CHICAGO (CBS) — A former Hammond, Indiana, police officer is accused of sexual misconduct involving two female students riding in his cop car, and some say the city unnecessarily put those students in harm’s way.
The ages of the students are not known, but they accuse former Hammond Police Officer Jaime Garcia of some type of sexual misconduct earlier this year.
The details of what happened are unclear, and court documents reveal the City of Hammond would like to keep those allegations under wraps and out of public view.
Garcia quit the police department in April while he was under investigation.
CBS 2 has learned that the two female students came forward with allegations after separate ride alongs with Garcia.
The city said it was “part of their criminal justice class coursework in February and April 2019.”
Garcia is the same officer accused of slapping female Hammond Police Officer Denise Szany on the buttocks in 2016. Garcia was suspended without pay for five days.
Szany is now suing the department.
Her attorney, Christopher Cooper, called the two ride alongs “reckless and ill-considered.”
“Most incredulous is that Hammond police officials authorized and allowed Officer Garcia, during the pendency of the Szany litigation, to have a female ride along,” Cooper said.
“To say it’s bad judgment is an understatement,” said CBS 2 legal analyst Irv Miller. “It may rise to the actual level of reckless disregard for the safety of these students. This department, if they had prior notice that this officer had a sexual assault in their background, they are looking at a big buck judgment in a federal court.”
The city sees it differently, calling the 2016 incident isolated.
“The 2019 allegations say nothing about what information Hammond knew or should have known or what it did or should have done as to that one instance in 2016,” the city wrote.
The city is fighting to keep the female students’ allegations under seal, away from the public eye.
“This is a municipality trying to keep it quiet and to avoid potential liability in a court of law by these two students,” Miller said.
The Hammond Police Department said that while there are standards and expectations during ride alongs, they do not have restrictions on whoa citizen can shadow, adding the department is typically not involved in pairing the officers with people who request a ride along. The minimum age to ride with a Hammond police officer is 16.