Opening statements in former officer's trial set for today

Opening statements are scheduled to begin today in the trial of a former Desert Hot Springs police officer accused of molesting an underage relative and her friend, who were part of a police ride-along program.

The prosecution yesterday dropped nearly half — 17 out of 37 — of the criminal charges against 37-year-old Dennis Paul Decker, but he he still faces life behind bars if convicted.

The prosecution agreed to drop some of the charges against Decker back in November in the "interest of justice," said Michael Jeandron of the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. He said the reduction in the number of charges was put on the record yesterday.

Decker is now facing 20 counts, including aggravated sexual assault on a child, rape and lewd acts with a child.

The two alleged victims were in the Explorers Program, which allows teenagers to ride along with police and perform tasks at the station.

Prosecutors allege Decker molested the relative, who is now 18, over a 10-year period, starting in 1996. Authorities allege the other girl was molested over a one-year period while she was a member of the Explorers Program.

Decker founded and supervised the program in Desert Hot Springs and also worked as a resource officer at Desert Hot Springs High School and Desert Springs Middle School. He is being held at the Indio Jail in lieu of $2 million bail.

Opening statements were supposed to begin yesterday, but Riverside County Superior Court Judge Harold W. Hopp postponed them until today due to a health problem involving a juror.

Some counts dropped against former officer

Some counts dropped against former officer

Seventeen of 37 criminal counts have been dropped against former Desert Hot Springs police Officer Dennis Paul Decker, who is accused of molesting an underage relative over a 10-year span and her friend over a one- year period, according to Decker’s attorney.

Decker now faces 20 counts, including aggravated sex assault on a minor, rape and lewd acts, his attorney says.

Opening statements in Decker’s trial have been delayed and are now scheduled to begin at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.


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Juvenile corrections officer under investigation for child abuse

BARSTOW - The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department is investigating allegations that a 34-year-old mother, who works as a juvenile correctional officer in the county probation division, repeatedly used pepper spray to discipline her own children.

Sgt. Manny Mendoza said that the mother allegedly pepper sprayed her two daughters, aged 14 and 17, on multiple occasions as a means of discipline. The Desert Dispatch has withheld the woman's name because she has not been arrested for any crime.

Deputies responded to a Child Protective Services report of child abuse on the 34000 block of Camino Real in Lenwood on Monday afternoon at 2:07 p.m. A third party had made the initial report to CPS regarding the mother's use of pepper spray on her children, Mendoza said.

"It seems like for the past two years, they had been disciplined that way," Mendoza said.

The children were taken into custody by CPS, and a report will be given to the District Attorney's Office. The mother has not been arrested or charged in the case. Mendoza said that she may face child abuse charges, however.

"Depending on the circumstances of the case, once the child is out of danger, there's no rush to arrest the parent," he said.

Due to laws mandating that in-custody defendants be arraigned within 48 hours, Mendoza said, deputies can conduct a more thorough investigation with the suspect out of custody.

The woman's employer was notified of the investigation, he said. Cyndi Fuzie, superintendent of the High Desert Juvenile Detention and Assessment Center in Apple Valley, said the agency does not comment on the pending investigation of an officer. She declined to comment on whether the woman had been suspended from her position.
Detention officers go through 40 hours of training a year, involving all aspects of their duties, Fuzie said. The detention center's policy on the use of pepper spray reserves it for self-defense situations.

"(Pepper spray) is used for defensive tactics only, and to prevent injuries," she said.

The sheriff's investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information can call the sheriff's station at 256-4838. To remain anonymous, call WeTip at 1-800-78-CRIME or leave information on the WeTip Web site at www.wetip.com.