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Two Victims of Police Misconduct Settled Lawsuit for $550,000

Two victims of false arrest and planted drugs settled their lawsuit with the County of Los Angeles for $550,000.

The County of Los Angeles agreed to pay $550,000 to Tatiana Lopez and Miguel Amarillas to settle a federal lawsuit on December 12, 2012, against law enforcement officials for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and planting methamphetamines in violation of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Ms. Lopez, 24, and her boyfriend, Mr. Amarillas, 25, were arrested for drug possession and related charges, all bogus, on October 7, 2009. While in Mr. Amarillas’ mother’s Lexus, they stopped for gas at an Arco station in Downey, California, where they were residents, on their way to pick up Ms. Lopez’s 5-year-old son.

Two patrol cars suddenly surrounded the Lexus. Their occupants, Deputies Francisco Enriquez, Ron Slagle, and Javier Martinez, approached the Lexus with guns drawn, yelling. Ms. Lopez was not searched but was subjected to a Field Sobriety Test, which she passed although she and Mr. Amarillas were later arrested for failing them. Both were handcuffed and placed in separate cars while the Lexus was searched again and again. Deputies found nothing.

Enriquez told Ms. Lopez the Lexus matched a description of a car involved in a robbery, but, in truth, Mr. Amarillas was under surveillance because an informant, Jose Lopez (no relation to Ms. Lopez), who sought to get out of a meth charge, lied to his arresting officer, Mr. Kalassay, telling him that Mr. Amarillas sold him the meth because he knew Amarillas and knew he had served prison time.

Shortly after Ms. Lopez and Mr. Amarillas were transported to and brought into the local police station, Central Station (CS), Kalassay walked in, carrying a sandwich bag of meth, which Enriquez claimed Ms. Lopez left in his patrol car. That was false, since Ms. Lopez was transported in Slagle’s car and Mr. Amarillas in Enriquez’s car. In addition, during a search of Mr. Amarillas’ apartment conducted later by Lieutenant Chris Branuelas, Kallasay, Enriquez, Martinez, and others, meth had been found by Enriquez in Mr. Amarillas’ dresser drawer. Unsurprisingly, booking sheets for Mr. Amarillas and Ms. Lopez had been started before any of the drugs were “discovered.”

Both Mr. Amarillas and Ms. Lopez were subjected to threats, lies, and intimidation from Martinez, Enriquez, and Kalassay while detained, as well as immeasurable fear of going to prison and losing their careers through no fault of their own. By October 10, both were released without charges brought by the district attorney. Ms. Lopez complained to the sheriff of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) about the officers’ misconduct. The Narcotics Bureau assigned Branuelas, Martinez’s, and Enriquez’s supervisor, who was also involved in the apartment search, to conduct an inquiry.

Branuelas asked Ms. Lopez to withdraw her complaint. When she refused, he threatened prosecution on the same drug charges, which he followed through by having Kalassay and Enriquez write supplemental reports to make the drug charges stick. Ms. Lopez faced a felony complaint on January 20, 2010, as a result.

Through further complaints and discovery of CS and LASD record, Ms. Lopez found inconsistent and forged documents that Kalassay attempted to conceal exculpatory evidence, and that Kalassay, Martinez, and Enriquez lied. The Superior Court dismissed the complaint against Ms. Lopez on May 5, 2012. Martinez, Kalassay, and Enriquez were relieved of duty, with the latter facing criminal charges.

Ms. Lopez and Mr. Amarillas brought the official misconduct lawsuit on November 18, 2010. They initially sought a settlement of $1,000,000 but eventually settled for $550,000 on December 12, 2012. Costs incurred for the lawsuit amounted to $16,803 and $196,800 in attorney’s fees.

Counsel for Ms. Lopez and Mr. Amarillas was Thomas E. Beck of the Beck Law Firm. See: Lopez v. County of Los Angeles, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Ca.), Case No: CV 10-8926 PSG; 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62468.

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Related legal case

Lopez v. County of Los Angeles, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Ca.)