The search for proof that San Bernardino County sheriff’s Deputy Erdem Gorgulu had committed crimes and other ethical lapses while investigating the June 1 looting of a Big 5 sporting goods store in Highland yielded the following evidence against the field-training officer, according to a court document:
• A baseball bat with the Big 5 price tag still attached that was found in the trunk of Gorgulu’s private car;
• An audio recording of what sounded like a struggle, which if it happened, contradicted a statement from Gorgulu to a suspect;
• A text message from Gorgulu to another deputy that contained a derogatory comment about suspects;
• And a lone, orange Gummy Bear found on the floorboard of Gorgulu’s patrol vehicle beneath his usual seat.
Those details are contained in an affidavit written to obtain search warrants for Gorgulu’s home, car, cell phone and work locker that was obtained by this news organization through a California Public Records Act request.
Gorgulu was placed on administrative leave June 3 and fired Aug. 24. He has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon and assault under color of authority, both felonies, and the filing of a false report by a peace officer and petty theft, both misdemeanors. He is scheduled to enter pleas Oct. 20.
A woman who answered the door at Gorgulu’s home on Tuesday, Sept. 15, said he declined to comment on the case.
Gorgulu, 46, had been a deputy for more than 11 years when he and his trainee partner were sent to the Big 5 at 2150 E. Highland Ave. just before 2 a.m. on June 1, which would turn out to be a day of large, peaceful protests and scattered violence in San Bernardino, Yucaipa, Riverside and around the nation in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police a week earlier on Memorial Day.
The deputies arrived shortly after 2 a.m. and saw several people fleeing the business whom they could not catch. Gorgulu went inside to search for more suspects and found Juan Alejandro Martinez, 28, hiding, the search warrant affidavit said.
After a short foot pursuit, Gorgulu escorted Martinez to the patrol car. The trainee told investigators that he overheard Gorgulu tell Martinez, “You received the injuries from falling off the wall, right?”
As the trainee sat in the patrol car doing paperwork, he overheard Gorgulu telling two other deputies that he had taken a baseball bat from the store after striking Martinez with it, the document says. The affidavit lists Gorgulu as 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds; jail records list Martinez as 5-foot-6 and 145 pounds.
Later, when the trainee asked Gorgulu about the bat, Gorgulu said he would return “tomorrow” and pay for the bat.
“(The trainee) confronted Gorgulu and told him he did not feel comfortable with Gorgulu stealing the baseball bat. Gorgulu threatened to extent (sic) (the trainee’s) training program and went as far as to threaten to fail (the trainee) from the training program,” the document says.
Gorgulu then went back inside the store, which was closed for business, and returned carrying the bat and a package of Haribo Gummy Bears, the document says.
Gorgulu offered the trainee a piece of candy.
“(The trainee) declined and was scared of retaliation and did not question Gorgulu about the Gummy Bears,” the document says.
When Martinez was booked, the trainee asked him to lift his shirt, which revealed an impression that could have been made with a baseball bat.
At the end of their shift, the document says, the trainee saw Gorgulu put the bat and candy into his personal car.
Soon after, Sheriff John McMahon wrote in an Aug. 26 news release, another deputy reported Gorgulu’s actions to a supervisor. That touched off an internal investigation.
On June 2, a detective sergeant searched Gorgulu’s patrol car and “located an orange Gummy Bear on the passenger floorboard. It is common for field training officers to sit in the passenger seat of the patrol vehicle while training new deputies,” the court document said.
Also that day, Gorgulu’s audio recorder was found in his work locker. On the recorder, according to the document, there was a sound of a struggle.
The next day, Gorgulu’s private car was searched, yielding a black-and-tan bat with the $34.99 price tag still attached, the document says.
Then on June 11, a detective interviewed a deputy who said he had texted Gorgulu on June 1, apologizing for being on vacation during the riots. Gorgulu, according to the document, replied: “LOL, we got justice on those monkeys.”
The investigator concluded his affidavit by stating that is his belief that Gorgulu assaulted Martinez with the bat, made the derogatory text and that a search of Gorgulu’s phone would yield evidence of an assault.
In McMahon’s news release, he praised the deputy who reported his suspicions about Gorgulu’s actions.
“I applaud deputies for standing up for what is right along with the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers across this great nation who do the right things for the right reasons every day,” the sheriff wrote.
On June 18, Martinez pleaded guilty to violating Post Release Community Supervision and was sentenced to 132 days in jail. He also faces a burglary charge from a 2019 incident, Superior Court records show. He has pleaded not guilty.