After San Jose police officer Geoffrey Graves was accused last Monday of raping a hotel maid, the executive director of the Asian Law Alliance, Richard Konda, warned that a lot of people would be watching to see how Police Chief Larry Esquivel handled the situation.
Konda is clearly right. In another way, however, Esquivel's department has already undergone a critical test. In the decision to reveal their dirty laundry, the San Jose police showed themselves at their most professional. A willingness to admit mistakes is the hardest thing any of us do.
Begin with this: Winning a case against a cop is difficult. Juries are reluctant to convict officers. Think of the drug enforcement agent who was acquitted in 2005 after shooting a fleeing suspect in the back in downtown San Jose.
That's one reason an investigation takes a long time. And you can bet the police have run every lead to the ground -- marking the movement of police units, finding witnesses near the room where the assault allegedly took place, tracking folks the victim spoke to after the event, etc.
You can argue the cops did not have much choice, particularly after the case was referred to them by the CHP. With thedistrict attorney's office, they were obligated to do a full-court press. Nobody wants to be accused of ignoring such a case.
But we shouldn't forget this case has its own peculiar facts. The victim was in the country illegally. She had been driven to the hotel by Graves after a domestic dispute with her husband. And she waited three weeks before reporting the rape to authorities.
That doesn't make rape any less gruesome or any less real. If someone is here illegally, you can understand how the fear of deportation might cause a delay in reporting. Whom do you trust? The cops?
Nonetheless, the delay in reporting opens an avenue of cross-examination for a defense attorney, who will demand to know why the woman waited. Consent, after all, is a standard defense to rape.
Though the woman's DNA was allegedly found on Graves' bulletproof vest, there is still much we do not know. We do not know whether Graves, 38, made any inconsistent statements when he was interviewed by San Jose cops about the September incident.
We do know, however, that he was not precisely a Boy Scout. His ex-wife sought a protective order against him after alleging a violent road encounter in a custody battle. Graves' blemishes might not make it to a jury, but they affect how his brother officers treat him.
When he released the news, Esquivel qualified his statement by saying that charges, "if proven true," would result in Graves being held accountable. When the police recommend charges against an ordinary suspect, they include no such words.
But what makes me admire the San Jose police investigators, and their counterparts in the district attorney's office, is they went from the benefit of doubt we give cops, to a telltale suspicion, to a belief that Graves had to be brought to justice. They stood on the side of the less powerful, of a woman in the country illegally, of a victim who had nowhere near the stature of a cop who worked in the department for six years.
After a lot of dogged work, they came out with a call painful to their own force. Whatever the outcome, the cops get credit for doing their jobs.