GILROY, Calif. (KGO) -- "She's very beautiful, she's very young and it was good old fashion lust that led to this, I believe," says San Jose attorney Robert Powell.
A federal civil rights lawsuit was served today against Santa Clara County, accusing a sheriff's deputy of corruption -- of using his position to pick up women. I-Team reporter Dan Noyes has a story you'll see only on ABC7 News.
This lawsuit contains a serious accusation -- that the deputy filed a false child abuse report against a father, while he was seducing the child's mother.
Amber Saldana and Tom Sandoval have been dating off and on since they were teens; they have a six-year-old daughter together. The lawsuit says last May on the family ranch in Gilroy, Tom's father "claimed (Amber) attempted to ram him while driving a car" and that he called police. Santa Clara County Sheriff's Deputy Bryan Plett responded.
In an exclusive interview, Tom Sandoval told Dan Noyes, "When the police got there, they didn't issue a citation, they didn't make an incident report, they didn't even make Amber leave."
Sandoval said Deputy Plett came back to the ranch a few days later, as Amber was moving out. The lawsuit says:
- Plett "asked for her phone number"
- "Pursued a romantic relationship" with Amber, including "make-out sessions in Plett's patrol car" and "sexual relations at the Hilton Hotel in Gilroy"
- And that Plett hatched a "plan to lodge false claims of abuse and neglect" against Tom, to get Amber custody of her daughter.
"It's just the most despicable behavior," said Robert Powell. "I mean, can you imagine being ripped from your child for that man's lust for your mother of your child? That's a pretty horrendous set of facts."
According to the lawsuit, Deputy Plett described Tom in the incident report "as an abusive, drug-addled, neglectful father" and that he "spanked (his daughter) in the buttocks very hard and left a small bruise".
Tom tells Dan Noyes he explained to Plett, he took good care of his daughter and never spanked her.
"And then it dawned on me," Sandoval said. "Where were these bruises located? So I asked him and that's when he told me and I said, 'That's her birthmark.'"
Still, based on Plett's report, a judge granted an emergency protective order and ordered Tom to stand trial for child endangerment.
Just days away from the court date, the complaint says Amber recanted her story in an email to the prosecutor: "Everything that I had said was completely exaggerated...He's a good father and I don't think he deserves to get in trouble for my lies."
Charges dropped. Tom Sandoval is now suing Deputy Plett, and he says, "I just think he needs to find something else to do for a living beside law enforcement because he's running around doing this to God knows who else, I just don't think that's right."
The lawsuit claims Plett bragged to other deputies "how he had responded in the past to dispatch calls and obtained phone numbers from female citizens that he would then pursue in furtherance of sexual relations."
Dan Noyes went to the South County Sheriff's Substation in San Martin to talk to Plett, and got several different stories -- that he was on patrol, was off for the day, and that he called in sick for his new assignment in San Jose.
Dan Noyes did reach Deputy Plett on his cell phone; he was surprised by the call. He told us he wouldn't have any comment about the lawsuit, about a possible false police report, or about the couple, Tom and Amber.
His lawyer sent a statement late today that reads in part, "The claims made in this lawsuit are unfounded. Ms. Saldana came to the Sheriff's Department substation and made child abuse allegations against Thomas Sandoval ... Deputy Plett prepared a report that was entirely based on her statements and recorded interview of the alleged victim."
The lawsuit also says the prosecutor on the case contacted higher-ups in the DA's Office and the Sheriff's Department about the false child abuse report, but they failed to investigate.
"They should have referred it for investigation just like any kind of a crime because that's a crime," says Attorney Robert Powell. "A false police report is a crime, and it's a crime even if a police officer does it."
Amber Saldana is disputing what Plett's lawyer is saying. She declined an on-camera interview but texted Dan Noyes that she had no idea Deputy Plett was filing a false child abuse report against her boyfriend. No comment from the DA's Office, and through a spokesman, Sheriff Laurie Smith said I was the first to tell her of the case, and they have launched an internal review.
Here is the complete statement from Deputy Bryan Plett's attorney, Harry S. Stern:
"The claims made in this lawsuit are unfounded. Ms. Saldana came to the Sheriff's Department sub-station and made child abuse allegations against Thomas Sandoval, who is her minor child's father. Deputy Plett is legally mandated to report such charges, regardless of the circumstances. Deputy Plett prepared a report that was entirely based on her statements and a recorded interview of the alleged victim. He also included significant exculpatory information in the report. I am informed that despite naming her as a defendant, the plaintiff obtained Ms. Saldana's cooperation by an agreement to pay for plastic surgery. This certainly calls Sandoval's credibility and motivation into question."
Here is the complete statement from Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith:
"The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office fully investigates all claims of alleged misconduct in order to maintain the highest level of public trust. Our office has not received any complaint regarding the alleged conduct. We were notified of these allegations through the media and as such we have initiated an internal review of this matter. I expect all staff to meet the high standards of our office, and when they do not, they will be held accountable."
Santa Clara County District Attorney Spokesman Sean Webby emailed: "In light of the just-filed lawsuit against the County, we are not in a position to make any comments at this time."