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$95,000 Settlement For Imprisonment Based On Falsified Police Report

by John E. Dannenberg

The Los Angeles, California County Sheriff's Department sought $95,000 authority from the L.A. County Claims Board (Board) to settle a wrongful incarceration federal civil rights lawsuit brought by a plaintiff whose conviction had been predicated upon an admittedly false detective report, even though the detective was subsequently acquitted of criminal proceedings brought against him for that falsification of records, perjury and false imprisonment.

On June 26, 2001, Sheriff's deputies executed two narcotics search warrants in the city of Compton. Reyes Cardenas was at one location. One deputy (Detective) reported seeing Cardenas throw a bag of narcotics onto the neighboring roof. Notebooks recovered at both locations revealed apparent drug courier lists, including Cardenas' name. The Detective arrested Cardenas for possession and sale of cocaine, to which he pled no contest and was sentenced to four years. However, Cardenas always denied that it was he who threw the bag of drugs.

When an investigation ensued into allegations that an unknown suspect had stolen money during service of the warrants, it turned up that a Sheriff's Deputy at the scene stated she saw the Detective's informant, not Cardenas, throw the drugs information not available at trial. Based upon this, the District Attorney filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Cardenas, resulting in the conviction being set aside. Cardenas was released from prison on May 8, 2002 after serving over ten months.
On May 31, 2002, a grand jury indicted the Detective on seven counts, including accessory, after the fact of possession of a controlled substance, filing a false report, falsification of records, perjury under oath, and false imprisonment. However, on January 28, 2003, a jury acquitted him of all charges.

The Board reviewed the damages exposure presented by County Counsel regarding Cardenas' subsequent civil rights suit for false arrest and imprisonment. Counsel estimated emotional distress liability of $500,000 plus attorney fees of $250,000, while reporting the county had already expended $72,184 in attorney fees and $4,044 in costs. Noting that the case was one of contested liability, County Counsel nonetheless conceded that a jury might believe the other Sheriff's Deputy, and conclude that the Detective was protecting his informant at the expense of Cardenas.
Accordingly, counsel recommended the Board's approval of $95,000 authority to settle all claims for damages, costs and attorney fees. On September 27, 2004, the board approved payment to Cardenas. See: Cardenas v. County of Los Angeles, U.S.D.C. CD CA, Case No. CV 03-5182 DT.

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Related legal case

Cardenas v. County of Los Angeles