A former Anderson police officer who admitted raping a woman in his custody was sentenced Friday in Sacramento federal court to five years in prison, based on his guilty plea of violating the woman’s civil rights.
Bryan Robert Benson, 30, was originally charged in 2011 in Shasta Superior Court with rape and kidnapping, and would have faced life in prison had he been convicted. Instead, he was sentenced to 364 days in jail after pleading no contest to felony assault by a police officer and to soliciting a lewd act, a misdemeanor.
Shasta County prosecutors said at the time that the outcome was dictated by a loophole in the law that would have allowed Benson’s lawyers to argue the sex was consensual because the woman had not yet been booked into jail.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner didn’t see that as justice, and after an investigation, Benson was indicted by a federal grand jury in December 2012.
He pleaded guilty in May to one count of “deprivation of rights under color of law.”
“The interests of the victim and of civil rights generally were not served by the resolution in state court,” Wagner said Friday in a hallway interview. “It’s fairly rare for us to do something like this, but we thought it was the right thing in this case.”
The rape took place in the early hours of May 29, 2010, in a darkened Redding parking lot. Benson was transporting the 24-year-old woman from the Shasta County community of Millville to jail after her arrest as a drunken driving suspect.
As part of his plea deal, Benson admitted he took the woman out of his unmarked police vehicle, removed her shorts and underwear, and “engaged in an act of vaginal intercourse with (her) against the police car without the consent of the (woman).”
The Sacramento Bee does not use the names of sex-crime victims.
In an unusual twist, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Morris argued for the five-year sentence, half of the 10-year maximum that Benson was facing.
Morris said Benson had “no blemish on his record before this incident,” had lost his job and had no chance of ever again working in law enforcement. The prosecutor said Benson will have to be isolated in prison because it is much more dangerous there for a former police officer. He also said that more than five years in prison would not act as a further deterrent in Benson’s case.
The plea agreement was a type that required a judge’s approval. If U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. had rejected the pact, Benson would have had the opportunity to withdraw his plea, creating the possibility of a trial.
Morris told Burrell he was concerned that a trial, which would have required the victim’s testimony, would be too much of an ordeal for her.
While calling what Benson did a “contemptible crime,” Burrell went along with the government’s plea bargain.
In a dramatic, articulate and sometimes teary-eyed presentation, the victim called the five-year sentence “another letdown. He raped me and gets another slap on the wrist,” she told Burrell in reference to the Shasta County prosecution.
“And the fact that he doesn’t have to register as a sex offender bothers me greatly,” she said. “If someone exposes themselves in public, they have to register, so I don’t understand why a rapist doesn’t. He took a huge part of me that night that I will never get back. I will never be the same person I was before.”
According to Wagner, there is no way to charge Benson with a sex offense in federal court. Only a civil rights charge was available, Wagner said, so he does not have to register as a sex offender.
Similarly in Shasta County, soliciting a lewd act, to which Benson first pleaded guilty, is not a crime for which registration as a sex offender is required in California.
Anderson Chief of Police Michael Johnson, who was not with the department at the time of the rape, addressed Burrell on the debilitating impact that Benson’s crime has had on the department and the community. He said he was hired in May 2012 to rebuild the department’s integrity.
“The true impact of this incomprehensible crime cut deeper into this small-town rural community than I could have imagined,” he said. “The citizens of Shasta County detested the Anderson Police Department, distrusted the Anderson police officers, and disrespected all the personnel in this agency.”
The incident received national attention, Johnson said, “and immediately shamed and humiliated all affiliated with the city of Anderson and the Anderson Police Department.”
He told the judge the case “sent a shock wave through this community that has left a lasting effect.”
Call The Bee’s Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.