LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A Los Angeles police officer who testified to touching a deceased woman’s breast while on duty, but testified that it was done as part of an investigation into her death was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on a felony charge.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Keith H. Borjon said David Rojas tried very hard to present himself as a “diligent investigator,” while noting that he found the officer’s account “extremely unpersuasive.”
According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, Rojas could face up to three years in state prison if convicted of having sexual contact with human remains without authority.
Rojas, a four-year veteran of the police department, was assigned to the Central Division in downtown LA at the time of the incident and was placed on leave after the allegation surfaced in November 2019. The following month, however, he was arrested and charged.
On Wednesday, Judge Borjon — who noted that it was unusual for a defendant to testify at a hearing to determine if there’s enough evidence to allow a case to proceed to trial — said he had concluded that the officer touched the deceased woman’s breast for his “own sexual gratification.”
“I think what happened here is you didn’t think anything would happen to you,” the judge told the defendant, adding that he “took advantage of a position of trust.”
On the stand, Rojas said he turned on his body-camera and used a flashlight to illuminate the woman’s body in the darkened bedroom and then touched the 34-year-old woman’s right breast twice with his gloved left hand after noticing a mark he couldn’t identify in that area.
He said he was aware that he was being recorded through his own body-cam and denied being sexually aroused at the time or trying to humiliate or degrade the dead woman.
Under questioning by his own attorney, the officer denied becoming sexually attracted to the woman when he saw her corpse.
“I go straight to the section where I see the marking,” the officer said under cross-examination, explaining that he squeezed or pinched the area to see if anything would gush out because he “had no idea what it was” and was trying to find anything “that will give me a possible lead in this death.”
Under cross-examination from Deputy District Attorney Dan Akemon, Rojas acknowledged that he didn’t touch any other part of the dead woman’s body other than her right breast after twice lifting up a sheet that had been placed over her body by paramedics who had pronounced the woman dead at the scene in downtown Los Angeles.
Rojas said he did not include evidence about the marking in her breast area in his report, but considered his body-worn video footage to be part of his investigation into the woman’s death. He testified that he was taught that officers should generally refrain from touching dead bodies, but didn’t believe that officers were barred from such activity.
LAPD Detective Sergio Ortiz, who reviewed the footage from Rojas’ body-cam, said he noticed Rojas’ left hand touching the woman’s breast and nipple and said there was no need for the officer to physically examine her because she had already been declared dead. He said he believed the conduct was inappropriate and that any investigation of the body is a task that should be left to the coroner.
The prosecutor told the judge that the central issue was whether Rojas touched the woman’s breast twice for sexual gratification, saying that there was “no legitimate purpose for doing that” and that the officer tried to conceal what he was doing with his left hand while placing the sheet back over the woman.
Rojas’ attorney, Robert Ernenwein, countered that his client could have simply turned off his body-worn camera if he was trying to hide what he was doing.
The defense attorney contended that there was insufficient evidence against his client, whom he said has “effectively lost his career.”
After Rojas’ arrest, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said, “This incident is extremely disturbing and does not represent the values of the Los Angeles Police Department.”
In a statement released after Rojas was charged, the Los Angeles Police Protective League Board of Directors said it hoped “that District Attorney Jackie Lacey charging Mr. Rojas for his vile alleged crime will bring some solace to the deceased woman’s family during their time of grieving.”
“The Los Angeles Police Protective League will not defend Mr. Rojas during his criminal proceedings, and his alleged behavior is abhorrent and an affront to every law enforcement professional working for the LAPD,” the LAPPL statement said.
Outside court after the hearing, Rojas’ attorney said the defense was “obviously disappointed, but we look forward to a jury trial in this matter.”
“We believe that Mr. Rojas’ testimony was compelling,” Ernenwein said. “Ultimately 12 people from the community will make a decision.”
Rojas remains free on $20,000 bond while awaiting arraignment Nov. 3 at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)