BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) - A man claims he spent 4 years in prison based on a Brownsville Police jailer's false assault charge against him, and BPD's concealment of a video that proved his innocence.
In his federal complaint, George Alvarez says Brownsville Police arrested him in November 2005 for suspicion of burglarizing a car.
Alvarez, then a 17-year-old high school student, was placed in a cell with a phone, he says. He says he became frustrated when he could not use the inoperable phone, and, "According to the jailers, he then began banging the earpiece against the wall," the complaint states.
Tree jailers, including defendant Jesus Arias, went into the cell to remove him, Alvarez says. Arias, who weighed more than 200 lbs., put the 135-lb. Alvarez in a chokehold and brought him down to the floor, Alvarez says.
"On the ground, defendant Arias continued to choke plaintiff and cut off his air supply," he says. "Other jailers were present and were pulling plaintiff's arms back as he was being choked by Jailer Arias. Plaintiff was then handcuffed and shackles were placed on his legs as Jailer Arias continued choking plaintiff on the floor of the city jail."
Arias eventually released his chokehold on Alvarez, and the jailers threw him inside another cell with his hands cuffed and shackles on his legs, Alvarez says.
"Jailer Arias went back to his station where he sat down and appears on video to be smiling and laughing with the other jailers," according to the complaint.
Arias then called another BPD officer and filed an assault complaint against Alvarez. The officer prepared the report based solely on testimony from Arias and his fellow jailers, the complaint states.
"His report merely recites what he was told by the jailers, that plaintiff 'immediately resisted' and 'had to be taken to the ground,'" Alvarez says. "The report fails to mention that the plaintiff merely stopped to ask the jailer a question[.] it also fails to mention that it was jailer Arias who approached plaintiff from behind and placed plaintiff in an illegal lateral vascular neck restraint. It also failed to mention that it was Arias not plaintiff that initiated physical contact."
Brownsville Police gave the report to the Cameron County District Attorney's office, which sent it to the Cameron County Grand Jury.
"Based on defendant BPD's investigation of the offense and the self-serving statements of the jailers, the Grand Jury had no choice but to return a felony indictment against plaintiff for assault on a public servant," the complaint states. "The District Attorney's Office and the Grand Jury were not aware that defendant BPD had hid a CD recording of the incident from them."
Alvarez says Arias' supervisors, whom he also names as defendants, were complicit in the coverup.
"Defendant BPD conducts internal affairs investigations any time that jailers engage in use of force," Alvarez says. "In doing so the above defendants became aware that defendant Arias had assaulted the plaintiff. They also became aware that Arias had filed false charges against the plaintiff. Finally, they became aware that a CD existed which recorded the assault and exonerated the plaintiff of the false accusation. Defendant BPD created an internal report in which the criminal charge against plaintiff is referenced and so is their review of the exculpatory CD. ...
"None of the acting supervisors intervened to stop the criminal process set about by the false police report."
Alvarez adds: "Faced with the statements of the three (3) jailers against his word, plaintiff pled guilty. His alternative was to go to trial and run the high risk that a jury would believe the jailers and punish him with a high number of years of imprisonment.
"Plaintiff's criminal defense was able to secure him a probation term of eight (8) years. For plaintiff, this was as good as having been sentenced to the penitentiary. At the time, he was battling a drug addiction and shortly after being convicted he was accused of violating his probation. Plaintiff was sentenced to eight (8) years in prison on the original false charge."
While Alvarez was doing his time, a detainee named Jose Lopez filed a similar lawsuit against BPD "for use of excessive force by its jailers, for the withholding of video evidence, and for the filing of fabricated charges against him," according to the complaint.
Through discovery in the Lopez case, the video of Alvarez was discovered in BPD's internal affairs records, Alvarez says: "Plaintiff George Alvarez's CD was buried inside an internal affairs folder along with the Brownsville Police Report filed against plaintiff," Alvarez says. "Counsel for plaintiff noticed that a police report charging George Alvarez with felony assault was attached to the CD and also noticed that the police department withheld the CD and did not include it as part of the police report. A review of the CD quickly revealed its exculpatory content."
Alvarez filed for habeas corpus and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found him "'actually innocent' of the charges that sent him to prison," according to the complaint.
He seeks punitive damages from the City of Brownsville, Police Chief Carlos Garcia, Jailer Jesus Arias, Sgt. David Infante, Lt. Henry Etheridge and Cmdr. Robert Avitia.
Alvarez is represented by Eddie Lucio of Brownsville.