Sheriff deputy accused of shaking down Roman Catholic priest

December 29, 2009

Father Geronimo Cuevas


A San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s deputy has filed a civil claim seeking an unspecified amount of money against a Roman Catholic priest whom he said emotionally traumatized him during an undercover sting operation.

Claiming personal injuries, Sheriff’s Deputy John Franklin filed a civil claim against a Roman Catholic priest he arrested in 2007 for lewd conduct in a public place near Avila Beach. Franklin claims he suffers “mental and emotional distress including feelings of anger, rage, disgust, revulsion and embarrassment as a result of the despicable and oppressive behavior” of the former assistant pastor of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Nipomo.

“It is not so much monetary as a position of principal he is seeking. My client is making a statement that this is not acceptable behavior,” said James R. Murphy, the deputy’s attorney.

Church officials, their attorneys and the priest’s attorney contend Franklin is attempting to strong-arm the priest and the church for monetary gain.

“I think John Franklin is just looking for money,” said Thomas Riordan, vicar for temporalities for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey, which includes San Luis Obispo County. “We continue to be surprised by his actions.”

On July 18, 2007, Franklin was working undercover at the area around Pirate’s Cove, a nude beach with a reputation as a hook-up spot for homosexuals, when he spotted the priest, Geronimo Cuevas, standing in the brush rubbing his genitals through his shorts.

“I asked him (Cuevas), ‘What have you got over there,” Franklin said in the arrest report. “With his right hand he motioned for me to come towards me and he stated, ‘Touch me.’”

“I took two steps towards him asking him, ‘What did you say?’ He reached out with his right hand and touched my genitals,” Franklin said in the report.

Franklin then informed Cuevas, who claimed he was unemployed and living in Las Vegas, that he was under arrest for sexual battery and lewd acts.

Cuevas was convicted in 2008 of two misdemeanor counts of lewd conduct in a public place, ordered to take an AIDS awareness course and placed on three years probation. The church also stripped the fallen priest of his “faculties” (permission to perform church duties).

“My client (Franklin) was ordered to do patrol duty there,” Murphy said. “While he was minding his own business, he was grabbed by a priest.”

Following Cuevas’ conviction, Murphy sent a letter to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey stating his client’s plans to seek monetary damages for injuries incurred during the arrest.

“A demand was made upon the diocese and refused,” said attorney for the Diocese of Monterey, Paul Gaspari of the San Francisco-based Tobin and Tobin law firm. “I think it was a claim that had no foundation in law or fact.”

Murphy said he wrote the diocese a letter at the time because he assumed Cuevas was still a priest. Later, he was informed that Cuevas was no longer performing priestly duties. He contends that, due to past transgressions, attorneys for the church should not be discussing his client’s case.

“The attorney for the diocese is a rude and tasteless individual,” Murphy said. “With the past cover-ups of indecent conduct, he should mind his own business.”

Both James McKiernan, attorney for Cuevas, as well as Gaspri contend that the case has no merit and, because of the Fireman’s Rule, Franklin has no legal standing to seek damages.

California’s Fireman’s Rule bars lawsuits by police officers and firefighters for collecting on damages that occur in the course of their duties, even when there is negligence by another party.

Two of the precedent-setting cases that form the basis for the Fireman’s Rule involving law enforcement cases occurred in San Luis Obispo County.

In 1982, San Luis Obispo police officer and ex-county supervisor, Jerry Lenthall, filed an injury claim against an assailant who shot him. The case was dismissed under the Fireman’s Rule.

In 1999, a psychiatric patient shot Atascadero Police Officer William Tilley. Tilley’s attorney, Eric Parkinson, then filed suit against the man’s psychiatrist, claiming negligent care. Again, the case was dismissed because of the Fireman’s Rule.

“In a nutshell, firemen get burned, dog catchers get bitten, police get shot and vice cops get groped,” McKiernan says in court documents. “A person, like the defendant, specifically hired to encounter and combat particular dangers is owed no independent tort duty by the party who created the dangers.”

Murphy’s rebuttal is that in some cases of intentional criminal activity the rule has been overridden.

“Just because you are on duty, someone has a right to grab your scrotum and penis?” Murphy asked. “How much has the diocese spent paying out claims of sexual abuse by priests and they dump Cuevas?”

In the past, Franklin has filed numerous workers’ compensation claims for incidents such as slipping down an embankment and multiple exposures to blood and toxic mold, according to court documents. However, he has not filed a workers’ compensation claim or received medical assistance regarding the Pirates Cove incident.

“This is the type of lawsuit that gives the judicial system and lawyers a bad name” McKiernan said. “This is a case when the ranting, raving, threatening and blustering is over, the Fireman’s Rule will kick it out of court.”

Another bone of contention centers around why Franklin has continued to serve as an armed sheriff’s deputy when he states in his civil claim that he suffers from daily feelings of anger and rage.

“We have programs available to our staff suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after highly special incidents,” said Rob Bryn, spokesman for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department, who said because of personnel privacy issues he was not permitted to say if Franklin informed the sheriff’s department of his alleged emotional injuries.

“If someone is allegedly suffering some type of emotional distress, tell someone and we would assist them.”


So hard to decide between a Catholic priest and a sheriff’s deputy, two professions charged with a public trust that has been completely and utterly betrayed. It’s just a fact of life: certain jobs with authority attract the worst sorts of people, whether it’s politicians, CEOs, teachers, priests or cops.

But something’s amiss here, since this priest should have made archbishop by now and this deputy should be county sheriff or Director of Homeland Security (viz. Bernard Kerik).


Being a Catholic priest is NOT a “profession” — it’s a vocation from God. It’s hardly a “job” as you infer. Your archbishop crack suggests you’re some sort of anti-Catholic bigot…


Not to infer that some who wear the deputy’s badge don’t feel that they are also among the “chosen ones” doing “God’s work?”


Is it possible that someone using the handle “Crusader” is unaware of certain pedophilia scandals in the church and the hierarchy’s shameful failure to deal with same? I guess it is.


This whole thing certainly smells. I wonder if the cops have anything to say.

Unless this story is way different than shown here this cop must be a real weeny. I’ve received some overtures from gays over the years and simply denied them. Most women experience unwanted attention thousands of times during their lives. Why is this policeman so weak?

I’ve been to Pirate’s Cove hundreds of times and never seen anyone solicit anyone else in public view. I’ve heard there is a ‘gay’ area but it is way out of sight and must take an effort to go there. I wonder why we are spending our tax money to persecute those consenting adults who choose to congregate with others of their social persuasion. Was the priest convicted solely because of the word of this deputy? Wow, maybe he was set up. I know some honest lawyers, they tell me cops lie all the time in court.

Pretty lame situation all around.



Smug comment. Like cops, dog catchers and commentators on this blog some lawyers are good, some bad. The disaffected masses love to throw rocks at others without restraint, such as ‘inefficient government’. I’d rather have my fate in the hands of our government than greedy and corrupt corporations. If jlwils finds our institutions so lacking I wonder what he/she is doing about it.


He or she spent many years in government service, so my conjecture of efficient government as a oxymoron, is based upon first hand knowledge. You are correct in your statement that their are “some lawyers are good, some bad”. The same holds true for LEO’s. But your statement that you know honest lawyers that tell you that cops lie all the time in court is bilge at the very least.


I stand corrected, I used the phrase too loosely. I meant ‘often’, ‘all the time’ does indicate always and that is not what I meant and not true I’m sure. And I’ll bet a lot of good people fudge the truth because the situation seems to call for it, its a tough judgement call at many stages of life.

A huge factor here and at all times is whether those in power should be held to a higher standard than the masses, rather than less. We have all seen the pillaging of society for personal gain by those with tremendous influence and resources, and they often get off by one rapacious manipulation or another. Cheseburger keeps our attention on the white collar criminals in our midst, CCN has called our attention to police misbehavior (from silly to criminal) with what seems to be at most wrist slapping as a consequence. If the average joe spits on the sidewalk a battery of squad cars will descend like wraiths from hell on the hapless citizen-but those who have nearly sunk our society (wall street, the banks and other white collar crooks) and damage the public trust in our sacred institutions (like the Police) get a walk.


comment removed , too little wit, too much invective directed to another user,

Facts Can Be Cruel

Why is it that when a Deputy seeks regress in Court it is called a “Shake Down”? Does he lose his rights when he puts on a badge? If his case is groundless he will pay the Church’s legal fees. Let the system work. I also listened to Dave and Karen have a good laugh. No matter what either of you says you are both extremely anti-law enforcemet, go find a real story.


Well, for the record, Karen comes from a law enforcement family, and I have a family member who is currently a police officer in southern California, a young man of whom I could not be more proud. We are hardly anti-law enforcement. Nor, however, will we give cops a pass. When they do dumb stuff — whether it’s dancing on table tops in public, or pepper spraying a guy in the face, or filing a frivolous lawsuit, then we will report it. You decide. If you want Happy News, go read SLO City News or The Tribune.


If this were “” then I could understand using the biased “shake-down” term in the title… but this is Let the courts decide if this is frivolous – or at least keep the opinion part in an opinion section.


I have to correct Dave a bit; often one can find happy news on the Congalton show as well as insightful views across the spectrum.

Tess TruHart

Just because this guy John Franklin has been exposed as a FRAUD, does NOT mean the people who “exposed” him are “anti law enforcement”. I come from a long line of police officers & whether it’s patrol or undercover work, it’s all part of the job. If you can’t handle it, then retire!


I don’t get it. Why does the Sheriff’s Office allow someone who says he suffers from feelings of rage and anger to continue to carry a gun and why in the first place did they assign him to undercover work( which means he on his own work ) when he had filed multiple workman comp claims. Clearly Franklin (no pun intended) was ill equipped for the under cover assignment.


I agree and I know this officer.Many of his coworkers who started when he started have been retiring at a rapid rate the last few years on disability.If you do the research I think you will find SLO county has higher then normal disability filings compared to neighboring county’s.Couple of them retired from the sheriffs office and now work in other Government capacities and they are in their 40’s.


Hey it’s new years and to put the budget in place, maybe they figure, he is an asset and not and ash*le, if he plugs someone he gets off, on an insanity plea and they don’t have to feed and cloth the alleged perpetrator, makes since to me cause, I’m on a budget too! Prison’s are to full, goes back to the old days of shoot first and ask summary questions later!

P.S. I am not in favor of this nut being on the force, anyone who would file a lawsuit for monetary gain without damages,(not a drop of blood, broken bones, etc,). Is a disgrace to the force, of at least half are good soldiers, I hope! I bet they think he’s a “wimp” and the chese is kinda sliding that way, maybe he enticed the old reptile, in the first place, his word against a Catholic priest, who has begotten a very bad reputation from other Catholic priests.


Bluebird you said it all:)


It was enlightening to hear Dave Congalton and Karen Velie yuck it up today on the radio over this supposed news story. I don’t agree with Franklin and think his lawsuit is a joke, but is this news? I got a better news story…Man bites dog.


This is going to make great fodder for the upcoming sheriff’s election.

“Candidate Lenthall, you have filed a similar civil suit, how would you handle this case?”

“Candidate Parkinson, your brother has handled a similar civil suit, how would you handle this case?”


Sounds fishy to me


This John Franklin character sounds like nothing more than a greedy and morally bankrupt opportunist. He’s the sort of deputy that needs to be canned.

Let’s see if we can use his logic and that of his lawyer, James R. Murphy. The Catholic Church (allegedly) has deep pockets — or at least it has insurance. It’s fairly easy to to get some people revved-up into a bigoted, anti-Catholic state by using the pedophilia scandal angle.

So an easy mark with some bucks. Let me amend what I said earlier. Franklin and Murphy need to be given beatings (for wasting taxpayer and Church time and resources) before Franklin is summarily canned.


Oh, JEEZUS Frikken Crisco.

SLO county needs to dump all their law enforcement and start over.

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