Crime - Sacto 911

Sacramento sergeant nabbed in prostitution sting worked on botched undercover drug bust

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s sergeant cited in a Roseville prostitution sting earlier this month also was one of several department employees named in a federal lawsuit claiming officers wrongly arrested two men during a 2008 undercover drug investigation.

The charges against the two men, identified as John Pruitt and Darryl Berg, were dropped in 2011, with Sacramento County paying $400,000 to have the pair dismiss the civil lawsuit.

The undercover drug operation was likely similar to what played out in Roseville in the early hours of Dec. 16, when Roseville police cited Kevin Steed, a sergeant with the Sheriff’s Department, for allegedly soliciting sex from an undercover cop, said Dee Dee Gunther, a Roseville Police Department spokeswoman.

The two-day operation netted a total of 12 citations for solicitation. Officers with the department posted fake online ads to entice potential clients.

“He was one of the people who responded to the ad we placed and showed up,” Gunther said.

Steed was one of almost a dozen Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department employees named in the earlier lawsuit, which stemmed from an investigation into a methamphetamine drug ring that resulted in an undercover drug sting on Feb. 19, 2008. The lawsuit was filed two years later.

The investigation was coordinated by the Sacramento Intelligence Narcotics Task Force, the local chapter of a federally funded drug enforcement program. Steed was a detective on the task force.

The lawsuit claimed that detectives running the undercover investigation arrested Pruitt and Berg without probable cause and later agreed to engage “in an all-too-familiar pattern of fabrication and deceit in a deliberate violation of (Pruitt and Berg’s) constitutional rights.”

The investigation centered around a woman named Leslie Shugart, a suspected drug dealer who agreed to meet an undercover officer and allegedly showed him a small amount of methamphetamine in a North Highlands parking lot, the lawsuit says. Shugart told the undercover officer, who was wearing a microphone wire, that she needed to get more of the substance from her supplier.

Steed and another detective with the task force were listening to the conversation using the microphone.

Shugart left the undercover officer’s truck, driving to different locations for about 40 minutes. Though two detectives from the Sheriff’s Department tailed her, they did not keep her in eyesight the entire time. She eventually stopped at an ACE Hardware parking lot, where she parked next to a white Chevrolet Impala to talk to someone through the tinted passenger window, according to police.

“The officers watching her reported that they could not see into the Impala, did not know how many people were inside, and did not observe anything being passed between the occupant(s) of the Impala and Shugart,” the lawsuit said.

Shugart returned to where the undercover officer was parked and sold him 57.2 grams of methamphetamine. The undercover officer later called her and said he was being followed by a “white car,” which Shugart identified as her source. Neither referred to the car as an Impala.

Shugart, who was eventually arrested, would later go on to say that her supplier drove a small, white-colored vehicle and threw 2 ounces of methamphetamine into the window of her truck as he drove by, the lawsuit says.

Hours later, deputies pulled over and arrested Pruitt and Berg in Rocklin on suspicion of methamphetamine distribution charges while the pair drove a white Impala, though the lawsuit claims the officers did not find any evidence suggesting either man had been involved in a drug transaction.

Pruitt had an alibi that put him several miles away from the ACE Hardware store at the time that Shugart arrived to the parking lot.

When their case went to court, defense attorneys asked for all evidence collected in the operation, but did not receive the tape recordings monitored by Steed and the other deputy. Brad Rose, a detective overseeing the operation and the undercover officer who spoke with Shugart that day, testified that he was not aware of the conversation being recorded.

When pressed by a defense attorney about inconsistencies about the recording in a written report, Rose later said he believed Steed told him that a recording did exist. That recording would eventually lead to the dismissal of all charges against the two men.

Steed continued to work for the department after the lawsuit. He served as a gang expert during a 2012 murder case involving the shooting deaths of three teenagers in Rancho Cordova.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Shaun Hampton declined to say whether Steed was placed on administrative leave as a result of the solicitation citation, saying the California Peace Officers Bill of Rights bars him from sharing that information.

Steed continues to work for the Sheriff’s Department, Hampton said. An internal affairs investigation into Steed by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department is ongoing, he added. Steed could not be reached for comment this week.

Citation information shows Steed is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 31, Gunther said.

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets

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