Marysville Police Chief Aaron Easton left his post Thursday night after revelations that he is the subject of a sexual assault investigation involving a woman who was a former police cadet and later a Sacramento County jail inmate.
Easton’s departure came following a report in the Marysville Appeal-Democrat revealing the Yuba County Sheriff’s Office investigation into whether Easton forced the woman to perform oral copulation while she was a cadet at the Yuba College Police Academy and he was a part-time instructor there in 2008.
Easton could not be reached for comment Friday, but his attorney issued a statement to the Appeal-Democrat saying the former chief “categorically denies these allegations.”
Yuba County District Attorney Patrick McGrath confirmed Friday that an investigation into the allegations has been under way for more than a year and that it is close to being completed.
“It’s alleged to be a forcible sex crime,” he said, adding, “There’s been no filing decisions made as to whether criminal charges will be filed because we do not have all the investigative materials yet.”
McGrath added that the statute of limitations in a sexual assault case is 10 years, so “we are still within that statute.”
“We believe we are fairly close to having the investigation concluded,” McGrath said.
The investigation stems from an April 2016 claim made by the alleged victim while she was held as an inmate at the Sacramento County jail on a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence, according to the Appeal-Democrat.
The Marysville newspaper based its report on a series of search warrant affidavits filed in Yuba Superior Court that were recently unsealed.
According to the court documents, the woman said she was required to complete three ride-alongs with Easton as part of her cadet training, the Appeal-Democrat reported. The first two were completed without incident, but the woman told an investigator that on the third Easton drove her to a rural area, began kissing and groping her and forced her to perform oral sex, the Appeal-Democrat reported.
Easton, who at the time was a Yuba County sheriff’s deputy, also allegedly tried to have sex with her in the back seat of the car, saying “he did this type of thing all the time,” the Appeal-Democrat reported the affidavits as saying, but she refused.
The encounter ended when a radio call came into the patrol car and Easton responded to it with the cadet, the Appeal-Democrat reported.
That incident allegedly occurred in February 2008, the newspaper reported, but did not come to light until the woman began talking about it while taking part in a program at the Sacramento County jail last year for victims of sexual harassment or assault.
“She made a comment to one of the jail staff, and that comment required follow up by the jail staff,” McGrath said. “They did that follow up, and that investigation was then forwarded to the Yuba Community College District based on the fact that the alleged act occurred while she was in the police academy, which existed in the college at that time,” McGrath said. “And the Yuba Community College District forwarded that investigation to the Yuba County Sheriff’s Department.”
Sacramento sheriff’s spokesman Shaun Hampton said he was aware of the Easton investigation but did not know the accuser had made the allegations in the Sacramento jail.
The Yuba County Sheriff’s Office began an investigation and has interviewed the woman and a number of other witnesses, McGrath said.
“There are multiple individuals who have been interviewed,” he said.
The investigation was kept quiet until two weeks ago, when the search warrant affidavits were unsealed and the Appeal-Democrat began making inquiries, McGrath said.
At that point, he and Sheriff Steven Durfor informed Marysville officials, McGrath said.
“We felt it was appropriate at that point to notify the Marysville mayor,” as well as the city manager, McGrath said.
Mayor Ricky Samayoa and City Manager Walter Munchheimer could not be reached for comment Friday. McGrath said Easton left his job Thursday night and was replaced by Lt. Chris Sachs as interim chief.
“We felt that any type of earlier notification to the city would have a negative impact on our investigation,” McGrath said, adding that officials took into account the fact that the allegations involve an incident from several years ago.
McGrath also noted that typically when a law enforcement officer becomes the subject of a criminal investigation the head of the agency is notified so that a professional standards investigation can be initiated, but because Easton was the chief, officials could not follow that path.
Easton had been chief since December 2014, and had twice been cited as officer of the year while with the department, the Appeal-Democrat reported.
His wife, Sara Easton, died in August 2015 from a gunshot wound to the head, but an official determination of whether that was a suicide has not yet been made. That case is under investigation by the Sutter County Sheriff’s Office and the state attorney general’s office.