LOS ANGELES (CN) – A man who spent 20 years in prison for a drive-by killing he did not commit says he was framed by “a known neo-Nazi, white supremacist police gang” within the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, known as the “Lynwood Vikings.”
Francisco Carrillo Jr. also sued Craig Ditsch, the sheriff’s deputy who allegedly fingered him for the drive-by shooting and murder of Donald Sarpy in early 1991. Carrillo was 16 at the time.
“Mr. Carrillo spent 20 years in prison as a result of the actions of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies. The deputies’ created a false identification of Mr. Carrillo which was adopted by each of the six eyewitnesses. Without the deputies’ wrongful, unconstitutional conduct, Mr. Carrillo would not have been arrested or convicted for the Sarpy murder; he would not have spent 20 years in prison. The deputies’ conduct violated Mr. Carrillo’s civil and constitutional rights.
“In addition, the polices and customs of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department, in particular relating to the conduct of deputies belonging to an internal gang in the Sheriffs Department named the ‘Lynwood Vikings,’ a known neo-Nazi, white supremacist police gang whose members routinely violated the constitutional rights of minority residents in Lynwood, and the lack of supervision of its officers, were motivating forces behind the violations of Mr. Carrillo’s rights. As a result of these actions, Mr. Carrillo was deprived of the one thing all innocent people deserve: freedom,” according to the federal complaint.
The 31-page complaint describes Sarpy’s murder: “On a Friday evening, January 18, 1991, in Lynwood, California, six African-American teenagers aged 15 to 18 were gathered at the south curb line near the front of 4220 Lugo Avenue. At approximately 7:00 p.m., well after dark, one of the boys’ father, Donald Sarpy, began walking from his house to where the boys were gathered. As Mr. Sarpy approached the boys, an automobile drove slowly past the group. When the car had passed the group and was at least several houses away, the front passenger leaned out of the window with a handgun and fired in the direction of the group. One of the bullets hit Mr. Sarpy, and he died a few hours later at the hospital.”
At the time of the murder, witnesses and the police knew of a gang rivalry between a Hispanic gang, Young Crowd, and an African-American gang, Neighborhood Crips, also known as “N-Hood.” According to witnesses, someone in the car shouted, “fuck N-Hood” as the shots were fired, while another witness heard someone say, “Young Crowd Locos.”
Carrillo had identified with the Young Crowd gang after seventh grade until the end of the ninth grade, but says his “identification came more from living in the Young Crowd territory than from participating in any illegal activities.”
At the time of his arrest on Jan. 24, 1991, he had no criminal convictions and according to the complaint there was no evidence he had ever owned a gun, let alone fired one.
Nevertheless, after interviewing one of the eyewitnesses, Scott Turner, 16, the police had their man.
That, according to Carrillo, was due to the deeds of Deputy Ditsch, a member of Lynwood Vikings: “A police gang within the Lynwood sub-station that had a practice of violating the rights of citizens under their jurisdiction, particularly minority residents.”
The complaint states that Ditsch pressured Turner into identifying Carrillo out of the hundreds of mug shots of in a gang book, dismissing photos Turner had picked randomly, until eyewitness selected Carrillo from the gang book and a collection of six photographs.
According to the lawsuit, that same six-pack was used during an investigation of an unrelated shooting weeks before. Carrillo was charged for the crime but later released because an eyewitness could not identify him.
“While showing witness Turner the photo of Mr. Carrillo, defendant Ditsch improperly and unlawfully influenced Mr. Turner’s identification by advising Mr. Turner that Mr. Carrillo was the perpetrator of the crime. Then, defendant Ditsch falsely and erroneously represented in his police report that Mr. Turner had independently picked out Mr. Carrillo as the perpetrator of the crime.
“Although Scott Turner could not see the man who shot the firearm at Mr. Sarpy on January 18, 1991, and chose Mr. Carrillo’s photograph only after defendant Ditsch advised him that Mr. Carrillo was the shooter, defendant Ditsch wrote in a January 19, 1991 police report that Mr. Turner selected Mr. Carrillo’s photograph and that Mr. Turner advised him that Mr. Carrillo was ‘the person Turner saw shooting a small semi-automatic pistol from the right front passenger seat of the suspect vehicle.’ This statement written by defendant Ditsch was fabricated and false,” the complaint states.
It adds: “After defendant Ditsch manipulated Mr. Turner’s selection of Mr. Carrillo’s photograph, Mr. Turner advised the other eyewitnesses that he picked number 1 of the six-pack – Mr. Carrillo – thereby creating an identification for the other witnesses when previously they had none.”
Turner maintained that Carrillo was the shooter, as did the five other witnesses, at Carrillo’s first trial in January 1992. But the court declared a mistrial after the jury deadlocked.
“The second trial was held between June 18 and June 30, 1992. Prior to his testimony, the prosecution’s primary witness, Scott Turner, informed the parties that his identification of Mr. Carrillo had been a mistake and that he could no longer testify against him.
“In response to this recantation, defendant Ditsch met with Mr. Turner in the lock-up area, where inmates are detained inside the courthouse before appearing in the courtroom. In response to Mr. Turner’s recantation, defendant Ditsch threatened Mr. Turner that that there would be negative consequences for recanting his identification of Mr. Carrillo once Mr. Turner was on the street.
“At the second trial, Mr. Turner testified that Mr. Carrillo was not the shooter and he (Mr. Turner) had been mistaken when he had identified Mr. Carrillo. However, based on his fear of retaliation from defendant Ditsch and other members of the Lynwood Sheriffs sub-station, also known as the Vikings, Mr. Turner did not disclose to the jury that defendant Ditsch had suggested to him that Mr. Carrillo was the shooter,” according to the complaint. (Parentheses in complaint.)
To undermine Turner’s admission, Carrillo says, Ditsch testified that Turner had told him at the scene of the murder that he could identify the shooter, though there was no record of either the eyewitness or the officer being at the scene immediately after the shooting. The five other eyewitnesses also testified that Carrillo was the shooter, leading to a unanimous guilty verdict for murder and attempted murder.
In March this year L.A. Superior Court Judge Paul Bacigalupo vacated the conviction after Carrillo showed that the evidence against him “was either false, tainted, or both.”
Citing the “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law,” after a hearing on Carrillo’s habeas petition, the complaint says the Superior Court found: “In this proceeding, Carrillo has established that the eyewitness evidence against him was either false, tainted, or both. No witnesses are able to place him in the car that night, much less identify him as the shooter. None of the witnesses were able to identify the shooter because the car was too far away, it was too dark, and it happened too fast.”
Carrillo seeks punitive damages for conspiracy and deprivation of civil rights.
He is represented by Ronald Kaye, with Kaye, McLane & Bednarski, of Pasadena.