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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

LAPD Officers Must Face Evidence Fabrication Claims

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A man who spent 13 months in jail for a murder he did not commit can press claims of unlawful arrest and fabrication of evidence against Los Angeles and two police officers, a federal judge ruled.

Roy Galvan, who was acquitted of the murder of Joey Gutierrez, sued Los Angeles and LAPD Officers Miguel Terrazas and David Nunn in January 2014, alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution.

An unknown assailant shot Joey Gutierrez to death on Jan. 28, 2011 in Los Angeles. Gutierrez was a member of the Hang Out Boys gang. Galvan was arrested on March 1, 2011 and remained in jail until he was acquitted in a 2012 jury trial. He sued the city and the officers in January 2014.

Galvan claims Terrazas and Nunn fabricated and failed to disclose key pieces of evidence that led to his arrest and prosecution.

He claims the officers harassed and threatened two homeless men, Mark Loving and Syrella Carpenter, to provide testimony that tangentially linked him to the murder.

The officers allegedly tore the top off the homeless men's tent, pushed them up against a fence, threatened them with arrest and took them to a police station. Galvan says the men would have told the officers whatever they wanted to hear to stop the harassment.

Loving's testimony - which was the basis for Galvan's arrest - contradicted the information the officers had at the time, including testimony from an eyewitness to the murder, Galvan says.

U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder ruled on March 1 that Galvan has provided enough evidence to take his unlawful arrest claim to a jury.

"Taking Galvan's version of the disputed facts as true - that defendants continued to pursue and arrest Galvan based on testimony that had been coerced from a vulnerable, unreliable witness, despite additional evidence that rendered that witness's testimony unlikely if not impossible - a reasonable jury could conclude that defendants did not have probable cause to arrest Galvan," Snyder ruled.

Galvan also claims that Officer Terrazas fabricated evidence, including making up a phone call from eyewitness Ernesto Jurado.

Jurado originally testified that he saw a Hispanic man flee the scene. He specifically stated that the shooter "ran" after firing the gunshots.

At the time of the shooting, Galvan had an injured his right ankle that left him unable to bear weight on that heel. When the officers arrested Galvan, he was on crutches.

Galvan claims the officers fabricated an entry in the police record: that Jurado had called Terrazas to say he had forgotten that the suspect he saw fleeing from the scene had a noticeable limp.

Galvan provided Jurado's phone records, which do not indicate that any calls were made to or from Terrazas on the date in question.

A portion of a statement documenting Terrazas' interview with Joel Cifuentes is also a fabrication, according to Galvan.

According to the statement, Cifuentes said one of the suspects who shot at Gutierrez was a gang member called "Insane" who had been shot in the foot, but the name "Insane" does not appear in the interview transcript, nor does it appear in Terrazas' handwritten notes taken at the interview.

Terrazas said the reference to "Insane" was made during an unrecorded portion of the interview, but in another portion of the interview transcript, Cifuentes names "Creep" as the shooting suspect.

"(P)laintiff has raised a dispute of fact as to whether the Jurado phone call report and Cifuentes witness statement were fabricated," Snyder wrote. "If the fact finder determines that the reports were, in fact, fabricated, it would also be reasonable to infer that Terrazas knew that he was recording false information and that the false information could have affected the judgment of the jury. Such blatant fabrication would be in violation of clearly established law, precluding the application of qualified immunity."

But Snyder gave the officers summary judgment on Galvan's malicious prosecution claim.

"(A)lthough there is a triable issue as to whether defendants provided false information to the District Attorney, because there is no evidence that the District Attorney relied on Jurado['s] or Cifuentes['] reports in electing to prosecute, summary judgment on this claim in defendants' favor is warranted," Snyder ruled.

Snyder also granted the officers summary judgment on Galvan's fabrication of evidence claims regarding the two homeless men.

"(T)he court concludes that although the defendants did use intimidation tactics in order to convince Loving and Carpenter to give statements, their actions do not rise to the high level of coercion required to establish a fabrication of evidence claim," Snyder said.

The judge also refused to grant the city summary judgment on Galvan's Monell claim.

Galvan's attorney, Brian Bush, told Courthouse News that while they are encouraged that the court found triable issues of fact concerning the officers' fabrication of several crucial police reports, they are "mystified" with the court's decision to grant summary judgment on the malicious prosecution claim.

"The court held that the coercion used by the defendants to extract the statements was enough to render those statements unreliable and, because there was no corroboration, insufficient to establish probable cause for arrest," Bush said. "But the presentation of those same coerced statements to the prosecutor for filing murder charges was not sufficient for the court to find that the presumption of prosecutorial independence was rebutted. We view this as a striking contradiction."

Bush said that the ruling insulates the officers from liability for a large part of Galvan's damages and that they are looking into the possibility of an interlocutory appeal of the decision.

Attorneys for the other side did not immediately respond to requests for comment after work hours Monday.

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