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Calif. Man Can’t Sue D.A. for Mistaken Arrest

(CN) - A California man who was jailed in a case of mistaken identity and then sexually assaulted by his cellmate cannot prevail on his false imprisonment claim, a state appeals court ruled.

Valentino Bocanegra says his ordeal began when he was pulled over and mistakenly arrested by Palm Springs police in July 2011 on an outstanding warrant issued for another man.

Bocanegra said that during what began as routine traffic stop, he was cooperative with police and produced a driver's license showing his name as "Jose M. Gonzalezbocanegra."

However, the officers assumed he was "Jose Gonzales," who was then wanted for a misdemeanor parole violation.

Following his arrest, Bocanegra was booked into a Palm Springs holding facility and then transferred between facilities until he finally wound up at the Los Angeles County Jail.

Throughout the process, Bocanegra said, he was handcuffed and repeatedly subjected to harmful and offensive touching, even as he continued to protest that his driver's license, social security number, fingerprints, and booking photos would prove the officers had arrested the wrong man.

He claims that on the first night of his incarceration, and in retaliation for his protests, Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies placed him in a cell with a violent sexual predator, who proceeded to forcibly sodomize him.

Bocanegra was held for five days before his first court appearance, and was immediately released after the judge determined he was in fact the wrong man.

Bocanegra sued Deputy District Attorney Donald Jakibowski for false imprisonment, claiming the he was negligent in failing to determine his true identity and tried to prevent his release from jail. Jakubowski responded by claiming governmental immunity.

The trial court ruled in Jakubowski's favor, and the Fourth District California District Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling.

Writing for the court, Presiding Justice Manuel Ramirez noted that Bocanegra did not allege that Jakubowski made a "considered decision" to keep him behind bars.

"To the contrary, the allegation that 'neither he, nor anyone at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office had bothered to read the file ... it was patently obvious to anyone that the numerous pictures of and numerous sets of fingerprints did not match Plaintiff' at least implies that he failed to make any such considered decision."

Ramirez added that all of the alleged acts of Jakubowski were part of the judicial process.

"Absolute prosecutorial immunity extends to false imprisonment claims," he stated. "It also extends to claims based on the willful suppression of exculpatory information."

Justice Jeffrey King wrote a concurring opinion.

"While a bench warrant may be requested by a district attorney, there are no facts pled that defendant or a district attorney had any role in the request to issue a bench warrant or the execution of the warrant," he wrote. "As such, there are no allegations that defendant instigated or played any role in the initial detention of plaintiff."

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