OAKLAND — For weeks, one of the most vexing questions in the police sex misconduct scandal rocking the East Bay has been this: How did the woman at the center of the scandal wind up in rehab in Florida, thousands of miles away from the investigation that has implicated more than two dozen cops?
On Thursday, Richmond city officials admitted that they played a lead role in sending Celeste Guap there, while insisting that their intent was not to obstruct an investigation that has ensnared their department along with the Oakland Police Department and others. Instead, they said they did it because she was a victim in a different case and needed support, and they confirmed that the state Victim Compensation Program was used to pay for her care. Guap said a Richmond police sergeant drove her to the airport.
While insisting his department had done nothing wrong, Richmond Chief Allwyn Brown declined to discuss details of why Guap was sent to Florida, citing privacy laws for crime victims. Guap’s attorneys have insisted she was sent there against her will and accused law enforcement officials of trying to get her out of town, but both Brown and Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay disputed that Guap had been “sent” to Florida, saying that she chose to go there herself.
“This is something she’s doing voluntarily. It was her choice,” Lindsay said. “Our police department considers her a victim of a crime, and she is free to make her choices about what actions she takes.”
The young woman who uses the alias Celeste Guap has said she had sex with at least five Richmond officers, including a lieutenant, after she turned 18. One officer has been placed on leave as the city’s Office of Professional Accountability investigates her claims. In Oakland, Guap’s interactions with officers there led to the firing of four officers and disciplinary actions for eight others, Mayor Libby Schaaf announced Wednesday.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has scheduled a news conference for Friday to announce possible charges in the case.
Details about Guap’s relocation to Florida — where she is now in jail on suspicion of assaulting a worker in her rehab facility — spilled out Thursday after initial reporting by the East Bay Express.
A Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office victim witness advocate stationed at the Richmond police headquarters “helped process the paperwork” at the request of the West Contra Costa agency to get funds from the state Victim Compensation Program, said senior deputy district attorney Doug MacMaster. Additional information about Guap’s victim compensation claim was not available because the records are not public.
MacMaster said he didn’t know how much funds were secured, when it was OK’d by the state board, or why Florida was chosen as the location, but he also insisted the action was not taken to impede the investigation.
“It is ludicrous. In no way were we trying to squirrel her out of state. We were trying to help someone who was the victim of a crime to get (victim compensation) funding,” MacMaster said.
The fallout from the scandal continued Thursday, with the resignation of a Livermore police officer who had been placed on leave in June after his department learned of his involvement with the young woman. Livermore police Chief Michael Harris said the officer sent the department a resignation letter instead of appealing the recommended discipline determined at the end of the investigation.
Oakland officials were caught off-guard when Guap, who is considered an exploited teenage victim of sexual abuse, was whisked away to Florida last week. Schaaf said authorities had been making arrangements to get the young woman counseling in the Bay Area.
“We’re not happy about this,” Schaaf said Wednesday during a news conference to announce the results of one of the largest mass discipline cases in the department’s recent history.
The 12 Oakland officers, including one who was ordered to receive counseling and further training, have the right to appeal their case through a grievance process.
Attorney Michael Rains, who usually represents Oakland police officers, said three of the four officers facing termination have already resigned. Regardless, Schaaf said Wednesday that the officers’ personnel files would be updated to reflect that officers who have resigned were terminated by the city.
Meanwhile, Guap remains in a Florida jail cell on $300,000 bail. Her bail was originally $30,000 following her arrest on suspicion of biting a security guard’s arm at her treatment facility, but at her first appearance the judge raised the bond.
On Friday, David Lustgarten, assistant state attorney assigned to Martin County, will meet with police officials and determine whether Guap will be charged with the one felony count of aggravated battery. He said he expects to view a video of the incident from the facility and to speak to the victim and police.
On Tuesday, after initially refusing to fill out the application for a public defender, Guap asked for and received a Martin County public defender. She signed her name with a smiley face and heart, court documents show.
Two Bay Area attorneys, Charles Bonner and Pamela Price, have flown to Florida to represent her and to try to bring her back to California, Price said in a post to her website. They also created a trust fund for her “legal and medical expenses, and to assist any other commercially sexually exploited youth who have been preyed upon by the police or other traffickers.”
Price questioned whether law enforcement purposely sent Guap to Florida to impede the litany of internal police department investigations hinging on the teenager. She included a link to a petition calling for the state attorney general to take over the probes.
“She has no family there or any ties to Florida, or any reason to be there, other than someone in the Bay Area law enforcement community thought it would be a good idea for her to go there,” Price wrote.
Calls to Price and Bonner were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Karina Ioffee covers the city of Richmond and West Contra Costa County. She has been a reporter for 15 years, including stints in Russia and Mexico, and has won numerous awards for her work. She speaks Spanish and Russian. When not working, she enjoys doing yoga, cycling and dancing salsa.