Strong Arm of the Law

Hollywood's Police Officer of the Year has been accused of sexual battery, manslaughter, and brutality

About 3 a.m. on Friday, May 20, 1988, Schapler headed south on Interstate 95 and exited on Sheridan Street, heading west in a red Chevrolet Camaro. At the time, Salvo and Saladino had their cruisers parked along Sheridan. They were chatting. Salvo remembered seeing a red streak in the humid night air. "There goes a speeding car," Salvo told Saladino.

The young officer gave chase. The Camaro's brake lights flashed unexpectedly, signaling to Salvo that the driver had seen the cruiser in the rear-view mirror. He turned on his lights and stopped the vehicle near a Builder's Square.

Schapler wore a short jeans skirt and a green blouse. The music blared in her vehicle. "What do you want?" Salvo recalled her asking, propping up a leg and exposing her pubic hair.

Joni Marie Schapler was driving this red Chevrolet Camaro when Hollywood police stopped her on Sheridan Street.
Joni Marie Schapler was driving this red Chevrolet Camaro when Hollywood police stopped her on Sheridan Street.
In the mid-’90s, Lt. Jeffrey Marano led the Hollywood Raiders, a police unit accused of brutality and civil rights violations.
In the mid-’90s, Lt. Jeffrey Marano led the Hollywood Raiders, a police unit accused of brutality and civil rights violations.

"I need your driver's license, your vehicle registration, and proof of insurance, ma'am," Salvo said.

The woman thumbed through documents. "When she was fumbling with the papers," Salvo recalled in a statement, "the skirt was going up higher and she had her leg, like, on the console, to where she was exposing, really exposing, herself to myself."

Salvo walked back to his cruiser with Schapler's license and registration. Just then, Saladino's cruiser pulled in behind. The handsome, six-foot-two, 230-pound officer walked up beside Salvo.

"Did you find your insurance, ma'am?" Salvo asked Schapler.

"Oh, I'm looking, I'm looking," she said. "Who's the big guy?"

"He's a partner of mine," Salvo answered. "Don't worry about it."

Schapler's pager sounded. "It's the office," she explained. "They're trying to locate me because I'm supposed to be somewhere."

"At 3:30 a.m.?" the officers questioned.

"I'm a financial consultant," Schapler answered. But that was a lie. She later acknowledged during an investigation that she was a high-priced prostitute servicing wealthy businessmen. That night, she was on her way to see a client. "If I would have said that I was an escort, I think that that in men conjures up a lot of things unless you can sit them down and tell them what caliber of people you're dealing with," she would later explain in a statement.

Salvo and Saladino ordered her to move the Camaro to a dark section of the parking lot, the woman recalled. "I'd just as soon finish it here," Schapler said she replied.

"If you don't [move the car], I'm gonna take you in," Salvo allegedly said.

The officers both acknowledged that they ordered Schapler to a different part of the parking lot. But that is as far as their stories agree with Schapler's.

According to Schapler's account, Salvo and Saladino again approached her car in the dark portion of the lot. Salvo approached her first, she said. "He grabbed my hand and had me fondle him through his clothes because he was commenting that he had such a hard-on," Schapler alleged in her statement.

Schapler claimed that Saladino ordered her to stand against the car, her hands on the top and feet spread. "He undid his pants and pulled up my skirt and had intercourse with me," Schapler said. Salvo masturbated as she was raped, Schapler alleged.

She wasn't on birth control, the woman told the officer. She was concerned about sexually transmitted diseases. She always used condoms.

Please.

Stop.

"Don't worry about it," Schapler remembered Saladino telling her. "I won't get a drop on you." The officer then pulled out early and massaged himself, releasing on the ground, Schapler recalled.

"She was in shock when she came home," remembered her roommate, Ellen Panzarella. "She was a mess, actually. She was just talking in circles, and her mind was just... she was gone, you know? She was crying and very, very upset."

But Salvo and Saladino remembered the incident much differently. They claimed that, upon moving her vehicle, Schapler began to flirt with Saladino. "Why don't I give you my number and we'll get together and go out sometime," Saladino remembered Schapler saying. Then she purportedly stared at Salvo, hiked up her skirt above the waist, grabbed Salvo's hand, and placed it on her leg. "I've got nice legs," Salvo recalled her saying before he pulled back.

Then, Saladino said, he ordered her to leave, and she drove away.

Next, the officers report, Salvo walked behind a Builder's Square to relieve himself. Saladino followed. Schapler suddenly returned, exited the Camaro, removed her skirt, and began to dance. "I've got a 36-year-old ass, and it looks pretty good," she allegedly said.

The two officers drove off. "Geez, what a wacko," Salvo told Saladino.

The next day, the "wacko" filed charges. An IA investigation followed. Then came a grand jury inquiry. All the while, Schapler stuck to her story: She'd been sexually assaulted by two of Hollywood's finest.

The officers' claims that she danced naked were ridiculous, she said in a statement. "By them stopping me and detaining me as long as they did, I lost between $250 and $500," she said, "and there would be no reason for me to do that. I have three men that I go out with in my personal life. I'm not lacking sex. So absolutely, that's absurd."

The case came down to Schapler's account versus that of the two officers. The grand jury declined to press charges, and IA didn't cite them. Though there's no indication as to their reasoning in the public record, juries generally give more credibility to cops than to prostitutes.

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