The cop made a promise.
It was January 2010, and Fullerton Police Officer Laura Markoski had just been assigned as an investigator to the Family Crimes Unit and handed one of the toughest, ugliest and unthinkable cases of her career.
Three young female victims.
The alleged abuse dated back to when the oldest girl was 5.
The accused child sexual predator?
The oldest girl’s biological father, who also had been accused of continual sexual abuse of two of his nieces.
“It was brutally horrific to me,” Markoski recalls of the accusations against cable television installer Ronnie Padilla.
The case had been languishing since 2005, when the biological mother of the oldest girl (also a victim of Padilla) first went to the police. At that time, the girls were between 10 and 12 years old.
It was one of several cold cases to which Markoski had been assigned.
Markoski had to start from ground zero and re-interview everyone connected to the Padilla case —- including the three victims, now in their late teens.
To do that, Markoski had to win their trust to reopen old wounds.
When she finally did, she made them a promise.
Knowing that she would retire this year, and knowing how painfully slowly the criminal justice system typically grinds along, Markoski told the victims:
“No matter what happens to me, even if I end up retiring and living somewhere on the other side of the country, I will always be there for you.
Markoski’s last day of work is today — Friday, Nov. 14.
She calls Oct. 3, 2014 the “absolute best, and most satisfying” day of her career.
A KNOCK ON THE DOOR
Growing up in Walnut, Markoski and her brother, Bob, were encouraged by their father to become public servants; specifically, firefighters.
Roy Markoski was a longtime firefighter in Hawthorne who retired as a captain.
Laura Markoski’s brother Bob now is an engineer with Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s Station 9 in Anaheim Hills.
After brief stints as a bookkeeper for a toy company and as a regional systems manager for a computer company, Markoski decided to become a police officer.
A chance knock at the door, when she was living in an apartment in Fullerton while working in Buena Park, led to her career in law enforcement.
The Fullerton police officer at her door, George Crum, now a captain, was there to take a stolen vehicle report.
But dispatch had given Crum the wrong address.
Markoski asked Crum about working for the Fullerton PD, which happened to be hiring.
She called the next day, took a written test the day after that, and soon was a full-fledged cop.
“I was hired the day before my 23rd birthday,” says Markoski, who turns 50 this Monday, Nov. 17.
“I went straight out of dresses and high heels into a cop uniform.”
Markoski would wear dresses and high heels a few years later while working undercover as a call girl with another female officer on the vice detail.
“We had big hair and wore spandex pants and pumps,” Markoski recalls with a laugh.
“We looked horrible – hideous. But we made a lot of money.”
Truly horrible and hideous was the sex-abuse case Markoski was handed in 2010.
Markoski presented the Padilla case to the DA’s Office in May 2010 in an effort to obtain an arrest warrant for Padilla, but was told she needed to do extensive follow-up investigations given the amount of time that had passed.
“The victims felt that they had been forgotten, or that no one cared,” Sgt. Kevin Craig wrote in a Sept. 10 memo recognizing Markoski for her work on the case.
Markoski never forgot.
And she never stopped caring.
Her compassion and drive to have Padilla answer to his alleged crimes won over the victims and their families.
While working the case, Markoski says she came to appreciate the extremely difficult position the oldest victim was in.
Yes, she had suffered terrible sexual abuse.
But the abuser was her father.
“There was a fine line,” Markoski says, “between me doing my job and having compassion and understanding for the position she was in.”
Working on the Family Crimes unit, Markoski says, was “by far the most emotionally traumatic assignment I’ve ever worked. But it also was the most rewarding, because in a lot of these cases, we were able to see justice served.”
Justice could not have felt sweeter for Markoski than it did on Oct. 3, 2014, when Padilla, 43, was sentenced to 30 years to life in state prison.
Despite the abuse inflicted on her, Padilla’s daughter was able to forgive him. She told Markoski that God had forgiven him.
The veteran cop admired her attitude, but told the young woman that her father needed to pay for his crimes.
God, she told the young woman, called her to her position of being a police officer to do His work here on Earth. God, she told her, may have forgiven your father, but He still expects me to do what He called me to do, and that is to make sure your father pays for his crimes behind bars.
Markoski’s retirement luncheon is Nov. 18.
“It’s hard,” she said, tearing up. “This has been my life.”
Among the many guests at the luncheon will be at least two of the three young women.
“Neither had the right to turn out halfway normal, but they are absolutely amazing young women, and they are doing great,” Markoski said.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
After the luncheon, Markoski will move into her new home in Arizona.
She will keep in touch, she says, with her numerous friends at the police department and throughout Fullerton and Orange County — including three young women she now considers her family.
And that, Markoski says, is a promise.