SF taxpayers have paid about $17 million to continue to employ police in desk jobs for largely disciplinary reasons, including one officer implicated in the notorious Celeste Guap scandal who’s pulling up to $240,000 a year.
The pendulum of the post-George Floyd “Defund the Police” argument seems to have swung back in favor of “Fund the Police Big-Time,” here in San Francisco at least. But would voters be so in favor of more police funding if tjey knew that millions of dollars in this police funding goes to keeping disgraced officers in desk jobs, after they’ve been credibly accused of having sex with, swapping nude photos with, and doing drugs with an underage woman?
It’s been about five years since we’ve heard anything about the “Celeste Guap” scandal, a bombshell that dropped in the summer of 2016, about a then-underage woman (whose real name is Jasmine Abuslin), who allegedly had sex with as many as many as 29 Bay Area law enforcement officers in exchange for protection in her rounds as a sex worker. Guap said in 2016 that she’d had sex with three SFPD officers, mostly when she was under 18, and in the case of Officer Rodger Ponce De Leon, she says they had sex and used cocaine in his personal vehicle. Ponce De Leon was transferred to a desk job in July 2016, and the case has long since slipped from the headlines.
But now it’s back. An SF Standard investigation found that Ponce De Leon is still on that same desk job assignment, and has made a combined $1.2 million in salary and benefits in that time, including a peak salary of $240,000 in 2020.
The information comes from unsealed court records and record requests. “While names of the officers are redacted in the newly unsealed records, Abuslin identified the three she had sex with at SFPD in a later legal claim against the city as Ponce De Leon, Antonio Landi and Gregory Neal,” the SF Standard reports. “Employees by those names are still on SFPD’s payroll, department records show.”
That article is part of the Standard's ongoing series about the SFPD's version of a “rubber room,” which is a slang term coined in the New York school system that refers to a reassignment center for employees accused of wrongdoing, but union rules ensure they stay on the payroll. (Injured officers are sometimes assigned there too.) In the case of the SFPD’s so-called rubber room, the Standard reports that “Together with 56 other officers sent by police brass to the windowless room since the beginning of 2016 and late 2022, Ponce De Leon and his colleagues have cost San Francisco an estimated $17 million.”
SFPD, of course, objects to use of the term “rubber room,” and would prefer we call it the Operations Center. And the officers there do indeed manage the missing and stolen car database, and field phone calls. Meanwhile, they aren't in the field where they might end up handling evidence — evidence which could then be discredited in court if their problematic background is exposed.
“We vehemently disagree that any of the units within the department are considered ‘rubber rooms,’” SFPD spokesperson Sergeant Adam Lobsinger tells the SF Standard. “That term is derogatory to the officers who [have] sworn to serve and protect this city. Each assignment brings value to the department, and the officer’s unique perspective adds value to the assignment, including anyone assigned to the [Operations Center].”
Ponce De Leon was eventually accused of felonies including sex with a minor, possessing child pornography and sending harmful material with intent to seduce a minor. But his case was in Contra Costa County, where then-DA Mark Peterson declined to file any charges against Ponce De Leon and a number of other officers. (Peterson’s career has since ended in interesting fashion.) Then in 2018, per the Standard, Ponce De Leon successfully petitioned to have much of the image and text evidence from his phone destroyed.
He was charged internally with “engaging in sexual intercourse in public and misusing his department-issued cell phone for personal reasons on and off duty,” and apparently served a 50-day suspension from the SFPD force.
But Ponce De Leon did apparently sue the city last spring, over his lengthy assignment at the rub — errm, Operations Center. He reportedly dropped the case in November, which may feel like a legal loss.
But anyone caught up in a scandal of that magnitude, to still keep your job and make well over a million dollars at that, to most of us that would seem like a win.
Image: SFPD Northern Station via Yelp