Modesto police chief 'alarmed' over suggestive photos

01/18/2012 12:47 PM

01/19/2012 12:59 AM

The Modesto Police Department has launched an internal investigation after officers were pictured in suggestive photos sent anonymously to the media and City Council.

The photos depict scantily-dressed women posing on a patrol car in downtown Modesto, some of them with Modesto police officers.

In one photo, an officer pretends to handcuff a woman who sits atop his patrol car.

“I was alarmed, I was concerned, this is not something I would condone,” Chief Mike Harden said upon first view of the pictures.

The photographs were taken in Modesto’s Downtown Entertainment District, an area of various restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Some officers in the department are assigned to patrol the area at night, mostly over the weekend the bars and nightclubs get crowded with partygoers.

Harden points out that seven of the photos appear to have been taken on the same night and with the same officer who no longer works for the department.

Harden said Officer Horacio Ruiz was “separated from employment” 2½ years ago. He would not say what the circumstances were regarding his departure or if the officer was fired or laid off.

The picture Ruiz is in depicts a woman sitting on a patrol car and holding handcuffs.

Two other photos, which are believed to have been taken more recently, depict an eight-year employee of the police department.

The name “Y. Oaxaca” is clearly visible on the officer’s uniform in one of the photos but Modesto Police spokesman Lt. Rick Armendariz said he would not confirm the name of the officer being investigated or in the photo.

In one photo, “Y. Oaxaca” poses with a woman wearing a bikini top inside a bar and the other he is standing outside a downtown nightclub near a woman who was signing a poster on the hood of a patrol car.

Armendariz said he did not know if the officer was assigned to the downtown area. He is not on leave from his job.

Harden said he will investigate the circumstances regarding the photos with the eight-year employee but points out that they are mild compared to the other seven, which were cited in a press statement released this afternoon as “completely inappropriate, unprofessional, and unacceptable.”

He also said that it is not uncommon for people to take photographs with police officers in public, adding that he was asked to take a picture with a woman at X-Fest and obliged.

Armendariz said officers are entrusted to use good discretion and judgment when posing for these types of photos. He also said it’s common for officers patrolling downtown to enter bars, looking for any potential hazards or disturbances.

Although police officials believe the second set of photographs are “less suggestive,” Armendariz said the department has initiated an internal investigation to determine if any policies or procedures were violated.

Harden said Internal Affairs officers will investigate why the photos were taken, who took them and if they were posted on Facebook.

The pictures were sent to media outlets and city officials along with a letter signed by “A concerned citizen,” who said the photos were obtained from Facebook.

“As a citizen of the city of Modesto, I am disgusted by the behavior of these officers and their conduct depicted in the photographs,” the letter states.

In the news release, Harden said department officials understand the importance of maintaining a professional organization and maintaining the public’s trust.

“Although this incident is a blemish to the department, this behavior does not represent the hard work and commitment from the men and women of this organization,” Harden said.

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