In the most recent example of alleged sexual assault police brutality, two veteran LAPD officers are being investigated for sexually assaulting women in the Hollywood area.
A few months ago, in San Diego, the victim of a sexual assault by a police officer settled with the City for $675,000. The victim in that case was sexually assaulted after she was stopped for a an alleged DUI in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Before 1991, it was unclear whether a municipality could be held vicariously liable for a criminal act like a sexual assault committed by a peace officer. The argument was that sexual assault police brutality was so egregious that it was considered beyond the "scope" of the officer's employment, even when the officer committed the assault on the job.
Thankfully for victims of sexual assault police brutality, in 1991 the California Supreme Court looked at the issue in the case of Mary M. v. City of Los Angeles 54 Cal.3d 202. In the Mary M. case the state high court decided that the City of Los Angeles could be held vicariously liable for an on duty rape committed by an LAPD sergeant after stopping the victim for erratic driving.
The court in Mary M. evaluated the liability question in light of three policy considerations: deterrence, compensation, and risk-spreading. The court concluded that: "Our society has entrusted police officers with enforcing its laws and ensuring the safety of the lives and property of its members. In carrying out these important responsibilities, the police act with the authority of the state. When police officers on duty misuse that formidable power to commit sexual assaults, the public employer must be held accountable for their actions."
A jury instruction – CACI 3721 – also addresses the criteria a jury should consider in determining whether a peace officer's misuse of authority is within the scope of his or her employment.