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A Los Angeles police officer who acknowledged touching a dead woman's breast while on duty has been ordered to stand trial on a felony charge.
David Rojas, 29, who has been with the LAPD for four years, is charged with felony sexual contact with human remains after authorities say he touched Elizabeth Baggett’s right breast after the 34-year-old died Oct. 20, 2019.
Judge Keith H. Borjon heard testimony Wednesday from Rojas, who said he touched the woman's breast twice because he believed there was a mark that needed investigating. But the judge found the account "extremely unpersuasive" and suggested Rojas touched the woman's breast for his own sexual gratification.
Borjon said there is sufficient evidence for Rojas to stand trial.
Rojas and his partner, who were assigned to downtown’s Central Division, had gone to a home where there was a report of a body. Paramedics pronounced Baggett dead and placed a sheet over her body, after which Rojas’ partner returned to the patrol car to retrieve something. While his partner was gone, Rojas was captured on body-cam video touching the woman’s breasts, LAPD officials said.
After the body-cam footage was discovered by a detective investigating Baggett’s death, Rojas was placed on leave, which the Los Angeles Times first reported in early December. He was subsequently arrested and charged with a felony violation of the state safety codes covering sexual actions with human remains.
In a rare move, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents the rank and file officers, refused to protect Rojas, saying it hoped the charges against him "for his vile alleged crime will bring some solace to the deceased woman's family during their time of grieving."
During his unusual testimony at Wednesday's preliminary hearing, Rojas said he turned on his body camera and used a flashlight to inspect Baggett's body in the dark bedroom. He said he lifted the sheet that had been placed over her body and, using a gloved hand, touched her breast twice after noticing a mark he could not identify. He said he squeezed the area to determine whether the mark was a wound.
Rojas said he knew he was being recorded by the body camera and touched the woman's breast for investigative purposes, not sexual arousal. He said he did not touch any other part of Baggett's body.
Rojas, who remains free on $20,000 bond, will appear Nov. 3 for an arraignment.
LAPD Det. Sergio Ortiz, who investigated Rojas' conduct and reviewed the body cam video, said during the hearing the video shows Rojas touching Baggett's breast and nipple with his left hand as he tries to conceal the move and replace the sheet. He said procedure dictates that it is the coroner's job to examine a body, not a police officer's.
Robert Ernenwein, Rojas' attorney, argued that prosecutors failed to make a case and told the judge if his client had truly tried to cover up his actions, he could have turned off the body camera.
LAPD officials have previously said that Rojas turned off his body-worn camera but a two-minute buffer on the device recorded the incident.
"Officer Rojas testified that this touching was done with no intent to sexually gratify or abuse, but rather as part of his lawful and official duties and investigation," Ernenwein said, adding that he "looks forward to presenting his case to a jury as soon as a trial can reasonably be scheduled.”
Baggett's family sued the city and police department for negligence, invasion of privacy, mishandling of human remains and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“I am infuriated that this man had so little respect for another human being, our Elizabeth, for not having the thought that she is someone’s daughter, granddaughter and mother,” Janet Baggett, Elizabeth Baggett’s mother, said at a news conference in August 2020 announcing the lawsuit at the L.A. offices of attorney Gloria Allred.
“We, her family, have sleepless nights, if we are able to sleep. I personally wake in sweats from the nightmares that haunt me about the events of Elizabeth’s death,” her mother said. “Days are not much better.”
Allred, who represents the family, said Rojas’ actions were not just against the law, but also went against “all sense of human decency.”
City News Service contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.