A Los Angeles police officer who admitted to having touched the chest of a dead woman in the line of duty was facing a criminal trial.
David Rojas, 29, who has served with the LAPD for four years, is charged with the felony of sexual contact with human remains after authorities said he touched Elizabeth Baggett’s right breast after the 34-year-old died on October 20. 2019.
Judge Keith H. Borjon on Wednesday heard testimony from Rojas, who said he touched the woman’s chest twice because he believed it was a trail that needed to be examined. But the judge found the story “extremely unconvincing” and invited Rojas to touch the woman’s chest for his own sexual gratification.
Borjon said Rojas has enough evidence to stand trial.
Rojas and his partner, who were assigned to the Central Department in the city center, went to the house where there was a message about the corpse. Paramedics pronounced Baggett dead and covered her body with a sheet, after which Rojas’ partner returned to the patrol car to collect something. While his partner was away, Rojas turned off his body-worn camera, which nevertheless continues to record for two minutes, and videotaped the touching of a woman’s chest, Los Angeles police said.
After body camera footage was discovered by a detective investigating Baggett’s death, Rojas was sent on vacation, as the Los Angeles Times first reported in early December. He was subsequently arrested and charged with a felony of violating state security codes regarding sexual activity with human remains.
On rare occasions, the Los Angeles Police Defense League, a union that represents rank-and-file officers, has refused to defend Rojas, saying it hopes that accusations against him “of his heinous alleged crime will bring some consolation to the family of the deceased woman during their time of grief.”
During his unusual testimony at the preliminary hearing on Wednesday, Rojas said he turned on the camera and used a flashlight to inspect Baggett’s body in a dark bedroom. He said that he lifted the sheet that had been draped over her body and touched her chest twice with his gloved hand, noticing a mark he could not identify. He said he squeezed the area to determine if the mark was a wound.
Rojas said he knew he was being recorded by a body camera and touched the woman’s chest for investigative purposes, not sexual arousal. He said he did not touch any other parts of Baggett’s body.
Rojas, who remains free on $ 20,000 bail, will appear on November 3 for indictment.
LAPD Det. Sergio Ortiz, who researched Rojas’ behavior and watched the video from the body camera, said that during the hearing, the video shows Rojas touching Baggett’s chest and nipple with his left hand as he tries to hide the movement and replace the sheet. The procedure requires that the examination of the body be performed by a coroner and not by a police officer, he said.
Robert Ernenwein, Rojas’s lawyer, argued that the prosecutor’s office had failed to present the case and told the judge that if his client had really tried to hide his actions, he could have turned off the new camera.
“Officer Rojas testified that this touching was done with no intention of sexual gratification or abuse, but rather as part of his legal and official duties and investigations,” Ernenwein said, adding that “I look forward to presenting my case to the jury. since the trial can be ordered within reasonable limits. “
The Baggett family has sued the city and the police department for negligence, invasion of privacy, inappropriate handling of human remains, and willful infliction of emotional distress.
“I’m furious that this person had so little respect for another person, our Elizabeth, for not thinking that she was someone’s daughter, granddaughter and mother,” Janet Baggett, Elizabeth Baggett’s mother, told a press conference in August. 2020 year. announces a lawsuit at the office of Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred.
“We, her family, have sleepless nights if we can sleep. I personally wake up sweating from the nightmares that haunt me about the events of Elizabeth’s death, ”said her mother. “The days aren’t much better.”
Allred, representing the family, said Rojas’ actions were not only illegal, but also contrary to “every sense of human decency.”
The City News Service contributed to this report.