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Ex-cop gets five-year sentence.

Byline: Rebecca Nolan The Register-Guard

Former Eugene police officer Juan Francisco Lara held his hands to his face in grief Thursday as a sheriff's deputy took him into custody to begin serving more than five years in prison for crimes he committed while on duty.

To the end, Lara denied stalking several women during his brief career as an officer, coercing some into sexual contact, and harassing those who rebuffed his advances. He has said all along that any sexual activity was voluntary and consensual.

Addressing the judge Thursday, the 30-year-old father of two insisted he had been forthright and honest throughout the investigation and that he told the truth in court. He said he values his family above all and thanked his wife for forgiving him for his behavior.

"I believe I am a good man and I made some horrible decisions in my life, your honor," Lara told Lane County Circuit Court Judge Charles Carlson.

Deputy Lane County District Attorney Caren Tracy said Lara has characterized his actions as mere sins against man or technical violations of the law. She said he has implied that he has been the victim of a witch hunt.

"He stands before the court, in his mind, as the only victim in this case," she said in closing arguments, later adding, "It's obvious to all that Mr. Lara's behavior is predatory, by any person's standards."

She said his testimony under cross-examination was "riddled with I-don't-remembers and I-don't-recalls," and that instead of taking responsibility for his crimes, he shifted the blame onto his victims - women with no reason to lie, many of whom told strikingly similar stories despite never having met one another.

She said the five-day workshop for sex addicts Lara attended after his arrest did not address his true crimes of corruption, abuse of power, intimidation, greed and revenge. His rediscovery of religion, his renewed devotion to his family and his quest to get treatment are all typical of criminals facing a long prison term, she said.

Lara pleaded guilty last month to three counts of official misconduct and one count of public indecency. The court entered guilty pleas on his behalf on another count of official misconduct, four counts of coercion and one count of harassment as Alford pleas. Under an Alford plea, a defendant agrees that the state can prove his guilt but denies any actual guilt.

Lara's defense attorney, Dan Koenig, asked the court to reduce the felony charges to misdemeanors, dismiss the charges to which he entered Alford pleas and sentence Lara to probation.

Koenig said the state had not presented evidence that Lara gave the women reason to think he would abuse his position as an officer. He said none of them reported the incidents and that Lara's actions were not crimes.

Carlson sentenced Lara to 68 months in prison for the four counts of coercion. He also ordered that Lara serve one year in jail for harassment, six months in jail for public indecency and a total of 180 days in jail for official misconduct. The jail time will be served concurrently with the prison sentence. Lara also was given two years' post-prison supervision. He can appeal the decision.

A gag order that had kept people involved in the case from speaking with the media was lifted after the sentence.

On the coercion counts, Lara received the maximum sentence under Oregon guidelines. However, in specific circumstances, a judge can depart from the guidelines and issue a harsher or more lenient punishment. Tracy had argued that Lara's crimes qualified for a harsher sentence that would put him away for 136 months. The judge declined to impose the longer term.

Some of the victims said they were disappointed that the judge did not opt for a longer sentence. "We can't even put it into words," said a man who, along with his girlfriend, had been targeted by Lara.

Lara's family and supporters quickly left the courthouse after the judge's ruling and did not speak to reporters. Koenig could not be reached Thursday afternoon.

Lane County District Attorney Doug Harcleroad praised the sentence during an afternoon press conference.

"This is a significant sentence under these guidelines," he said. "Judge Carlson sent a strong message that this kind of conduct will not be tolerated."

Eugene police Chief Robert Lehner attended a portion of Thursday's hearing, when Tracy read from a statement the chief wrote regarding the effect of Lara's actions.

"The impact on the department and the community will far outlast the investigation and legal proceedings occurring now," Lehner said in the statement. ` ...To the general public, the actions of this man were not simply the actions of an individual, but an indictment of the entire profession."

During the press conference, the chief said the department is conducting policy reviews in the wake of the revelations about Lara and another former officer, Roger Eugene Magana, currently awaiting trial on 52 charges stemming from similar on-duty sexual misconduct. Magana helped train Lara and the pair occasionally worked overlapping patrol shifts.

Lehner said misconduct such as Lara's is rare, but when it comes out, it is taken seriously. But he said there's no way to guarantee that other officers on the force don't share Lara's view that the job is a great opportunity to meet women and have sex.

"When you're dealing with human behavior, there are no absolute certainties," Lehner said. "However, this kind of result helps," he said, referring to Lara's sentence.


Former Eugene police officer Juan Francisco Lara (left), talks to his pastor, Greg Flint of the First Congregational Church, during a break in the sentencing hearing Thursday. Lara was sentenced to 68 months in prison, plus additional jail time to be served concurrently.
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Title Annotation:Courts; Juan Francisco Lara will go to prison for stalking women and coercing them into sexual contact
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 27, 2004

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