Woman in alleged assault by Modesto officer files claim

04/02/2012 4:07 PM

04/03/2012 6:01 AM

An attorney has filed a claim against the city seeking $4 million in damages for the woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by a Modesto police officer in January.

The tort claim filed last week says the Jan. 5 incident caused the woman to suffer bodily injury and extreme emotional distress, and that the victim is entitled to damages for economic and noneconomic losses.

This type of action typically is a forerunner to a lawsuit.

Modesto City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood confirmed the claim was received at City Hall on Wednesday. "We are reviewing it and will proceed accordingly," she said, declining further comment.

Fresno attorney Jacob Rivas, who specializes in civil rights cases, filed the claim against former officer Lee Freddie Gaines II, the Police Department and the city. He said he is seeking multimillion dollars in damages because of the severity of the claimed offense against his client.

"As you can imagine, when you have a sexual assault, it takes a heavy toll on the victim emotionally and physically," Rivas said.

City officials have 45 days to decide whether to accept or reject the claim. If it's rejected, Rivas said he expects to bring a lawsuit on behalf of his client, most likely in federal court.

Gaines faces felony charges of oral copulation by force, being armed with a firearm in commission of a sexual offense and a felony enhancement.

He was indicted by a criminal grand jury March 15 and is set for a continued arraignment today in Stanislaus County Superior Court. Gaines, who was a Modesto officer for five years, resigned from the department in February amid a criminal investigation into the incident.

He is charged with assaulting the 37-year-old woman while on duty. The woman worked as a massage therapist at a Modesto motel. Because of laws protecting victims of sexual assault, she is identified in the claim as Jane Doe.

Alleged incident at motel

According to the claim, Gaines called the woman about 9:30 p.m. Jan. 5 and said he wanted to visit her.

The officer arrived about 10:45 p.m. in a patrol car, the claim says. He was wearing his police uniform, a badge and firearm. It charges that Gaines entered her "residence" without consent, and "without probable cause placed her under arrest, handcuffing her hands behind her back."

The claim says Gaines then forced her to perform oral sex and that the sexual acts were involuntary, forcible, and done under severe duress and threat of grave bodily injury.

Rivas said the former officer's actions violated the woman's civil rights under federal and state laws.

Rivas said he is seeking compensatory damages for the cost of medical bills, pain, suffering and emotional distress.

His client also is entitled to punitive damages from Gaines and the cost of attorney fees, he contended.

He said his client's work as a massage therapist in a local motel room should have no bearing on the potential court case.

"I think most people understand that sexual assault is a grievous crime," he said. "Whether the victim is someone who is elderly or disabled or someone who works as a massage therapist, sexual assault is a despicable crime."

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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