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Crime Records reveal years' worth of red flags from fired sex-crimes detective in Texas

15:36  17 april  2018
15:36  17 april  2018 Source:   expressnews.com

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A year after Kayla Williams alleged she was drugged and raped by at least four men at a house party on the East Side of San Antonio, Texas, she says she continues to bear the trauma from that evening.

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Williams, 24, says her work caring for elderly patients has suffered, causing her to switch jobs. She often breaks down and cries when triggered by a reminder of that night, and she spends hours venting to her mother and sister about delays in the criminal investigation.

Worse yet, Williams’ case was identified in records as one of about 130 sexual-assault cases that a fired San Antonio police detective is accused of mishandling — something she’s alleged all along. Since that revelation in October, Williams says she’s still been left in the dark.

“I just feel like I have no protection at all out here. Like no one to get help from,” she said. “There’s days where I just feel like I should drop my rape case because that’s how stressful it is.”

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Nearly six months after the detective, Kenneth Valdez, was indefinitely suspended, which is tantamount to being fired, records and video obtained by the San Antonio Express-News reveal conflicting accounts of what went wrong.

Valdez, 46, says he was struggling with a high caseload in the demanding sex-crimes unit, and that he tried to transfer out. City officials, on the other hand, say his mishandling of the cases was inexcusable, hurt crime victims and jeopardized the prosecution of suspects.

There were a number of red flags about Valdez, who was on the police force for 17 years, records of the Internal Affairs investigation indicate.

Supervisors had counseled him about his case backlog on several occasions during his seven years with the unit, and Valdez had a reputation among some colleagues of being lazy and asking other detectives to do his work. Other co-workers dismissed that talk as rumor and did not report his behavior to supervisors, according to the records, part of which were redacted.

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Police officials said they fired Valdez because he failed to act on DNA evidence, didn’t properly preserve or handle evidence, closed cases without a supervisor’s approval and was insubordinate. Police emails indicate some of the bungled cases could go as far back as 2010, not 2015, as officials originally said.

After Valdez was fired, city officials took swift action to prevent similar wrongdoing. An unnamed sergeant and lieutenant who oversaw the Special Victims Unit were transferred to other units, though they were not formally disciplined. Earlier this year, the department implemented new operating procedures in all seven of the department’s investigative units.

“I want to reiterate that Valdez’s actions were reprehensible,” City Manager Sheryl Sculley said in a statement Friday. “I directed an independent review to determine if there were other problems in SVU so that we can take corrective action.”

“As I’ve said in the past, this is unacceptable for our department and our community deserves better,” Chief William McManus said in a statement. “It’s important to note that the actions of this former detective don’t align with the other detectives assigned to the Special Victims Unit who work tirelessly to seek justice for victims of crime.”

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Valdez, meanwhile, told Internal Affairs investigators he feels awful about overlooking the cases. He said he became overwhelmed soon after joining the unit in 2010, due to his poor organization, the huge caseload, the difficult nature of the cases and personal issues that were affecting his work.

According to court records, Valdez’s ex-wife filed for divorce in 2009. Since then, they have been involved in a contested divorce and custody case involving their five children.

Valdez said he tried to transfer out of the unit on several occasions. A few times, he said he was one of two or three candidates for a position in a different unit but never got the job.

“It makes me sick to my stomach,” Valdez told an Internal Affairs investigator in a video obtained by the Express-News, “that I was so overwhelmed and anxious that it got to this point.”

He added, “I wouldn’t put it on the supervisors. I would put it on myself to ask for help. I should have done it a long time ago.”

Valdez is appealing the indefinite suspension. He also is appealing a second indefinite suspension from January for allegedly disobeying a direct order to end contact with a woman he was sharing an apartment with and continuing outside employment after he was placed on administrative leave.

In his appeal, Morris Munoz, Valdez’s lawyer, said the charges do not warrant a firing, especially given the mitigating circumstances. Valdez is seeking back pay and benefits.

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Munoz declined to comment for this report, citing his policy not to discuss cases.

In the meantime, Williams, who contacted the Express-News to tell her story and gave permission to use her name, remains in limbo. She said she has not been kept informed about her case, even after authorities acknowledged the misconduct.

Police Lt. Jesse Salame, assistant executive officer, said investigators have identified a suspect or suspects in Williams’ case and forwarded the information to the district attorney’s office on Jan. 10.

Leslie Garza, a spokeswoman for the Bexar County district attorney’s office, said prosecutors are reviewing the case. They can seek an indictment from a grand jury, dismiss the case or ask police to investigate further.

That was news to Williams, who said Friday she wasn’t aware that case was in the hands of the district attorney’s office.

“They all failed us,” Williams said. “It wasn’t just Valdez.”

Red flags

Kenneth Valdez was hired by the department in April 2000, when he was 28.

In 1989, he had been arrested on suspicion of criminal trespassing but was not formally charged. Three years later, he was charged with theft of a pack of baseball cards, a class B misdemeanor, court records show. He was given probation.

Currently, the Police Department accepts applicants who have been arrested in connection with or convicted of a Class B misdemeanor, under certain circumstances. Applicants convicted or put on probation for any offense above a Class B misdemeanor are disqualified.

In late 2010 or early 2011, Valdez transferred to the Special Victims Unit, where he was assigned to the team that investigates family violence cases. Early on, he received rave reviews from his supervisors.

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“Although … Valdez is a new detective, this has not deferred him in volunteering for calls or for working the early morning shift,” Sgt. Wes McCourt wrote, adding: “Valdez is not afraid to work and his attitude shows this.”

Within a year, though, supervisors realized Valdez was falling behind on his work. During a monthly case audit, McCourt discovered Valdez had about 70 open cases, a high number but not completely unusual given the workload of the unit.

Valdez was required to submit daily reports showing his progress on the cases and soon his number of open cases returned to normal.

During the next six years, Valdez continued to receive good reviews. At one point, Valdez again was counseled to get his caseload down to single digits. But he also was praised for handling the second highest number of family violence cases for the entire felony unit.

After a few years, he joined the team that investigates sexual violence cases.

While his supervisors praised him for his work, a few of his colleagues said they noticed he wasn’t working very hard. Some dismissed that talk as office scuttlebutt, but others had negative interactions with Valdez.

Detective Duane Vargas wrote in an Internal Affairs report that he once helped Valdez take a witness’ statement. Vargas said Valdez asked him to conduct the interview because he needed to interview someone else.

“We are all pretty busy and would assist each other when needed,” he wrote.

As Vargas was setting up the interview, he returned to his office to pick up a pen. He heard something in Valdez’s office and looked inside.

“When I peaked (sic) in, he had no one in his office and was internet surfing,” Vargas wrote. “I asked where his appointment was and he said she did not make it. I was upset with that because he did not come and take the interview I was about to do for him.”

Vargas said that on another occasion, he overheard Valdez interview a suspect.

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“It appeared to me he was asking questions to find a way to close the case,” he said. “I did not know the details of that case but those were my feelings.”

Another detective, Stephanie Campos, said she was responsible for training Valdez when he transferred to the team that investigates sexual assault cases. She said Valdez was unable to train with her three out of four days because of family obligations, a ball game and an extra job.

Child Protective Services investigators once complained about Valdez’s work ethic to Campos. She suggested they address it with their supervisors, who could contact the supervisors at the police department.

During Valdez’s time in the Special Victims Unit, between fiscal year 2012 and 2016, the most recent year available, Valdez received at least two raises. His base salary in 2016 was $70,919, city records show.

In those same years, he collected $47,642 in overtime pay — including $23,955 in 2016 alone.

5 times detective noticed issues with Valdez’s work © Express-News 5 times detective noticed issues with Valdez’s work

Investigation launches

5 times detective noticed issues with Valdez’s work © Express-News 5 times detective noticed issues with Valdez’s work

Williams, who alleges she was raped February 2017, contacted Valdez’s supervisors, Lt. Brent Bell and Sgt. Robert Vera, in June after she grew frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, she said. Public records and Williams’ sister, Brittany Bremby, confirm her account.

After the conversation, the records state, Bell sent an email to Valdez inquiring about Williams’ case. In a later meeting, Valdez admitted he had not been as proactive as he should have been and there was still much work to be done, such as collecting statements and evidence, Bell told Internal Affairs investigators.

About the same time, Bell conducted an audit of the Special Victims Unit. The audit showed that Valdez had a higher-than-normal caseload but fewer of his cases had been forwarded to the district attorney’s office for prosecution.

Bell and Vera counseled Valdez on Williams’ case and his workload, they said, and put him on an improvement plan.

In August, police officials learned of an alleged domestic disturbance involving Valdez, according to Salame, the assistant executive officer. Valdez was transferred to the Financial Crimes Unit and given administrative duties.

After the transfer, Vera entered Valdez’s office to collect his open cases and reassign them to other detectives. That’s when he discovered 57 cases that were not in folders, loosely lying on the floor, office drawers and desk area.

He also found evidence that had not been handled correctly, cheek swabs that had never been submitted for testing, cellphones collected without a search warrant on file and DNA evidence that had not been followed up on.

After looking into the cases, Vera discovered Valdez had closed about 129 cases without supervisor approval in the roughly seven years he was with the unit.

At that time, the Police Department’s Internal Affairs unit launched an investigation of Valdez. That was when Valdez admitted he was overwhelmed and dealing with personal issues. He did not dispute the allegations made against him.

“All I can do now is move forward and get the help I need,” he told them. “Get better.”

The aftermath

When Williams learned through Facebook last fall that Valdez was accused of mishandling cases, it confirmed what she had suspected.

Initially, she was encouraged by the news, believing her case would progress more quickly and that she would be better informed about the investigative process.

Six months later, she says neither has happened.

Both agencies declined to comment on Williams’ complaint that she was not been kept informed.

“My sister is not getting justice,” said Bremby, Williams’ sister. “Nobody is helping her. Nobody is speaking for her.”

Williams said she will remain outspoken about her case until the suspects are arrested and the case is closed. She said it will take awhile to overcome the trauma of what happened to her and how her case has been handled.

“I just feel neglected,” Williams said. “It really changed my whole outlook on life.”

Emilie Eaton is a San Antonio Express-News staff writer. Read more of her stories here. | eeaton@express-news.net | @emilieeaton

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Law enforcement official identifies suspected California serial killer as former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo. PREVIOUS: Authorities in California plan to make a "major announcement" in the case of an elusive serial killer they say committed at least 12 homicides, 45 rapes and dozens of burglaries across the state in the 1970s and 1980s.

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