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$320,000 Settlement in Wrongful Imprisonment Case

by Christopher Zoukis

A federal lawsuit alleging wrongful arrest and imprisonment by the LAPD settled for $320,000 on January 16, 2007.

The case involved the murder of 16-year-old Martha Puebla, who was shot and killed outside her Sun Valley, California home. Puebla was murdered just 11 days after she testified against Jose Ledesma in a gang murder prosecution. Puebla did not testify against Mario Catalan, who was also charged for the gang murder.

The evidence obtained in Puebla's death investigation indicated that she was killed in retaliation for her testimony. The suspected shooter was described by an eyewitness as 5'8", dark skinned, chubby and dressed like a gang member. He was seen driving a black Chevy Malibu with tinted windows. An informant told police that the suspect was named Juan and drove a white Ford F150.

The eyewitness identified Juan Catalan as the shooter in a photo lineup. Catalan, brother of Mario Catalan, was arrested for Puebla's murder.

But the LAPD didn't investigate Catalan beyond the photo lineup. Had they done so, they would have discovered that he was not a gang member, and that he had a rock solid alibi. He was at a Los Angeles Dodgers game when the shooting occurred. In fact, cell phone records indicated that he was 16 miles from the murder scene when it happened.

And if that wasn't enough, HBO was filming an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in the stadium that day. Footage of Catalan at the game was found in outtakes from the episode.

Catalan sued the City of Los Angeles in federal court, claiming damages for civil rights violations as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress. On the day trial was to begin, Catalan, with the assistance of attorneys Gary S. Casselman and Daniel Leichner Casselman, settled the case for $320,000.

Case: Catalan v. City of Los Angeles, United States District Court for the Central District of California, Los Angeles Division, Case No. CV04-6233-CBM (January 16, 2007)

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Related legal case

Catalan v. City of Los Angeles