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Family of dead woman allegedly groped by LAPD officer files lawsuit

The family of a woman whose breasts were allegedly fondled by an on-duty L.A. police officer who found her dead last fall is suing the officer and the city of L.A.

The family of Elizabeth Baggett notes that LAPD Officer David Rojas already has been charged criminally in the case, and that his own body-camera footage allegedly captured him in the act of molesting her.

They allege a slate of offenses in the incident that occurred last fall, including 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,” said an emotional Janet Baggett, Elizabeth Baggett’s mother, at a news conference announcing the lawsuit at the L.A. offices of attorney Gloria Allred.

Janet Baggett and Gloria Allred stand alongside photos of the late Elizabeth Baggett.

Janet Baggett and attorney Gloria Allred stand alongside a display of photos of Baggett’s late daughter at a news conference Tuesday in Los Angeles.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

“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,” Baggett said. “Days are not much better.”

Allred, who represents the family, said Rojas’ alleged actions were not just against the law, but also went against “all sense of human decency.”

The incident allegedly occurred Oct. 20 after Rojas and his partner went to a home where there was a report of a dead body. After finding the body of 34-year-old Elizabeth Baggett, Rojas’ partner returned to the patrol car to retrieve something. It was then that Rojas turned off his body camera and allegedly fondled her breasts.

Officers’ cameras retain a two-minute buffer period of footage after officers deactivate their cameras.

After the body-camera footage was discovered by a detective investigating Baggett’s death and reported, 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.

Rojas pleaded not guilty to the charges in January and was released on $20,000 bail pending trial. His attorney, Robert Ernenwein, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new lawsuit Tuesday.

Rojas had been on the force for four years.

Josh Rubenstein, an LAPD spokesman, said the department could not comment on pending litigation. City Atty. Mike Feuer’s office, which represents the city in legal matters, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Allred said the city never responded to a notice of the family’s claims that she filed with the city months ago, as required before litigation.

Janet Baggett said she was first informed of the allegations against Rojas by LAPD internal affairs officers in late 2019, and that she and the rest of her daughter’s family — including her daughter’s 15-year-old son, Preston Sertich — had struggled to wrap their heads around Rojas’ alleged actions ever since.

In his own statement, which was read by Allred on Tuesday, Preston said he used to want to be a police officer but had since lost all trust in police.

“What has this officer gotten away with to believe this was even possible?” the boy asked in his statement. “Is there a pattern of behavior against women, arrestees or decedents? How could you employ this man and let him represent your City?”

Rojas’ criminal trial has been postponed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Allred said the delays had caused added heartache for the family.

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