SLOPD to investigate sergeant's comments on sexual assault



The SLO Police Department (SLOPD) is investigating one of its sergeants in the wake of community outcry that followed comments he made to New Times about victims of sexual assault.

In an Oct. 12 article ("Six sexual assaults reported to Cal Poly"), SLOPD Sgt. Chad Pfarr said some victims "conjured" reports of rape after consuming too much alcohol. In response, criticism from the public included concerns that Pfarr and the department may be placing unfair blame and scrutiny on victims.

UNDER REVIEW A SLO police sergeant's comments to New Times about sexual assault are under investigation following public criticism. - IMAGE COURTESY OF SLO PD
  • UNDER REVIEW A SLO police sergeant's comments to New Times about sexual assault are under investigation following public criticism.

In an Oct. 15 statement on its Facebook page, the department apologized for comments that were "not empathetic and/or sensitive," to victims and announced that the SLOPD would "thoroughly review" the recorded phone conversation between Sgt. Pfarr and New Times. If the statements Pfarr made were inconsistent with policy, the department said it would require "appropriate training and/or corrective action."

In response to an interview request, SLOPD Chief Deanna Cantrell referred New Times' questions to Capt. Chris Staley.

"Since it's a personnel matter, [all we can say is] we're looking into the matter at this point and we'll make a determination based on the evidence," Staley said.

Pfarr, the SLOPD's investigations sergeant since January and a department employee since 2000, made the comments after New Times contacted him Oct. 10 to discuss recent reports of sexual assault on or near the Cal Poly campus. During the interview, Pfarr also said the community sees many "kids" at the beginning of the school year who are away from home for the first time and "want to party."

"Sometimes one thing leads to another and they end up in a position that they—that everybody—regrets later on," Pfarr said.

He then said reports of sexual assault often go unsubstantiated.

"It seems that that's a typical response: 'I got blackout drunk and I can normally drink this much; I must have been sexually assaulted,'" Pfarr said. "I don't know why everybody automatically jumps to that conclusion but that's kind of where they go. They feel like they've been sexually assaulted because they blacked out. Now that's something they've got to deal with for long time and heal from, even though they were never sexually assaulted."

In its Oct. 15 Facebook statement, the SLOPD said it wanted to "support and encourage" anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault to report it as soon as possible.

"We don't share the view that these crimes are being made up," Staley told New Times. "We start by believing the victims when they come in to talk with us. We treat each case individually."

Morro Bay resident Desiree Kimball wasn't so sure about the department's promises. Kimball said that Pfarr's comments echoed what she was told by a SLO Police officer more than a decade ago when she was trying to report her own sexual assault to the department.

"I was completely blown away, because that's almost exactly what I was told," Kimball told New Times.

Kimball said she was sexually assaulted when she was 20 years old at a house party in SLO in March of 2005. When she went into the police department in the days following the attack to report it, she said the interviewing officer questioned her about her use of alcohol and cast doubt about the legitimacy of her claims.

"He said something like, 'Make sure you get all your facts straight, because what happens is that sometimes girls get drunk and feel bad about it, and out of their guilt they think they got raped,'" Kimball said.

Kimball said the case was eventually dropped due to lack of evidence. She was not able to remember the name of the officer who interviewed her. In response to questions about Kimball's case, the SLOPD said it could neither confirm nor deny that it handled the case, citing sexual assault confidentiality laws.

Kimball said the experience left her confused and wondering if she was to blame.

"At first I thought it was me. I wondered if I put off some vibe that made them think I'm being dishonest," she said. "If that ever happened to me again, I probably wouldn't report it."

While Pfarr's comments raised concerns from Kimball and other local residents, some community members have vouched for his character, including another SLOPD sergeant.

Commenting on the SLOPD's Facebook statement, patrol Sgt. Kurt Hixenbaugh said Pfarr was an "outstanding, ethical, and professional police officer."

"The media, however, has a proven track record of taking police statements out of context and or using partial statements for their own twisted agendas," Hixenbaugh wrote. "Let this play out and see where it goes. I support Sgt. Pfarr 100 percent."

Hixenbaugh declined a request for an interview.

As the department moves forward with its review of Pfarr's comments, Capt. Staley declined to say whether Pfarr was currently still overseeing sex crime cases for SLOPD. He said that information is protected under the California Peace Officers' Bill of Rights.

"We can't discuss what his role is at this point," he said.

Staley said the department hoped to have the investigation completed within "a few weeks." Staley declined to say what specific consequences Pfarr might face should the review conclude that his comments were inconsistent with the department's policies or training.

"I'd be speculating or guessing the potential discipline," he said.

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