is reviewing the policy that kept Caropino on patrol and in contact with the public even as he was the subject of a criminal investigation. It took nine months from the time the investigation began until he was placed on administrative leave.
“We are in the process of reviewing the court’s findings with 20-20 hindsight,” sheriff’s department spokesman Lt. Lane Lagaret wrote.
Caropino never faced criminal prosecution. The district attorney’s office, following an investigation, declined to press charges. But the judge in the civil trial told the jury that they should make their ruling assuming that at least the second rape allegation was true. Caropino’s attorney has not responded to requests for comment.
Lagaret defended the department’s policy, which says deputies can be placed on leave only after criminal investigators substantiate the accuser’s claims.
“We would be negligent if we didn’t at least find out if there is something to support that allegation,” Lagaret said. “There is a process, and the minute we can substantiate the allegation, we’ll take action. The cases aren’t just sitting stagnant.”
But other law enforcement agencies in the region said they are prepared to act much more hastily to get a police officer accused of wrongdoing off the street and away from the public.
Los Angeles Police Sgt. Shon Wells, who works in the agency’s internal affairs division, said the department won’t hesitate to put an officer on leave if the person is accused of a serious crime, even if there isn’t evidence to initially support the allegation. Wells said the commanding officer of the accused person is given a strong say in how the allegations are handled.
“If we believe it’s of a…