GGPD’s Crimes Against Persons Unit: ‘When the phone rings…you drop what you’re doing'

By Jessica Peralta

Though the nine detectives who make up the Garden Grove PD’s Crimes Against Persons Unit have various assignments – homicide, robbery, sex crimes and domestic violence – their work does have some parallels. The detectives must have an eye for detail, a passion for puzzles and a strong sense of teamwork.

“We rely heavily on each other,” says Cpl. Mike Farley, who’s been in the unit for eight years. Overall, he’s been a detective for 10 years and a homicide detective for seven.

The team members have many years of experience in common.

“They’re not just going to pull anybody to the Crimes Against Persons Unit,” says Farley.

Their work takes them into some dark places, but always with the intent of finding justice for victims.

And there have been some recent successes.

Homicide

Homicide Det. Steve Heine says the increase in video use by people and on properties has become a great help in finding perpetrators of crimes.

Heine just led a case for an incident on Aug. 24 resulting from a text-message war between a 31-year-old woman and a 44-year-old woman.

Det. John Casaccia of Garden Grove PD’s Crimes Against Persons Unit. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Det. John Casaccia of the Garden Grove PD’s Crimes Against Persons Unit.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“This text-message war led to an offer to meet and get into a physical fight,” says Heine.

The 44-year-old woman and her two adult sons (18 and 19) arrived at the younger woman’s home, says Heine. The 19-year-old son went to the front door to call the other woman to come out for the fight. After engaging in a two-minute physical altercation, the 19-year-old son pulled out a firearm and shot the 31-year-old woman once in the face and five times in the upper torso, he says.

Once the investigation into the homicide began, the detectives discovered video surveillance at the homeowner’s property. After obtaining the video, detectives saw that the 19-year-old was the shooter and were able to identify him within 14 hours of the homicide, says Heine.

The suspect fled to Texas. The Crimes Against Persons Unit worked with the Gang Unit and Special Investigations Unit, and used other available department resources, to gather enough evidence for an arrest. The suspect was apprehended Sept. 6.

“This was a huge team effort,” says Heine.

Robbery

Detectives use whatever tools they can to help solve a case. Robbery Det. John Casaccia used social media to help make an arrest following a series of robberies that took place at 7-Elevens in Garden Grove and Santa Ana.

At the Garden Grove crime scene, Casaccia obtained a description of the suspect and his vehicle. Since Santa Ana also was hit, the local police department made fliers with photos they captured of their suspect and placed these photos on Facebook. Casaccia was able to identify the Garden Grove suspect with those photos.

The two agencies worked together, located the suspect’s residence and served a search warrant. They found items involved in the robberies along with narcotics at the suspect’s home, but no suspect, says Casaccia.

The suspect was found leaving a business in Stanton with loaded firearms and was taken into custody.

He has been charged with seven counts of armed robbery, seven counts of robbery with possession of a handgun and one count of transportation of narcotics.

Det. Lea Kovacs of Garden Grove PD's Crimes Against Persons Unit talks about her work against sex crimes. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Det. Lea Kovacs of the Garden Grove PD’s Crimes Against Persons Unit talks about her work against sex crimes.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Sex Crimes

Det. Lea Kovacs is passionate about her job because she knows it means helping stop future sex crimes.

A recent successful arrest involved a young female victim visiting the area for school, according to Kovacs. She was walking toward Disneyland one evening when she was grabbed off the street and dragged into a nearby park, where she was sexually assaulted.

The forensics team obtained a DNA swab from the victim’s neck where she was strangled and a suspect identification was made through a DNA match in the criminal database, Kovacs says. The suspect is facing a possible life sentence.

Kovacs says most sexual assault perpetrators are known to the victim, so this case was unusual in that the suspect was a stranger.

“That’s a different type of monster,” she says.

In addition to her detective duties, Kovacs also is called for advice by patrol officers from the scene of sexual assaults. They want to make sure they handle it correctly, says Lt. Bob Bogue.

“It’s very personal,” he says of the nature of sex crimes.

Cases of child sexual abuse are handled even more delicately. The sex crimes team works closely with the county’s Child Abuse Services Team (CAST) for interviews involving children up to 16.

The sex crimes detective, a social worker and a deputy district attorney can watch on the other side of two-way glass as a forensic interviewer speaks to the child. The detective gives the interviewer questions for the child and the interviewer asks them with the help of games, toys and activities for the kids in order to reduce the stressfulness of the situation. Photos and swabs obtained for evidence are also conducted through CAST.

Garden Grove PD Det. John Casaccia, Crimes Against Persons Unit, talks about robbery cases. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Garden Grove PD Det. John Casaccia, Crimes Against Persons Unit, talks about robbery cases.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

A Dedicated Team

GGPD’s Crimes Against Persons Unit works tirelessly to make sure justice is served.

Farley says detectives are no strangers to missing birthdays and holiday parties, as well as being in uncomfortable situations – like rain and sewage.

“When the phone rings … you drop what you’re doing and you go,” he says.

Det. Mike Farley of Garden Grove PDÕs Crimes Against Persons Unit. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Det. Mike Farley of the Garden Grove PD’s Crimes Against Persons Unit.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC