A veteran L.A. County sheriff’s deputy was charged earlier this year with sexually abusing his underage niece in San Bernardino County, according to court records and interviews with the alleged victim’s family.
Daniel Wai Whitten, 43, was charged in March with more than a dozen counts of lewd acts with a child, having unlawful sex with a child, possession of child pornography and communicating with a minor for a sexual purpose, according to a criminal complaint filed by San Bernardino County prosecutors.
The incidents happened between January and November of 2019, according to the complaint. Investigators do not know of any additional victims, said Jodi Miller, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
Two of the alleged victim’s relatives — who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her identity — said the girl was Whitten’s niece by marriage.
Neither the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department nor the district attorney’s office issued a news release announcing the arrest of Whitten or the filing of charges. Relatives of the girl said they were frustrated by the lack of attention paid to the case, questioning why Whitten’s arrest had not been made public for over two months.
One relative told The Times most of the incidents occurred at hotel rooms and Whitten’s Ontario home, and claimed Whitten began “grooming” the girl in 2018, when she was 14.
Whitten has pleaded not guilty. His defense attorney, Michael Scafiddi, said Whitten’s plea “speaks for itself” and declined to comment on the allegations in detail.
Whitten was hired by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department in 1999, records show. He was assigned to the department’s Parks Bureau as of 2017 and was earning an annual salary of roughly $100,000 at that time, according to a Sheriff’s Department roster.
L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Capt. John Satterfield said the agency became aware of the investigation into Whitten when he was arrested on March 3. Whitten was relieved of duty without pay on April 13, the date he was arraigned, according to Satterfield.
Satterfield did not respond to questions about the nature of Whitten’s work or whether that would have put him in proximity to children. In 2013, Whitten was involved in the high-profile arrest of a Canadian fugitive suspected of sexually assaulting a disabled child in the 1970s. The suspect had been living in a San Dimas park where Whitten was assigned.
One of the relatives of Whitten’s alleged victim said concerns were first raised about him last year, after an anonymous complaint was made to the Child Protective Services Division of the Department of Public Social Services in Riverside County, where the girl lives.
“They reported that there was unusual things going on,” one relative said. “They had seen [Whitten] sitting on the couch really close, kind of like arm massages or weird hugs, just longer hugs than you would expect an uncle to do.”
Whitten went to his niece’s school to talk to her after learning of a Child Protective Services investigation, one relative said. Whitten also repeatedly called her parents, according to the relative, who said the investigation ultimately closed without producing evidence of wrongdoing on the deputy’s part.
The girl initially denied that anything improper had happened, according to one relative, who said the girl later detailed the alleged abuse during an interview with San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department investigators earlier this year.
Gene Kennedy, a spokesman for the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, declined to comment on the prior allegation. Satterfield said he did not know if the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department was made aware of the Riverside County complaint against Whitten.
Miller, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman, said her agency first received a complaint about Whitten in February of this year. Whitten was arrested following an interview at the department’s headquarters in San Bernardino on March 3, according to Miller.
Miller initially said the department issued a news release seeking information about additional victims, which is common practice for law enforcement agencies after they arrest alleged sexual predators. When informed no such release existed on the Sheriff’s Department website, Miller said investigators were waiting for prosecutors to review the case before issuing a statement in March but then ultimately failed to publish one.
The charges against Whitten are not the first time an L.A. County sheriff’s deputy has been accused of sexual assault in recent years.
Giancarlo Scotti, a former deputy at the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, was charged with having unlawful sex with six female inmates at the complex in 2016. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office allowed Scotti to plead no contest and avoid prison time in 2019, as both the prosecutor and Scotti’s defense attorney in the case described the encounters as nonviolent and consensual — even though, by law, inmates cannot consent to sex with their jailers.
Times staff writer Alene Tchekmedyian contributed to this report.