SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) - Anaheim police beat and tortured an innocent man and jailed him for four months until he was freed and the bogus charges were dropped, the man claims in court.
Rafael Garcia Miranda sued Anaheim and its Police Department, Orange County, and five police officers, in Orange County Superior Court. He alleges excessive force, torture, false imprisonment, battery, civil rights violations and other charges.
Miranda claims he was arrested 14 years after a state prison guard, Elizabeth Begaren, was shot to death on a freeway offramp in Anaheim. Begaren's husband, who saw her killed, claimed gang members robbed them for $4,700 and shot his wife when they saw her Department of Corrections badge, according to Miranda's lawsuit. She was killed on Jan. 17, 1998.
"While Anaheim detectives were immediately suspicious of Mr. Begaren's story, especially after learning the couple had been recently married and that Mr. Begaren had taken out a $1 million life insurance policy on his new bride, the case went cold," Miranda says in the complaint.
Fourteen years later, in February 2012, new information allegedly came to light, Miranda says, leading defendants Anaheim Police Sgt. Daron Wyatt and Det. Hernandez to arrest him and two other men, (nonparties) Nuzzio Begaren and Jose Luis Sandoval. All three were charged with murder and street terrorism, with special circumstances murder charges, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit does not state Det. Hernandez's first name.
Miranda says Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies pulled him over on Feb. 2, 2012, arrested him at gunpoint and turned him over to Anaheim police.
After two days of detention at the Anaheim Police Department, Miranda says, Wyatt and Hernandez put him in an interrogation room.
"During their interrogation, Wyatt and Hernandez sought to elicit information from Miranda about the 1998 shooting death of Elizabeth Begaren and his alleged involvement in same," the complaint states. "By this time, Nuzzio Begaren had already confessed to hiring Jose Luis Sandoval to kill his wife in a murder-for-hire scheme. Jose Luis Sandoval had also confessed to his role in the murder of Elizabeth Begaren as the hired shooter. At no time had Begaren or Sandoval implicated Miranda in killing or events related to planning the killing."
Nonetheless, Wyatt and Hernandez persisted, Miranda says, though he told them he was living in Arizona when Begaren was killed.
"When defendants Wyatt and Hernandez failed to obtain the confession they were seeking from Miranda, they began torturing him by beating, punching, striking, pushing, choking, tormenting and intimidating him," the complaint states. "To this end, Miranda was repeatedly hit and struck in the face and body and kicked in the legs all the while being called a 'cop killer' by them. While chained to the table in the interrogation room, Miranda was pushed over in the chair in which he was seated, repeatedly choked and held with his face/head pressed against the table with one or more of the defendants' weight upon him; this all the while being told his family would face consequences if he did not confess, including, but not limited to, their suffering physical harm and the removal of his children by Child Protective Services (CPS). Further, during their lengthy interrogation, Miranda was deprived of sleep, food, water, and access to reasonable accommodations, including, but not limited to, use of a restroom by defendants."
Miranda eventually was returned to a holding cell, then tortured again by Wyatt and Hernandez, he says.
"On or about February 6, 2012, Miranda was turned over to the Orange County Sheriff's Department and was transferred to the Orange County Jail. On arrival to the Orange County Jail, already labeled a 'cop killer,' Miranda was received by an unknown male member of the Orange County Sheriff's Department, taken to the Intake and Release Center, and placed into a private room where he was then beaten by this individual all the while told, 'this is what we do to cop killers here!' This beating of Miranda included his being repeatedly punched, hit, struck and kicked," Miranda says in the lawsuit.
He was released on May 24, 2012 and all charges involving the murder of Elizabeth Begaren were dismissed in July 2012, he says. Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin cited exculpatory evidence as the reason for the dismissal, the Orange County Register reported.
Nuzzio Begaren was convicted this month of murder and conspiracy to commit murder for recruiting gang members Guillermo Espinoza and Jose Luis Sandoval to kill his wife, the Orange County Register reported. He faces 25 years to life in prison at his Oct. 4 sentencing.
Sandoval pleaded not guilty and is out on bail awaiting trial. Espinoza, the alleged shooter, is a fugitive with a no-bail warrant out for his arrest. He is listed as one of the Orange County District Attorney's Most Wanted.
Miranda seeks punitive damages.
He is represented by Mark W. Eisenberg, of Irvine.
The Anaheim Police Department did not immediately return a request for comment.
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