The bad badges
Crimes involving Northern California officers range from sexually assaulting the elderly to soliciting prostitution
News that Joseph James DeAngelo worked in law enforcement during the years he is suspected of carrying out merciless home invasion assaults in Sacramento as the East Area Rapist has both surprised and validated armchair investigators who followed the case over the four decades it remained cold.
But it wasn’t shocking to Kristen DiAngelo.
The onetime escort who now helps sex workers in crisis was nearly killed in the 1980s by a man who lured her into his home, produced a fake badge and raped her repeatedly. DiAngelo has since provided outreach to others who have been assaulted or exploited by the real thing.
While she was conducting a survey of local sex workers in 2015, for instance, a handful of women told DiAngelo of a Sacramento police officer they called the “white ninja.” The officer got the nickname because he would trade cocaine for information or sex, and threaten sex workers with arrest or physically assault them if they didn’t comply. The officer no longer works for the department. SN&R isn’t identifying him by name because the allegations against him haven’t been independently verified.
“He was just a really bad cop,” DiAngelo said.
Sex crimes involving onetime lawmen, while rare, aren’t entirely unique.
Gary Dale Baker is at the High Desert State Prison in Susanville, where the 54-year-old is a little more than two years into a life sentence for the ruthless crimes he committed while employed by the Sacramento Police Department. Baker was convicted in 2015 for sexually assaulting an elderly stroke victim unable to speak. Authorities only learned the assailant’s identity after concerned family members installed a motion-activated camera in the victim’s apartment in 2012, a year after the assaults began.
More recently, the Contra Costa County district attorney’s office charged a local sheriff’s deputy assigned to the West County Detention Facility with having illicit sex with two inmates there. Patrick Morseman of Vallejo faces four felony counts, the DA’s office announced in a May 4 release.
Because of their vulnerable status and illicit profession, sex workers are often among the first victims of serial predators, say those who work with them. Robert Pickton was able to make upward of 50 women disappear before authorities in Canada stopped him. Most of Pickton’s known victims were sex workers and from the country’s indigenous population.
“These were highly transient women, so society didn’t care that they were missing,” said Laura Dilley, executive director of the PACE Society, which was founded by and for sex workers in the Vancouver area.
The same holds true when the offenders happen to work in law enforcement.
The Bay Area was rocked in 2016 by reports that more than two dozen officers were carnally sharing a self-identified sex worker, including when the victim was a teenager. The exploitation came to light around the time that one of the implicated officers took his own life, the East Bay Express reported. The Alameda County district attorney’s office ended up filing criminal charges against six law enforcement officers, but most of those cases have stalled out. The city of Oakland agreed to pay a $1 million settlement to the victim, who happens to be the daughter of an Oakland police dispatcher.
Some assailants worked in a support capacity of the justice system. Last month, a former Bureau of Prisons employee was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison for sexually trafficking a 16-year-old girl.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Eastern District of California, Charles Carstersen, 55, of Manteca was working as a technician for the federal prison system when he met the victim at a Sacramento motel and paid her $200 for sex. Soon, Carstersen was acting as the girl’s “sugar daddy,” says an arrest warrant affidavit signed by FBI Special Agent Gabriela Betance, paying for the victim’s cellphone, renting rooms on her behalf and helping post ads to the website Backpage.com. (Backpage was recently seized by federal authorities claiming it’s a hub for illegal prostitution and child exploitation.)
A Roseville resident tipped a patrol officer to the victim’s existence, the affidavit states. An undercover operative then arranged a rendezvous through Backpage. At the Heritage Inn on Harding Avenue, a task force entered the room and detained the undressed girl, who told authorities she was a runaway who learned the prostitution trade from her biological sister.
She allowed authorities to search the cellphone Carstersen had given her, which turned up countless text messages between the two, with Carstersen inveigling himself into the victim’s life, first as a purported romantic savior, then as a wannabe manager always complaining about money issues and bitter about not being given absolute control over the youth’s body.
In one petulant exchange, the 50-something Carstersen texted the teenager, “I mean how many guys have you fucked since we left what’s it been what’s the exact number the real number,” according to the affidavit. “You’re more interested in smoking weed then [sic] accomplishing the task at hand you’re not focused[.]”
Following Carstersen’s sentencing, the head of the FBI’s Sacramento field office issued a scathing rebuke for the former justice system professional.
“Charles Carstersen’s illegal activities were in direct opposition to the core values of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a system that holds its employees to a high standard of character and conduct,” Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan said in a statement. “Commercial sexual exploitation of a minor is a serious crime that preys upon vulnerable young men and women in our community. As Carstersen’s victim discovered, there is hope. We encourage anyone who may be a victim to reach out to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center by calling 888-373-7888 or their local FBI office to obtain help and ensure the exploiter faces justice.”
Not all crimes perpetrated by law enforcement and involving sex workers are violent. Kevin Anthony Steed worked as a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department sergeant when he was arrested in Roseville for soliciting sex in December of last year.
According to the website Transparent California, Steed earned $233,536.62 in total compensation in 2016, including approximately $52,000 in overtime and additional pay. In February, a Placer Superior Court judge ordered Steed to serve eight days in jail and pay a $220 fine, as well as a $105 incarceration fee, online court records show. He remains employed by the agency, a spokesman said.
Former Sacramento police Officer Isaac Richard Knutila was reported to be involved in prostitution-related activity at a hotel in October 2016 when his department launched an investigation into the allegations. After weeks of surveillance and undercover operations, police confronted Knutila the following month, finding him with “a usable amount of” heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana and his department-issued sidearm, a loaded .40-caliber gun, according to department and DA’s office releases. Police also searched Knutila’s home in El Dorado County, where they found an illegal assault weapon that court documents describe as a Ruger Mini-14 .223-caliber rifle.
Knutila pleaded no contest to the charges this past January, and was sentenced to formal probation and mandatory drug treatment.
“The men and women in law enforcement do a tremendous job in protecting and serving our community,” District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said in a statement at the time of his plea. “However, if a law enforcement officer or any citizen engages in criminal activity, they will be held accountable regardless of their profession or any other status they may have.”
Much remains unknown about Joseph DeAngelo’s time on the force between 1973 and 1979, when he worked for police departments in surrounding counties. The Exeter Police Department in Tulare County has virtually no records from the time DeAngelo, now 72, reportedly worked there. The Auburn Police Department in Placer County kept better track of DeAngelo, who was fired in 1979 for shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent in Citrus Heights, where authorities found DeAngelo living and arrested him last month. Auburn’s police chief recently told The Sacramento Bee the department would be reevaluating unsolved crimes committed in the city during the time DeAngelo was an unremarkable officer there.
Kristen DiAngelo was a sex worker during the height of the East Area Rapist’s activity in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and said street workers were hyper aware of his existence. But no one speculated about his real identity. For workers, DiAngelo said, it was common for officers to extort them into trading sexual favors for their freedom. Sometimes they were taken for both.
“I don’t know any sex worker who worked the stroll for any length of time who didn’t know that was part of the job,” she said.