Former California cops accused of kidnapping a woman while illegally working as bounty hunters

Former California cops accused of kidnapping a woman while illegally working as bounty hunters

Two former Orange County police officers are facing criminal charges after allegedly kidnapping a woman while prosecutors contend they were working illegally as bounty hunters.

An Orange County Grand Jury indictment charges Rodger Corbett, 49, of Corona and Kevin Pedersen, 34, of Fullerton with felony counts of kidnapping and false imprisonment along with enhancements for being armed with firearms, according to a California Department of Insurance statement released Monday.

According to the insurance agency, the investigation into Corbett and Pedersen began after a video of the former law enforcement officers trying to find someone who missed a court appearance was posted on social media.

The video — which apparently misidentified the two men as undercover officers — allegedly showed them operating as bounty hunters without having completed the legal requirements to work in the bail fugitive recovery industry, according to the insurance department. The incident happened in October 2020, court records show.

The two former officers are accused of forcibly kidnapping and handcuffing the girlfriend of the person they were apparently trying to locate and driving her around for several hours. Both were “visibly armed” at the time, according to the state insurance department.

Corbett’s attorney, Marlin Stapleton Jr., denied that either Corbett or Pedersen did anything wrong. The woman was helping her boyfriend — a violent fugitive accused of assault with a deadly weapon and domestic violence — evade capture, the defense attorney said.

“We are very confident that our clients will be exonerated,” Stapleton said. “They are the good guys in this.”

A bystander videotaped their encounter with the woman, falsely believing that Corbett and Pedersen were undercover Anaheim police officers, and posted the footage on an “anti-police” YouTube channel, Stapleton said.

Pedersen’s attorney, Ed Welbourn, said Pedersen and Corbett “put themselves in harms way to do the right thing,” describing the woman as an accessory after the fact to her boyfriend’s alleged crimes.

“I don’t know why they took her word over what actually happened,” Welbourn said. “It’s a head-scratcher for me.”

Both Corbett, a former Fullerton police sergeant, and Pedersen, a former Anaheim officer, left their law enforcement positions under unrelated clouds of controversy.

Corbett in 2018 accepted a court offer requiring him to plead guilty to filing a false police report stemming from a 2016 drunken driving crash involving then-Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz. Over the Orange County District Attorney’s office objection, Corbett avoided jail time by entering into a pretrial diversion program, performing 80 hours of community service and agreeing to no longer work in law enforcement.

Prosecutors had alleged that Corbett was called to the scene after Felz on Nov. 19, 2016 drove over a curb and slammed into a tree. Despite other officers believing Felz had showed signs of intoxication, Corbett allegedly performed only a “cursory” examination of Felz before giving him a ride home, later writing a false report saying Felt wasn’t under the influence.

Corbett’s employment with the Fullerton Police Department ended in March 2018. It isn’t clear if he left voluntarily or was dismissed.

Pedersen was fired during his probationary term with the Anaheim Police Department after in 2018 shooting a man to death following a car chase in a busy residential neighborhood in which Pedersen and his partner fired more than 76 gunshots. Pedersen fired the bulk of the gunshots, a DA investigation later found.

A DA report sharply criticized the actions of Pedersen and his partner, though it also determined there wasn’t enough evidence to file criminal charges for the killing of Eliuth Nava Penaloza. The city of Anaheim later agreed to a $2.9 million settlement with Penaloza’s family members.

The bounty hunter investigation was carried out by the state insurance department and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Unit. An investigation into the licensed bail agent suspected of hiring the two former officers is still ongoing.

Corbett and Pedersen are scheduled to be arraigned on June 29.

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