Sonoma County district attorney defends call to not charge ex-deputy who fondled female inmate
Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said Thursday her office still lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute a former correctional deputy who worked in the Sonoma County Jail even after the recent disclosure of Sheriff’s Office records showing he had admitted to investigators that he had fondled and kissed a female inmate in March 2017.
The files showed the former deputy, identified as Garrett Paulson, was placed on administrative leave soon after a witness to the unlawful sexual contact came forward, triggering a report to his supervisors. Paulson resigned five months later amid an attempt by the Sheriff’s Office to fire him.
Ravitch said records released in the case by the Sheriff’s Office on April 10 under California’s new police transparency law gave her office its first access to the internal affairs files, which are not typically shared with prosecutors. She said her office wanted to review them to see whether the new information could change their decision from two years ago not to pursue criminal charges against Paulson. They did not.
“We found that in this case, we did not have that independent evidence that enabled us to go forward with criminal prosecution,” Ravitch said. “You cannot prosecute someone based on what they say. (Prosecutors) must have independent evidence of the crime.”
Ravitch’s comments marked the first time she has publicly weighed in on the case and her office’s handling of it since the records detailing Paulson’s misconduct were made public. In the meantime, an Army spokesman has confirmed that Paulson is serving as a combat medic specialist stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. His Army service was unconfirmed in an initial April 14 story on the case.
In the interview Thursday at her office, Ravitch sought to correct what she said were factual inaccuracies in the summary of steps that led up to Paulson avoiding prosecution in the case.
Prosecutors decided not to file charges against him on July 19, 2017, almost a month after their first substantive interview with the victim, Ravitch said. The internal affairs report, in contrast, said prosecutors had made that determination in May 2017 — a month before the interview with the affected female inmate — citing a “lack of victim cooperation.”
That characterization and the timeline presented in the internal affairs report were incorrect, Ravitch said.
“It wasn’t based on a lack of cooperation by the victim. It was based on lack of evidence,” Ravitch said.
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum separately confirmed that the District Attorney’s Office didn’t officially decline to prosecute until July, though it was “not uncommon for detectives and deputy DAs to discuss evidence of a case and get an informal opinion,” he wrote in a prepared statement.
As part of their internal inquiry into Paulson, sheriff’s investigators reported he had admitted “that he “probably began touching (redacted name’s) ‘breast’ to her ‘butt.’ ”
His comments were enough for the Sheriff’s Office to find Paulson violated multiple department polices, including those that bar sexual contact of any kind with inmates and voyeurism. The admissions also led the agency to recommend criminal charges to the District Attorney’s Office.
But Ravitch said her office could not prosecute Paulson based on his admission alone. The legal standard for conviction in criminal cases — guilt beyond a reasonable doubt — is higher than what’s required for internal affairs investigations, she said.