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Local News

Former Fort Bragg police officer decertified under new law

A police officer stands in the dark about twenty feet from a woman whose facial features have been redacted.
Screenshot from Awad's dash camera the night he pulled over the woman who would become a defendant.

A new state law that disqualifies former law enforcement officers from working in the field again for violence or dishonesty has resulted in the decertification of only one former officer so far. In September of last year, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB2 into law, and now, law enforcement agencies have to report to the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission when they fire someone. If the commission finds the former officer unfit to serve because they perjured themselves or committed certain violent crimes, they will be permanently barred from working in law enforcement in the state. Former officers who have been found guilty of felonies are already prohibited from working as cops again.

Last month, former Sergeant Christopher Awad, of the Fort Bragg Police Department, voluntarily gave up his certification. He was fired in 2020 after District Attorney Dave Eyster placed him on the Brady list for withholding information about his involvement with a DUI defendant who was closely connected to a notorious street gang. Awad represented Fort Bragg on the county’s Multi-Agency Gang Suppression Unit, or MAGSU. He admitted that he failed to inform the court that he had had intimate contact with the defendant prior to testifying against her. The prosecuting attorney accused him of trying to “tank the case” by downplaying the extent of the defendant’s impairment, and said it was obvious to jurors and attorneys alike that he was concealing a relationship with her. The DA ordered an internal affairs investigation.

In April of 2019, then-acting Sergeant Christopher Awad pulled over a woman near the Harbor Lite Lodge in Fort Bragg and administered a field sobriety test. He arrested her and she pled guilty to driving under the influence. Both of them told investigators that they thought her case was over and done with when they started flirting on Snapchat. She sent him suggestive pictures, and he told her that anytime she needed a ride, he would provide one, rather than let her drive after drinking again. In an interview with now-retired District Attorney investigator Kevin Bailey, Awad made a point of saying that this offer extended to anyone, male or female, who was too impaired to drive safely.

But misunderstandings about the legal process ensued when the woman’s DUI case was reopened and she feared her DACA status was threatened.

Awad told the DA’s office he thought the charge should be reduced to a so-called “wet and reckless,” and he interpreted ambiguous statements to mean that the lesser charge was a certainty. Bailey asked Awad, “Did you ever give thought to the process of her saying, “Hey, he promised me that he was gonna do this if I did that?” And then it turns into assault under color of authority, sexual battery, all these things. This is a thought process that should be going through your head automatically…I don’t hear jeopardy in your voice. I hear, Ah, you know, I roll the dice see what could happen. I made a bad decision. You know, what could go wrong? Murphy’s Law, things went wrong.”

Awad told Sergeant Jon McLaughlin, the investigator with the Fort Bragg Police Department, that he had approached the DA’s office on his own recognizance after he had arrested the defendant and after she had pled guilty to the DUI in the original proceeding. He was not involved in the first plea. Then, about three months later, he told McLaughlin, he assured the woman that he would talk to the deputy DA on her behalf. “I don’t want you to get deported,” he recalled saying. “And she was down to plead to a wet and reckless.” He agreed that his intent at that point was not to get the case thrown out; “To just tell the DA all the good reasons why she doesn’t need to get deported.”

Awad insisted that a brief encounter with the defendant in a motel room before the trial did not play a part in his advocacy for her or affect his testimony in the second proceeding for the same offense. But the two became “more than acquaintances,” in McLaughlin’s words, after what the woman described as “a hot and heavy make-out session.” At the time, Awad emphasized, “I was under the impression during this time that this case was done and pled out.”

Two months after the interview with McLaughlin, Awad admitted to Bailey, from the DA’s office, that he knew the case was “still a live case;” and that she was still technically a defendant, but he was sure it was “going to resolve.” And she was useful to him professionally, as an informant providing intelligence on gangs.

Bailey established that the woman’s brother was a Norteno, while the information she provided was on the rival Sureno gang. Bailey asked Awad if she also provided information against the Nortenos, and Awad admitted that they hadn’t talked about the Nortenos yet, adding, “Not to say that she would or wouldn’t. I don’t know.” Bailey told him that the woman was “not a small player,” and Awad protested that, “I don’t think she herself is involved in the gang. Her brother is.” Bailey told him, “You can’t be having sexual contact with somebody whose brother is a player in the Norteno street gang and you’re the MAGSU officer.”

Awad and the woman saw each other one more time, shortly before the day Bailey spoke to both of them separately. She had come into the station to get pictures taken of bruises from a beating she accused her brother of giving her. After she corroborated what Awad had told him, Bailey commended her for standing up to her brother.

“I read the report, and I want you to know, good for you for calling law enforcement. Nobody gets to put their hands on you,” he stated. “You’ve got to have respect for yourself or nobody else will, so good for you. Stand by it and keep telling the truth, and it’ll work out for you.”

But in August of last year, she and a man with the same last name were arrested after the man jumped out of a car that she was driving to stab another man, who is suspected of being a member of the rival gang. Both siblings were initially charged with felony assault, but charges against her were dismissed, while her brother was sentenced to four years in state prison.

Awad maintains to this day that he was wrongfully terminated, and subjected to unfair searches. Just a few days ago, he gave an hour-long interview to former Mendocino County Sheriff candidate Trent James on his YouTube channel Confessions of an Ex-Cop, detailing his position on the matter. It is the first in a series of three videos James has promised on law enforcement in the City of Fort Bragg.

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.