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A former Fullerton Police Sergeant has been sentenced to pre-trial diversion, meaning he could avoid jail time, for lying in a police report in 2016 during an investigation into whether then-City Manager Joe Felz was driving under the influence when he got into a car accident.
Fullerton residents and watchdogs for years questioned how Joe Felz was given a ride home by police officers when he hit a tree and tried to flee the scene after drinking on election night that year.
The former sergeant, Rodger Jeffrey Corbet, 48, could get his case removed from his record — “as if it never happened,” according to county prosecutors — if he does 80 hours of community service, pays $500, and agrees to no longer work in law enforcement.
The sentence was given by Orange County Superior Court Judge Maria Hernandez, according to District Attorney spokesperson Kimberly Edds.
If all the terms are met, Corbett can request the case be dismissed after a year, county prosecutors say.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s office, which prosecuted the case, has criticized the ruling, blaming new state law that went into effect this year allowing judges to give defendants pretrial diversion, “regardless of whether prosecutors object.”
Spitzer in a statement Tuesday said efforts to hold law enforcement accountable “are handcuffed by efforts by the state Legislature and the bench to downgrade these crimes to a point where it is as if they never happened.”
“Law enforcement officers wield incredible power and when they abuse that power and engage in cover-ups and perpetuate different systems of justice for people based on their political connections, they must be held accountable,” Spitzer said in the release by his office.
Local government watchdog Joshua Ferguson, who also posts to the Friends for Fullerton’s Future Blog, called the sentencing “a slap on the wrist … the cover up on it is nearly complete.”
Ferguson has led efforts to get more transparency on what happened in 2016, including a lawsuit against the city to get police officer body-worn camera footage from that night.
Officers responding to the crash in the early morning hours of Nov. 9 said Felz smelled of alcohol and showed symptoms of intoxication.
Sgt. Corbett was called to handle the DUI investigation, gave Felz a sobriety test — but not a breathalyzer — concluded he was not under the influence of alcohol, and drove him home.
An administrative investigation found Corbett falsified the police report and purposefully blew the field investigation in the Felz case.
Felz retired in December 2016, a month after the crash. He was charged with driving under the influence in early 2017, but it was lowered and he pleaded guilty to one count of reckless driving December 2017.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.