Family to receive $250,000 in case of LAPD officer who touched dead woman's breast

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 12: Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters in Los Angeles. LAPD Headquarter on Wednesday, April 12, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Police Department headquarters in Los Angeles. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The relatives of a woman whose dead body was allegedly molested by a police officer will receive $250,000 to end their lawsuit against the city, the Los Angeles City Council decided Wednesday.

The settlement, approved on a 14-0 vote, comes five years after the Los Angeles Police Department accused Officer David Rojas of fondling the body of 34-year-old Elizabeth Baggett after she was found dead at her home.

After Rojas was arrested, Baggett's family members sued the city, saying they experienced "severe emotional distress" upon learning what happened. They accused the city of negligence, invasion of privacy and mishandling of human remains.

The incident took place in 2019, when Rojas and another officer responded to Baggett's residence. Paramedics had covered her body with a sheet. While his partner was out of the room, Rojas lifted the sheet, exposing the dead woman's upper torso, then squeezed her right breast twice, according to the LAPD.

Rojas, whose actions were recorded by his own body camera, was later charged with felony sexual contact with human remains. He pleaded not guilty. Appearing at his preliminary hearing in 2021, he said he knew he was being recorded by the body camera and touched the woman only for investigative purposes, not sexual arousal.

Rojas, during his testimony, said he 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 — an account that a judge in the case called “extremely unpersuasive.

Last year, another judge placed Rojas in an 18-month mental health diversion program, according to court records. Rojas has been relieved of duty but remains on the force in an unpaid capacity while he awaits a disciplinary hearing, said LAPD spokesperson Kelly Muniz.

Gloria Allred, a lawyer for the Baggett family, said her clients had no comment. In 2020, Janet Baggett, Elizabeth's mother, said she was "infuriated that this man had so little respect for another human being."

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file officers, did not defend Rojas in his criminal case, calling his actions "vile." In 2021, the union said it hoped the criminal charges would "bring some solace to the deceased woman’s family during their time of grieving.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.