Audio Tape Leads To Claims Of Oceanside Police Cover-Up

Former Officer Gilbert Garcia Sues Oceanside PD, Claims He Was Fired For Not Destroying Evidence

Questions of a possible cover-up are being raised after just-released audio recordings detail an incident involving an Oceanside police officer.

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Sources told 10News the FBI has obtained the recordings and could pursue an investigation into whether the Oceanside Police Department ordered incriminating tapes destroyed after one of their officers appeared to have committed a crime.

On an August night in 2009, an Oceanside man named Tim was in his yard when he said he saw a Toyota Camry drive by and the driver tossing out a beer can.

"He drove by once, took a big swig of beer," said Tim. "Came by once again, took another swig, and tossed the beer can out." Tim contacted police following the incident.

Oceanside police Sgt. Travis Norton and Officer Gilbert Garcia, who turned on his tape recorder, questioned Tim.

"So he was drinking as he went by?" Norton said in the recording.

"Oh, yeah, absolutely; and he was sort of flaunting it," replied Tim.

Soon after, a license plate match led officers to another home and a familiar face: Oceanside police Sgt. David Larson.

Once again, Garcia's tape recorder was turned on as Larson was questioned.

"So I'm asking was that you?" asked Norton.

Larson responded, "I had a beer on the way home."

"OK, was that you driving past them?" asked Norton.

"Yeah," Larson replied.

"How much have you had to drink?" asked Norton.

"Two," said Larson.

Moments later, Larson was asked to blow into a breathalyzer device.

"All right. Will you blow in a PAS (preliminary alcohol-screening device)?" asked Norton.

Larson replied, "Now? I'm going to blow over."

Norton said, "Why don't you hang tight right here for me … I've got a couple calls."

After some calls were made, Garcia told 10News he was cleared from the scene.

No charges were ever filed.

In November 2009, Garcia was fired over a sexual harassment claim.

Garcia's attorney, Dan Gilleon, has filed a wrongful termination suit and said the trumped up reason hid the real motive.

"As far as smoking gun evidence, this is pretty much as good as it gets," Gilleon said of the recordings. "The audio tapes make it very clear that they were covering this DUI up. The harassment claim was a case of crude banter on both sides. Garcia was told it was a minor issue, until they realized he wasn't going to destroy the tape."

Gilleon said Garcia was told by Norton on the night of the incident to destroy the tapes and that Chief Frank McCoy himself had approved of halting the probe.

According to documents obtained by 10News, in a 2010 arbitration meeting about Garcia's firing, Norton was asked: "Did you, for whatever reason, direct Officer Garcia to dispose of or destroy the audio recording?"

Norton answered "yes."

The original incident happened more than two years ago, but the explosive audio tape was part of a court filing on Thursday.

Oceanside police did not comment on the matter and referred 10News to the Oceanside City Attorney's Office.

Oceanside City Attorney John Mullen sent the following statement to 10News:

I cannot comment on an amendment to a complaint that I have not seen. However, I will reiterate that Mr. Garcia was terminated for extreme violations of the City's policy on the prevention of sexual harassment. The termination was confirmed by an independent arbitrator mutually selected by Mr. Garcia and the City. Garcia's legal counsel had the opportunity to submit all relevant evidence during that hearing. The City has a pending motion to dismiss the Garcia complaint on several grounds. Among other things, Garcia is barred from challenging his termination after he lost his case during a binding arbitration and he failed to challenge the arbitrator's decision.

The allegations raised by Garcia's counsel are ludicrous and will be proven false in court. The City will aggressively seek recovery of every public dollar spent defending this frivolous case.

Tanya Sierra, the public affairs officer for the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, issued the following statement:

Anytime the District Attorney's Office receives information, we review it carefully and can only file charges if we believe we can prove a crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt. If our office is presented with new evidence or information, we will evaluate it carefully for potential criminal charges. Regardless of who the suspect may be, we follow the same ethical and legal standard for filing charges in every case.

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