SAN DIEGO (CBS8/CNS) - A local prosecutor who pleaded not guilty Wednesday in an alleged ticket-fixing scandal, was investigated nine months ago by the San Diego County District Attorney's office, and no criminal charges were filed.
The California Attorney General's office is now prosecuting Deputy District Attorney Allison Worden-Debow and former San Diego Police traffic Sgt. Kevin Friedman on misdemeanor charges of obstruction of justice and destruction of two traffic citations.
Members of the DA's Special Operations Division interviewed Deputy District Attorney Allison Worden-Debow in June 2011 and questioned her in depth about the traffic citations that she and another prosecutor had received a month earlier in Pacific Beach.
Those tickets were allegedly torn up by Sgt. Friedman at the request of Worden-Debow. Friedman also has pleaded not guilty.
Back in June, Worden-Debow was facing disciplinary action because she had allegedly identified herself and the vehicle's driver, Deputy District Attorney Amy Maund, as county prosecutors while Officer James Zirpolo was writing the traffic tickets.
Officer Zirpolo issued the two citations anyway; one against Worden-Debow charging her with not wearing a seat belt, and the other against Maund because a passenger in her vehicle was not wearing a seat belt.
News 8 reviewed several documents from Worden-Debow's personnel investigation, including an interview transcript made available by defense attorney Paul Pfingst, who represents the accused prosecutor.
District Attorney investigators had accused Worden-Debow of civil service violations, including unethical conduct, conduct unbecoming an employee of the county, and use of prestige for personal gain, according to the records.
During her interview, Worden-Debow told DA investigators that she initially contacted Sgt. Kevin Friedman -- who was a personal friend – to inquire about the traffic cop who wrote the citations.
Worden-Debow said she felt Officer Zirpolo had acted inappropriately by invading her personal space during the traffic stop, according to the interview transcript.
"My client felt the police officer who wrote the ticket displayed a manner that was somewhat creepy," said attorney Pfingst.
Worden-Debow claimed she specifically told Sgt. Friedman not to do anything with the tickets. She said Friedman made a "unilateral decision" based on the circumstances to dismiss the tickets, according to the investigation records.
"Whatever was done with the tickets was done against my client's wishes," Pfingst said.
Court records show the traffic cop who wrote the seat belt citations, Officer Zirpolo, has been named in at least six lawsuits alleging wrongdoing. The cases are summarized below as detailed in the court files:
1997 – A state lawsuit named Officer Zirpolo, alleging false arrest, battery and emotional distress during a DUI arrest. The case was later dismissed.
1998 – A federal lawsuit named Officer Zirpolo and two other officers, alleging false arrest, assault and battery and civil rights violations during a DUI arrest. The male plaintiff received a $5,000 settlement.
2000 – A federal lawsuit named Officer Zirpolo and two other officers, alleging civil rights violations, battery, excessive force and injury during a DUI arrest. The female plaintiff received a $45,000 settlement.
2002 – A federal lawsuit named Officer Zirpolo and four other officers, alleging false arrest, excessive force, emotional distress and injuries during a domestic violence arrest. The case was later dismissed.
2002 – A federal lawsuit named Officer Zirpolo and two other officers, alleging civil rights violations, battery and sexual assault during an arrest in Pacific Beach. Officer Zirpolo was training the SDPD officer accused of the sexual battery during a pat down of the plaintiff, according to the attorney who filed the lawsuit. The female plaintiff received a $15,000 settlement.
2008 – A federal lawsuit named Officer Zirpolo and three other officers, alleging unlawful search and seizure, excessive force and injury during a DUI arrest in Pacific Beach. A jury later found the officers not liable for damages.
A San Diego police spokesperson declined to comment on the list of lawsuits filed against Officer Zirpolo.
The DA's personnel investigation into the ticket-fixing allegations involving Worden-Debow wrapped up with a letter dated Sept. 9, 2011 entitled "Final Order of Discipline."
The letter stated that Worden-Debow had used poor judgment during the traffic stop and that she agreed to a stipulated settlement and waiver of appeal, which resulted a five day suspension. No criminal charges were filed at that time.
"She was cleared by the DA and shook hands with Bonnie Dumanis, who assured her it was behind her and her slate was clean," said defense attorney Pfingst.
News of the ticket-fixing allegations was leaked to the media in early December.
The criminal case was then turned over to the California Attorney General's office, which filed the misdemeanor complaint Jan. 27.
"When the Attorney General filed charges months later, she (Dumanis) forgot that handshake, forgot the assurance, and put out an email slamming my client pretending she knew nothing about it," Pfingst said.
A spokesperson for District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis issued a statement to News 8 saying:
"The District Attorney's Office does not comment on pending criminal cases or personnel matters, including any findings or disciplinary action."
Deputy District Attorney Worden-Debow has now been placed on paid, administrative leave pending the outcome of the case.
Sgt. Friedman, who had been with the San Diego police department for nearly 27 years, resigned last month.
While serving as a traffic-unit supervisor, Friedman had overseen Anthony Arevalos, a one-time San Diego police officer sentenced last month to nearly nine years in prison for seeking sexual favors from women during vehicle stops in the Gaslamp District.