Crime & Courts

Lawyer intends to sue Valley Center over cop’s hiring

Thomas Delgado
Thomas Delgado File photo

The attorney for one of the teens who allegedly were victims of sex-related crimes they say were committed by a Valley Center police sergeant says he will file a lawsuit against the city by next week.

The lawsuit will contend that the Valley Center Police Department failed to appropriately check Thomas Delgado’s background before hiring him in April 2014, the teen’s attorney, Daniel Back, said Monday. Delgado is no longer with the department.

“Had they done even the most rudimentary background investigation on him, they would have discovered multiple sexually related indiscretions that would have prompted a reasonable police department from ever considering hiring him,” Back said.

The lawsuit also will argue that Delgado should have been immediately removed from patrol work – “and away from potential victims” – once the city became aware of prior incidents involving him, Back said.

City Administrator Scott Hildebrand said Monday that he can’t comment. Mark Hephner, who was the police chief who hired Delgado, couldn’t be reached Monday.

Back said his client, now 18, was 16 or 17 at the time that authorities say she was victimized by Delgado when he was a police sergeant.

“She still remains fearful of possible retaliation by Delgado while he’s out on bond,” Back said.

Delgado, 49, is facing seven charges filed May 26 in Sedgwick County District Court. One of the charges – sexual exploitation of a child – is a felony. The others are misdemeanors: sexual battery, attempted sexual battery, official misconduct and three counts of harassment by telecommunications device.

The charges list four victims by their initials. Back said his client is one of the alleged victims. According to the charges, the crimes occurred from February 2015 to December 2016, after Valley Center hired Delgado. The harassment charges involve lewd or obscene text messages.

In late 2011, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office did an internal investigation of an hours-long ride that Delgado gave to a 16-year-old girl when he was a patrol deputy. That investigation found that Delgado spoke inappropriately about sex to the 16-year-old, Sheriff Jeff Easter said in an interview last year after Delgado’s arrest. Delgado had been moved to the sheriff’s offender registration unit before he was hired as a patrol sergeant by Valley Center.

Before Delgado was hired by Valley Center, no one from that city’s police department called the sheriff’s office to seek files on Delgado that included the internal investigation findings, Easter said.

In the spring or summer of 2016, after Hephner hired Delgado, Hephner was told of the 2011 investigation. Hephner ordered Delgado not to give any more rides or have contact with children, Hildebrand, the city administrator, said last year.

In a December interview, Hildebrand said he didn’t fault Hephner for hiring Delgado. Instead, the city administrator said, he faulted the police chief for not thoroughly reviewing a background packet on Delgado before hiring him.

On the day he was arrested in December, Delgado resigned as a police sergeant. Less than a week after Delgado’s arrest, Hephner resigned as police chief.