Three officers booked for domestic violence, sexual assault in July

One Visalia police detective, two Sheriff’s deputies are arrested within 72 hours; all having to do with domestic violence or sexual assault

TULARE COUNTY – Three police officers from the county’s two largest law enforcement agencies were arrested over the span of 72 hours early this month. Each arrest has been tied to either sexual assault or domestic violence. In light of former Sheriff deputy Richard Ramirez’s domestic violence conviction, and ensuing federal civil suit against the department as a whole, a pattern appears to be taking shape.

Samantha Adney, 31, a violent crimes unit detective with the Visalia Police Department was put on administrative after being arrested by the Hanford police officers. According to the Kings County jail she was arrested at 5:09 a.m. on June 30. Jail staff said she was brought in at 7:38 a.m. and booked for driving under the influence and spousal battery. She was released less than three hours later at 11 a.m.

The Visalia Police Department did not issue a press release, but confirmed that Adney had been with the department for six years, been a part of the violent crimes unit and that she is on administrative leave.

Just a few days later, Tulare County Sheriff’s Office deputy Luis Araujo, 40, was arrested by Hanford police. Kings County jail staff said he was brought in at 10:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 3. He as booked for rape. Araujo bailed out at 3:15 a.m. on July 4.

The Sheriff’s department sent The Sun-Gazette a statement upon the paper’s request. The department noted that Araujo has been with Sheriff’s office for four years, and that he has been placed on administrative leave. They also stated that this was “an off duty related allegation” and added that “it is important to allow time for a thorough investigation.”

Besides both being arrested by Hanford police officers, Adney and Araujo were also awarded Knights’ of Columbus officer of the year honors. Araujo received his award on Feb. 8, 2020 at the Knight’s 37th annual public safety night. Lieutenant Gary Marks presented Araujo with the award and noted that the department was “very proud of him.”

“In his short tenure at the substation, he’s really become a leader and a mentor to some of our newer deputies coming to the substation and that was one of the primary reasons why he was nominated,” Marks said.

According to a social media post on the Visalia Police Department’s profile page, Adney received her award on April 23 of this year. The caption of her photo noted that she began her career with the department in 2015, and she worked as a patrol officer and a part of the youth services unit before joining the violent crimes unit.

The second Sheriff’s deputy arrested was correctional deputy Roman Garcia. He was also arrested on July 3 but at 1:16 a.m. According to a statement from the Sheriff’s office, deputies on patrol in Orosi were dispatched to a report of a male causing a disturbance. Upon arrival, investigating deputies learned the disturbance involved threats being made over a Ring camera. The report states that the victim did not have physical contact with Garcia.

“Deputies detained [Garcia] for criminal threats and intimidating a witness. During the investigation, deputies learned there was a prior domestic dispute a few days prior with no injuries and had not been reported,” the statement read.

The statement went on to say that Garcia was taken to the Tulare County adult pretrial division, and he bailed out. Garcia has been with the Sheriff’s department since 2007. After this incident he was placed on administrative leave pending a criminal and administrative investigation.

Violent crimes unit detective Samantha Adney (right) poses next to Visalia Chief of Police Jason Salazar. For her work in the unit, she was recognized officer of the year in 2020.Photo courtesy of the Visalia Police Department
Abuse and power

Despite the most recent arrests of Araujo and Garcia, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office is already facing a law suit over the department’s conduct while investigating allegations regarding former Sgt. Richard Ramirez.

On May 10, Ramirez was convicted on domestic violence and witness intimidation charges. In June the woman he abused, Jennifer Hillan, filed a federal civil suit claiming that Ramirez was protected by fellow deputies, and possibly Sheriff Mike Boudreaux himself.

“Ramirez carried out an ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, stalking, and unlawful detention against the plaintiff from 2018 to 2019, while acting in the course and scope of his employment, and under color of authority,” stated the case filed in federal court on March 15.

Hillan claims each time she reported Ramirez’s behavior between May 2018 and July 2019 to the Sheriff’s Department he would immediately confront her, meaning he was being informed of the calls. As long as she lived in Tulare County, Hillan claims Ramirez told her she would be physically punished if she followed up with reports against him. The lawsuit says Ramirez, who was known as “Teflon Rich” within the department, felt he was above the law because he was protected by his fellow officers “who ignored, belittled, or were indifferent to, [Hillan’s] reports and requests for assistance.”

“We intend to prove that this is a pattern and course of conduct of the sheriff’s department,” Hillan’s attorney William Schmidt said. “We believe Sheriff Boudreaux himself knew about this. We know there were times when Miss Hillan would report to the sheriff’s office what was going on and that information made it directly to Richard Ramirez.”

Hillan and Ramirez began dating in 2011 and were dating on and off until late 2018. Each time Hillan threatened to leave, Ramirez threatened a murder-suicide in efforts to keep Hillan in the relationship, according to court documents. In May 2018, Ramirez walked into Hillan’s home while on duty and in uniform and beat her in front of her daughter before knocking her unconscious. When she regained consciousness, Ramirez allegedly pulled out his gun, pointed it to his chest and said, “I’m done, it’s over” before walking outside and discharging the weapon. Fearing he had shot himself, Hillan immediately ran outside to find Ramirez laughing and said, “You thought I killed myself.”

Hillan broke off the relationship in April 2019 and began dating another man. Ramirez then called the new boyfriend saying he knew about the boyfriend’s criminal past, where the man lived and said he was Hillan’s boyfriend and that the other guy should stay away.

That same month, on April 15, 2019, Ramirez was on duty and in uniform when he walked into Hillan’s place of employment, walked past the receptionist, and into her office. He allegedly slammed Hillan’s head with a cell phone and barred her from leaving the room. He then left and sat outside the window of the office in his county vehicle for more than an hour. A coworker told Hillan to call the police which she replied, “I can’t, he is the police.”

The filing states, “[Hillan] felt that she could not tell anyone what happened, especially law enforcement, because all previous reports had failed to elicit any disciplinary action, even verbal censure, against Ramirez, and had, instead, been relayed to Ramirez, who retaliated against [Hillan] by further assaults.”

Sgt. Mike Verrissimo, public information officer for the Visalia Police Department, said the Sheriff’s Office contacted VPD shortly after the incident in April 2019 to take over the investigation of Ramirez.

On April 17, 2019, Hillan said she did an initial interview with the Visalia Police Department about Ramirez’s abuse of power and physical abuse of her. A second interview was scheduled for April 19. The day of the interview, Ramirez pulled over Hillan while in his patrol vehicle and said “I know you have an interview. You’d better be quiet.” He also told her he would be interviewed regarding the incident an hour earlier but in the next room at the same location. With Ramirez in the next room and fearing his threats of abuse, Hillan told the VPD officer that the strike to her head with the cell phone was “an accident.”

In July 2019, Hillan was contacted by a TCSO internal affairs investigator and was warned Ramirez would be told about everything she shared with the investigator and that the department considered her as “just a jealous girlfriend,” a “liar” and that she was “nuts.” The investigator allegedly said her reports that Ramirez battered, stalked and threatened her were closing and that no action would be taken because Ramirez was not at fault.

“While victims of domestic violence in the County of Tulare who are not in a relationship with TCSO members are given the full protection of the official standards regarding domestic violence, when [Hillan] and similarly situated women in domestic relationships with TCSO members report abuse, they are belittled, called liars, or accused of being mentally unbalanced,” the civil suit states.

The filing also calls out Boudreaux for his promise to investigate all domestic violence reports following the announcement the Sheriff’s Department had received a $450,000 grant to fund the “High Risk Domestic Violence Assessment Team.” As part of the grant, Boudreaux made statements that said anyone reporting domestic violence would be asked a series of questions, known as the Danger Assessment for Law Enforcement (DA-LE) to determine if the violence was likely to escalate. Hillan claims she was not given the DA-LE assessment until July 2019, when Ramirez was arrested, despite verbal complaints and reports of domestic violence dating back to May 2018.

Ramirez sentencing

Ramirez is expected to be sentenced on July 20, and a former Sheriff’s Sgt. Frank Zaragoza submitted a letter to defend his colleague. Filed with the court on June 18, Zaragoza directly address Judge Nathan Leedy, and levies allegations of corruption in the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office when handling Ramirez’s case.

Zaragoza states that he’s known Ramirez for 21 years and served the Sheriff’s department together in that time.

“After working long days, in the most dangerous of situations, we always implemented codified law through indisputable facts, without judgment, without political or religious influence, and without peer pressure…his case should have never reached this point,” Zaragoza stated.

Zaragoza stated that the Visalia Police Department put the onus of disruption at Hillan’s feet instead of Ramirez’s, despite the fact that he was the one who was arrested.

“When the Visalia Police Department initially received the case, they quickly learned Richard was not the primary cause of disharmony,” Zaragoza states. “They learned that Jennifer had continuous sexual relationships with her ex-husband and a new boyfriend.”

Zaragoza also made the claim that DA investigator Craig McDonald—Jennifer Hillan’s brother-in-law—allowed abuse to go on. However, there is a complete lack of evidence indicating that McDonald knew about the abuse Ramirez’s abuse.

Zaragoza said that Ramirez was never protected by anyone in the department, and said that the case was a “miscarriage of justice.” He said that he was so disheartened by the way the case was handled that he resigned on Feb. 6, 2020 because he could “no longer stomach the department and systemic disappointments.”

Cases re-examined

District Attorney Tim Ward’s cases from the Visalia Police Department’s violent crimes unit may become tenuous with Det. Samantha Adney on administrative leave, and case pending in the Kings County District Attorney’s Office. But Ward said it is too early to tell how cases might be affected.

“Our office is waiting to determine if Kings County presses charges. Certainly that would have an effect. She would in essence be unavailable as a witness,” Ward said.

If the Kings County DA does not press charges then Ward’s office will have to receive reports and determine whether Adney would need to disclose her conduct before proceeding with the cases. This would be far from the first time Ward’s office has had to deal with compromised officers.

Visalia police officers Brian Ferreira and Shane Logan were arrested on Nov. 16, 2018 on 60 felony charges of police corruptions. Ferreira was charged with 38 felony and five misdemeanor counts while Logan was charged with 22 felony counts he shared with Ferreira. The conspiracy charges result from the officers discussing and planning to file false police reports. The officers then filed false reports of drug sales that had never taken place. Those police reports were then the basis of search warrants that the officers submitted to and were granted by judges, resulting in the perjury charges.

Those crimes stretched from May 2017 to April 2018. Additionally, the five misdemeanor charges for disclosing confidential records stemmed from Ferreira sharing DMV records regarding someone’s physical and mental condition between February and April 2018.

By late November of that year the DA’s office was forced to throw out 40 cases right away. Last week he said the total number is above 50.

In terms of the two recent deputy arrests of Araujo and Garcia, Ward said that he did not believe he had open cases with Garcia. But some cases may have been submitted by Araujo that need to be reviewed.

“My understanding is that his assignment was active patrol so I would anticipate that we do. Heck he was officer or the year right? So I would anticipate, there’s going to be cases that he submitted,” Ward said.

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