Former Fullerton police sergeant Rodger Jeffrey Corbett, who faced felony charges for lying in a police report in 2016, was given a more lenient sentence (community service, a fine, and no longer being able to work in law enforcement) by an OC superior court judge on February 22. The OC District Attorney had charged Corbett with falsifying a report about a possible DUI involving former Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz in 2016. Felz was involved in a single car accident near his neighborhood following downtown election night celebrations in November of that year.
Under a new State law that went into effect January 1,2021 (AB 3224), Corbett was given a “pre-trial diversion.” The judgment allows him to plead “not guilty” to the charges so long as he completes 80 hours of community service, pays a $500 fine, and no longer works in law enforcement. Upon completion, he will be able to have the charges permanently removed from his record after one year.
District Attorney Todd Spitzer objected to the case’s outcome.
“As prosecutors, we are filing charges that hold police officers who break the law accountable,” Spitzer said in a statement. “But those attempts to hold peace officers accountable are handcuffed by efforts by the State Legislature and the bench to downgrade these crimes to a point where it is as if they never happened.”
The incident that led to the charges against Corbett took place on November 9, 2016. After a 911 call from a Fullerton resident, officers dispatched to the scene found Fullerton City Manager Joseph Felz attempting to drive his disabled vehicle away from a tree he had crashed into.
Although the Fullerton Police officers first on the scene noted that Felz appeared intoxicated, Sgt. Corbett conducted only a cursory examination of him, declining to administer a Breathalyzer test before driving Felz the short distance to his home. Corbett, who had been called to the scene when it was learned that City Manager Felz was the driver of the vehicle, later wrote in his official report that Felz was not under the influence.
Many Fullerton residents suspected that Felz had received special treatment because of his position as City Manager. Felz retired the following month and eventually pled guilty to one count of misdemeanor reckless driving, admitting he had been driving under the influence at the time of the accident.
“Law enforcement officers wield incredible power and when they abuse that power and engage in cover-ups and perpetuate different systems of justice for people based on their political connections, they must be held accountable,” District Attorney Spitzer said in his February 23 statement.
The FPD has been sued to force the release of Corbett’s body worn camera video of the incident, but has not yet done so, previously citing the ongoing Corbett case. Now that a decision has been rendered in Corbett’s case the department may face more pressure to release the video.
The incident occurred the evening of the last scheduled day on the job of then Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes, who had already announced his retirement from the department and accepted a position with Disneyland security.
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