As a result of two federal lawsuits brought on behalf of eight plaintiffs, in October 2016 the Colorado town of Trinidad agreed to pay $775,000 to the victims of its police department’s incompetence and over-reliance on a snitch who was bent on fingering those she held vendettas against.
The plaintiffs in the separate civil rights actions claimed they were among nearly 40 innocent citizens arrested during a December 2013 drug sting, based on “almost exclusively ... uncorroborated and untrustworthy information provided by confidential informants.”
In January 2015, the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit on behalf of two of the people who were falsely accused, Danika Gonzales and Felicia Valdez. Both women had been netted in the drug sting, and while they were subsequently cleared of all charges they lost their jobs after being arrested.
The City of Trinidad agreed to settle the case for $375,000. See: Gonzales v. City of Trinidad, U.S.D.C. (D. Col.), Case No. 1:15-cv-00049-WYD-MEH.
The second lawsuit, also filed in 2015, sought justice for six other falsely-arrested plaintiffs: Raquel Garcia, Eric Gallegos, Joseph Romero, Marilyn Tyler, Vickie Vargas and Melissa Vialpando.
As reported by the Denver Post in October 2016, attorney David Lane said the city had agreed to settle their claims for $400,000. See: Garcia v. City of Trinidad, U.S.D.C. (D. Col.), Case No. 1:15-cv-02607-DME-CBS.
Prisoners’ rights activists and criminal defense attorneys have long complained that the use of confidential informants, or “CIs,” with questionable backgrounds and unknown motivations, often results in unjust outcomes.
Police detectives Phil Martin and Arsenio Vigil, who allegedly relied on the false assertions of confidential informant Crystal Bachicha, 33, were named as defendants in both lawsuits.
Bachicha, whose activities as a CI resulted in dozens of drug arrests that were later thrown out of court, was known to be “a three-time convicted felon, a liar, a drug user, and had no history of providing reliable information to the [police department],” one of the lawsuits stated. “Yet, over and over again, the [police] took CI Bachicha at her word as she falsely accused various community members of selling drugs,” including people who had previously accused her of murder. Another person falsely accused by Bachicha – Danika Gonzales – had been her probation officer.
The police department did not take appropriate steps “to undertake meaningful efforts to corroborate the CI’s allegations, even when [it] ... had ample reason to doubt the reliability of the ... accusations and even though readily available exculpatory evidence was at [its] ... disposal,” the lawsuit argued.
Bachicha’s deceptions could no longer be ignored when she accused two people of selling her drugs when they were actually in jail. Unfortunately, that fact was not readily apparent to the police, who did not immediately deduce that the same CI sometimes claimed to be in two places at once.
The falsely-accused plaintiffs further alleged that the police officers named in the suit “claimed that they were working with CI Bachicha and monitoring her as she sold drugs to plaintiff Vickie Vargas at the exact same time they claimed that they were working with [her] at an entirely different location to buy drugs from another individual.”
After providing false information that resulted in the arrests of around 40 innocent people, some measure of justice was achieved when Bachicha was charged with first-degree perjury and sentenced in March 2015 to 30 days in jail, three years’ probation and 72 hours of community service. As part of her plea bargain, two other perjury charges were dismissed.
Sources: www.courthousenews.com, www. denverpost.com, www.chieftain.com
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Related legal cases
Garcia v. City of Trinidad
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (D. Col.), Case No. 1:15-cv-02607-DME-CBS|
Gonzales v. City of Trinidad
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (D. Col.), Case No. 1:15-cv-00049-WYD-MEH|