LOS ANGELES (CN) - An innocent man spent 13 months in county jail after Los Angeles police officers destroyed evidence and paid two homeless men $10,000 to wrongfully identify him as the shooter in a murder, the man claims in court.
Roy Galvan, who was acquitted at trial, sued Los Angeles and LAPD Officers Miguel Terrazas, David Nunn and Richard Arciniega in Federal Court, alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution.
"Defendants, with intent to pin a murder they did not properly investigate on plaintiff, falsified police reports, falsified the statements of some witnesses, destroyed exculpatory evidence and suborned perjury of two homeless persons by paying them nearly $10,000 to wrongfully identify plaintiff as the shooter," Galvan says in the lawsuit.
An unknown assailant shot to death Joey Gutierrez, a gang member, on Jan. 28, 2010, according to the complaint. Witness Ernesto Jurado, who lived nearby and saw the shooting, told Terrazas and Nunn that he saw the shooter run alongside a building, fire shots and run away, according to the complaint.
Jurado told the officers the shooter looked like a man, later identified as Inocente Hernandez, who had been involved in a car accident in the same area a few days later, Galvan says in the complaint. Jurado also said one of the people involved in the shooting looked like a man called Flaco, and told officers how to find Flaco, according to the lawsuit.
Flaco means skinny in Spanish.
Jurado said he saw two bikes in the courtyard after the shooting, which had not been there before. The bikes were found the next day and booked as evidence, according to the complaint.
The LAPD collected bullet evidence, but the bullet casings were handled without gloves and were not marked with place cards to show where they had been found. None of the casings matched the bullet found in the victim, Galvan claims.
Officers interviewed Mark Loving and Syrella Carpenter, two homeless people who lived in a tent near the shooting scene. Carpenter was a paranoid schizophrenic, Galvan says in the complaint.
"Terrazas and Nunn would repeatedly harass these two, physically abusing and sometimes handcuffing them. Defendants began threatening them, dragging them out of their tent, throwing them up against a wall asking them what they knew about the shooting. They took Loving to the police station on at least three occasions but only documented one of these times. In this interview, according to defendant Terrazas, these two 'witnesses' told him that plaintiff had approached them saying that he knew who had shot the victim and quoted the witnesses as quoting plaintiff saying, 'We got him,'" according to the complaint.
Galvan claims Terrazas and Nunn then arrested him without any forensic or eyewitness evidence tying him to the shooting.
Galvan had more than one alibi: He was at home with his family at the time of the shooting, and he has a foot injury that makes him incapable of running like the shooter did.
"The lack of evidence, the alibi and plaintiff's physical condition presented a severe blow to defendants' desire to pin the murder on plaintiff," the complaint states.
"With Loving's frightened, vague and compelled information which tangentially tied plaintiff to the shooting, defendant police officers set out on a course of conduct to pin the murder of Joey Gutierrez on plaintiff," according to the complaint.
To make Galvan's arrest stand, Terrazas falsified his police report to indicate that the only known witness, Ernesto Jurado, called to tell him that he had forgotten to mention that the shooter had run with a limp. Jurado's phone records show that no such call occurred, according to the complaint.
Terrazas omitted information provided by a friend of the victim, named Cifuentes, that the shooter was a "tall" guy - Galvan is 5 foot 3 - with the moniker "Creep." Terrazas reported instead that the witness said the shooter was a member of the 41st Street Gang known as "Insane" who had recently been shot in the foot. The officers insisted that Galvan was "Insane," according to the complaint.
The officers destroyed the two bicycles found at the scene, did not check Galvan's alibi, did not run any ballistics examination on the bullet that killed the victim, and improperly summarized witness interviews so as to include information in the record that never was said, according to the complaint.
They also refused to investigate other suspects, Galvan claims.
"Even though Terrazas had been told that the shooter looked like a guy who had been in an auto accident a few days later at the same intersection (Inocente Hernandez), Terrazas not only refused to investigate the man but he also omitted from his report that he was aware of who Inocente Hernandez was;
"Even though he was told the location of Flaco, the second person involved in the shooting, Terrazas never followed up on that information," according to the complaint.
Nor did Terrazas investigate the two people who were seen dropping the victim off at the hospital and running away, Galvan says.
The officers "concealed their conduct in extracting information from the two homeless persons only after they had taken them to the police station and putting them in jail cells. Thereafter, to maintain their false stories and to secure their suborned perjurious testimony through the criminal trial, defendant police officers paid these two witnesses nearly $10,000," the complaint states.
"To secure false statements against plaintiff from Cifuentes and Sergio Camacho (who had also seen Flaco running from the scene of the shooting) Terrazas promised them they would not get deported. Defendants also threatened Cifuentes with his brother's arrest for an outstanding rape warrant out of Oregon and subsequent placement in a facility where he would be raped or killed."
Nine months after the shooting, a witness arrested on an unrelated matter told the officers that a Flaco had confessed to being in a shootout with the victim and other rival gang members, and that Flaco was worried about having left two bikes behind. The officers still did not interview Flaco, according to the complaint.
Relying on the evidence and police reports presented by the investigating officers, the L.A. District Attorney's Office decided to prosecute Galvan for the murder, according to the complaint.
Galvan's "life and freedom were thus placed in severe jeopardy by the wrongful conduct of defendant police officers. If convicted as charged, plaintiff faced a mandatory life sentence in prison.
"On April 20, 2012, after being falsely incarcerated for more than a year, plaintiff was fully and totally acquitted by a jury after less than three hours of deliberation," the complaint states.
Galvan seeks punitive damages for false arrest, malicious prosecution, failure to intervene and civil rights charges.
He is represented by Hermez Moreno with Khorrami Boucher Sumner & Sanguineti.