The New Vulnerable: Today’s Patrol Officer
Rains Lucia Stern, PC
Jason Daniels will never forget October 18, 2013. That was the day he found himself lured into the Humboldt County Jail, had his shoulder twisted up behind him, and was handcuffed and then Mirandized. It was also the day he reached out to the Rains Lucia Stern Emergency Response System. RLS responded and would soon learn about the allegations that led to Jason’s arrest.
While working as a patrol sergeant for the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office in the early morning hours of August 29, 2013, Sergeant Daniels saw two women who appeared to be arguing alongside the highway. He pulled over to check on them; both women were on searchable probation. Daniels searched for each woman. The woman who would ultimately become Jane Doe #1 alleged that it was during this search that Daniels digitally penetrated her vagina and ground his “lower portion into her back part.” Daniels consistently denied ever doing any more than conducting a lawful search.
Daniels offered the women a courtesy transport. Each woman elected to go with him, despite Jane Doe #1 just having allegedly been sexually assaulted. The other woman, Ruby, was dropped off at a nearby hotel. Jane Doe #1 asked to continue on alone with her alleged attacker to a different location.
Daniels had been talking with Jane Doe #1 about her addiction, her life as a prostitute and her desire to be a mother to her young son, who had been taken out of state. Thinking that he could perhaps garner crime-related information from Jane Doe #1, whom he had already searched for weapons, Daniels asked her if she would like to ride in the front seat of his patrol car until they reached her chosen destination. She accepted.
It was during this ride, while seated in the front seat, that Jane Doe #1 told Daniels that she actually wanted to be dropped off near the location where he had originally seen her and Ruby. Jane Doe #1 informed him that her boyfriend would not want her seen with law enforcement, so she needed to be dropped off a short distance away from her boyfriend’s trailer. Daniels obliged.
Daniels had informed dispatch of his times and location and the identity of the two women with whom he’d made contact. After he dropped Jane Doe #1 off at her requested location, Daniels went back in service. By all accounts, it was a seemingly unremarkable call.
A month and a half later, on October 18, 2013, Jane Doe #1 called the Sheriff’s Office, asking for Daniels, and was put in contact with him. Jane Doe #1 indicated to Daniels that she was having trouble with her boyfriend and needed to speak with him. She specified that she was at a gas station across the street from his office.
Daniels responded to the gas station per Jane Doe #1’s request. Once there, Jane Doe #1 inquired of Daniels whether he thought her boyfriend had seen him “finger” her. Stunned, Daniels replied that he would not be engaging in any conversation with her and immediately went back to his office. Once there, he drafted a memo for his chain of command, ultimately intended for the Sheriff, outlining the events surrounding Jane Doe #1.
The October 18 encounter was a pretext orchestrated by the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office. For reasons that defy logic and quality police work, the District Attorney’s Office opined that the facts before them warranted an arrest. Daniels was lured to the jail under the guise of needing to address an issue with custody. Once he stored his weapon, Daniels was arrested by the DA’s investigators, his shoulder twisted so viciously that it remains painful today.
Daniels, in an unimaginable predicament, reached out for an ally. He called RLS’s Emergency Response System. Julia Fox was on the other end of that call.
Daniels’ arrest resulted in a local media blast. His name and face were circulated throughout his small Humboldt community via internet and hardcopy periodicals.
It was after this media blitz that Jane Doe #2 surfaced, alleging that she too had been sexually assaulted by Daniels during a traffic stop. Jane Doe #2 stated that in March 2013, Daniels conducted a traffic stop of a car driven by an unknown male and occupied by Jane Doe #2. Jane Doe #2 stated that Daniels pulled down her pants and tugged on her tampon string. (Well, that’s what she initially told the DA’s investigators.)
On September 23, 2014, Jane Doe #2 filed a Request for Civil Harassment Restraining Order. In that order, she gave a factual summary of the alleged March 2013 incident. Jane Doe #2 stated, in part, that “he [Mr. Daniels] ordered me to pull up my shirt while he stood behind me groping my breasts. He then ordered me to pull down my pants and remove my tampon.” Jane Doe #2 signed this declaration under penalty of perjury. (Well, that’s what she represented to a Superior Court judge in her application.)
During the preliminary hearing in this matter, while under oath, Jane Doe #2 testified that she volunteered to pull down her pants to prove to Daniels that she was not hiding contraband and that he rubbed her breasts over her clothing. Jane Doe #2’s testimony was such a departure from her previous accounts that, without a single question posed by the defense, there was no holding order as to the charge reflecting the alleged conduct with Jane Doe #2. The DA’s Office filed a misdemeanor with regard to Jane Doe #2 in the information, their post-preliminary hearing charging document.
Daniels did not waiver in his resolve to be vindicated, and RLS remained steadfast as his ally and advocate. Despite our attempts to promote a balanced and thoughtful analysis of this case and these alleged victims, the DA’s Office was relentless in its pursuit of Daniels. Daniels was equally relentless in protecting his reputation. This case, with mandatory prison exposure, had to be tried.
On May 31, 2016, the trial commenced before the Honorable Timothy Cissna in the Humboldt County Superior Court. Judge Cissna gave us favorable pretrial rulings that we felt set the tone for our trial. He excluded inflammatory text messages found on Daniels’ cell phone, texts that had been exchanged humorously with friends that the DA’s Office was attempting to introduce as evidence of sexual deviancy. We were able to get an excellent jury empaneled, reflecting a true cross-section of Daniels’ community. We found this especially heartening given the distressing anti-law-enforcement climate we’re all confronting and the fact that we had been cautioned that Humboldt County juries were historically not pro-law-enforcement.
The jury was sworn and the show began. Jane Doe #1, surprisingly enough, was brought into court with the assistance of a Victim’s Services representative. She had a huge blonde wig, there were open sores all over her arms and face, and her eyes looked haunting, as they were entirely black with dilated pupils. She nodded in and out of consciousness while on the stand. In an attempt to establish identity, the prosecuting attorney, Brie Bennett, asked if Jane Doe #1 recognized anyone in court from the night of the incident. Jane Doe #1 gave a thoughtful review of the seated jurors and then replied that she did not. At times, Jane Doe #1 nodded off completely. Ultimately, Judge Cissna ordered a recess. During that recess, Jane Doe #1 allegedly stopped breathing and paramedics were summoned. The jurors had to be sequestered in a back room so as to not witness Jane Doe #1 being removed on a gurney. We recessed for the day.
We reconvened the next day. Jane Doe #1 returned in marginally better shape than she had been the day prior; however, she was able to complete her testimony. Jane Doe #1 generally repeated what she had previously told DA investigators about the alleged assault by Daniels. She was otherwise as she had typically been, an obvious drug addict with a long and hard history on the street. We did find it interesting that — in a case where she was asked to recount what would be a horrible experience, were it true — when she was asked what she had been wearing, Jane Doe #1 described a shirt that she had transformed into a short dress because she “had to look sexy for my boyfriend.”Up next was DA Investigator Martin Morris, who, along with his partner, Investigator Tom Cooke, traveled out of the county for several hours to a location where they had been advised they could find Jane Doe #1. Investigator Morris testified that, with County funds, he did buy Jane Doe #1 several items that she had “loaded up on” at a local CVS, alcohol among them, and that he gave her $120 cash that she took, unsupervised, into a trailer in a bad part of town before returning to the car he had been driving. Investigator Morris was uncertain as to whether Jane Doe #1 consumed the alcohol he purchased for her while she was seated in the back of the County-owned car he was driving.
After several other unremarkable witnesses, Ms. Bennett called Jane Doe #2. When confronted with the various iterations of her interaction with Jason, Jane Doe #2 said pointedly, “Those are inconsistencies.” We agreed.
We presented our case, starting with testimony from Eureka Police Officer Ryan McElroy that Jane Doe #1 had threatened him when he lawfully contacted her. Officer McElroy testified that Jane Doe #1 cautioned him that she had gotten a cop fired before and said, “Don’t be next.”
Jason Daniels testified in his own defense. He gave a thoughtful and compelling account of the night he contacted Jane Doe #1. He wholly denied having done anything inappropriate or unlawful during his search of her.
Unfortunately, as to Jane Doe #2, Daniels had no recall of the unremarkable traffic stop. He did know, unequivocally, that he did not do any of the things she alleged.
The jury believed him. After having received the case just before the lunch hour on Wednesday, June 15, the clerk informed us on Thursday, June 16, right at the lunch hour, that the jury had reached a verdict.
In a packed courtroom, filled with family, friends, and foes, Jason Daniels was acquitted on all charges. A nightmare that had haunted him and his family for nearly three years was finally over.
During a celebratory dinner after the verdict, Daniels told Mike Rains by phone, “You said you would send me a tiger. You sent me a tiger!” It was clear throughout this ordeal, and especially on the night of the verdict, that Daniels found solace in knowing that RLS would go to the mat with him and for him.
Jason Daniels would like to thank Attorneys Julia Fox and Steven Betz, everyone at Rains Lucia Stern, and PORAC LDF for their hard work and support to clear his good name.
About the Author
Julia Fox is a senior associate in the Rains Lucia Stern Legal Defense Group, representing peace officers in administrative investigations and disciplinary matters. Julia, a former deputy district attorney, is a very experienced trial lawyer and comes from a police family: her father, brother, and husband are all cops.