ALBUQUERQUE (CN) – A good Samaritan claims Albuquerque police filed a bogus felony charge against him in a harebrained sting they set up by planting a backpack with beer, cigarettes and a computer outside a high school. He says he picked up the backpack so children wouldn’t drink the beer or smoke the cigarettes – for which he was charged with felony larceny.
Preston Sanchez says he stopped by a downtown ATM machine to withdraw money when he and a woman in line saw the backpack, “abandoned next to the ATM” and “in plaint view of a charter high school.”
He says the woman “asked a passing child if it was his backpack,” and the kid said no. So Sanchez and the woman discussed what to do with it.
“On inspection the backpack contained beer and cigarettes,” Sanchez says. “The backpack had been left across the street and in plain view of a charter high school. Plaintiff was worried the children from the high school would find the backpack and make use of the beer and cigarettes.”
So after he withdrew money from his account, Sanchez says, “he was forcibly detained by defendants” as he tried to get into his car with the backpack.
He says he “attempted to explain to defendant that he did not want to beer to be taken by the nearby schoolchildren.”
To no avail.
“Defendant [Albuquerque police Office Benjamin] Melendrez arrested him with felony larceny for taking the backpack.”
Sanchez spent the night in jail, and only then, or later, did he discover that it was the cops’ beer, the cops’ cigarettes, and the cops’ backpack.
He says “Melendrez had placed the backpack next to the ATM, and the co-defendants Cole Knight and William Young, also police officers, “waited to see who would pick up the backpack.”
“Defendants deliberately placed objects of enough value (beer, cigarettes and a computer) in the backpack so they could charge people with felonies.”
Sanchez says the “backpack sting operation” was part of Albuquerque Police’s so-called “TAC plan,” which involves “officers leaving ‘bait’ for people to pick up”. He says such stings “have become a practice and policy of the Albuquerque Police Department,” and that “at least ten people, including plaintiff, were arrested pursuant to this unconstitutional policy.”
And he claims that police Sgt. Louis Armijo is the brains behind the ruse.
Sanchez seeks punitive damages from all the named officers, the city, and Police Chief Ray Schultz, for false arrest, false imprisonment, and 4th Amendment violations.
He is represented by Matthew Coyte.