Abuse of Power: Law Enforcement Found Misusing Investigative Tools

NBC 7 Investigates has found cases in which law enforcement officers have misused their access to the public’s sensitive information in San Diego County

NBC 7 Investigates has found multiple cases in which law enforcement officers have misused their access to the public’s sensitive information in San Diego County.

According to an annual report to the California Department of Justice and data obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, San Diego County had 20 cases of officers misusing their access to the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) in 2018.

Some agencies told NBC 7 the reported misuse was only minor and only required employees to go through training, while others ended with more serious consequences such as termination and criminal charges.

Officers across California use the CLETS system to access information and investigative files about the public. The system is available to officers from their work computers.

Former San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputy Timothy Wilson Jr. was able to access the investigative files of a minor he groped in March 2018, according to prosecutors.

The former deputy was seen in a security camera from a Vista Panda Express restaurant, groping a then 14-year-old girl from behind and running away. Wilson Jr. was arrested months later when a co-worker recognized him in the security camera footage released by the Sheriff’s investigators.

Prior to his arrest, Wilson Jr. looked up the victim’s investigative file more than 40 times, according to the Sheriff Department’s Internal Affairs investigation. During his trial, prosecutors revealed he had saved photos of the victim’s body, her name, address, and the name of the school she was attending.

NBC 7 sat down with the victim who says today, she still suffers from post-traumatic stress, knowing he knows where she lives.

“I’m so young and he’s so old. There is no point. He shouldn’t have my stuff," the teenage girl said.

Wilson Jr. was convicted and charged with committing a lewd act on a minor and taking computer data. He is now a registered sex offender on the Megan’s Law website. He lives in El Cajon, just 45 miles away from the victim’s home, according to the website.

“Since she found out that he has our address she has been sharing a bed with her older sister. They haven’t done that since they were toddlers”, explained the victim’s mother.

Another case of abuse involved a former Carlsbad Police officer. In March 2018, former Officer Jeffry Edwards was arrested by Oceanside Police for breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment.

Edwards had been an officer for Carlsbad for nine months prior.

Following his arrest in Oceanside, a spokesperson for Carlsbad Police told NBC 7 an internal affairs investigation was launched and “suspicious” CLETS activity was discovered around the time period Edwards broke into the apartment, leading to the department recommending a misdemeanor criminal charge.

Edwards was fired and in April 2018, he was charged with stalking and residential burglary.

The District Attorney’s office told NBC 7 that on October 30, 2018, Edwards pleaded guilty to trespassing and was sentenced to three years probation and a domestic violence class.

Additionally in November 2018, a member of the public complained that a Probation Department employee had improperly accessed the Probation Case Management System (PCMS) for “non-county business.”

Spokesperson Alex Bell said Probation officials confirmed the complainant’s allegations and that the accused employee no longer works for the county. The misuse of the PCMS system was reported to the Department of Justice.

Bell said the county would not release the employee’s name, nor any information on what happened, telling NBC 7 Investigates it was in the public’s best interest to not disclose the information.

After learning about cases similar to hers across the county, the teenage girl from Vista and her mother are now trying to get the attention of lawmakers in hopes that they will help put legislation in the books to protect the victim's information.

“There should have already been a policy that would have prevented this from happening. If there isn’t, then let’s get one. Let’s fix it,” the victim’s mother said.

The family has now filed a lawsuit against San Diego County over Wilson Jr.’s access to their address and other private information.

"The San Diego County Sheriff's Department feels a person's right to privacy is important and takes any misuse of the CLETS system or our department report writing system seriously,” San Diego Sheriff Department spokesperson Justin White said (read the full statement here.)

“When employees are found to be in violation of policy and procedure...they are held accountable."

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