ACLU Case No. 2014-15
The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado filed a lawsuit against the City of Trinidad and a pair of Trinidad detectives on behalf of two innocent women who were falsely arrested and prosecuted as part of a highly-publicized “drug sting” in December, 2013.
According to the suit, Trinidad detectives Phil Martin and Arsenio Vigil relied on unsubstantiated accusations made by an untrustworthy confidential informant while ignoring readily available evidence that clearly demonstrated that ACLU clients Danika Gonzales and Felicia Valdez were innocent.
According to the ACLU of Colorado, these unjustified false arrests are representative of the Trinidad Police Department’s “custom, policy, and/or practice of conducting undercover stings” that violate the U.S. Constitution.
Overall, 40 individuals were arrested during Trinidad’s 2013 “drug sting,” many on the basis of false, deficient, and misleading arrest affidavits, according to the ACLU complaint. None of the 40 arrests resulted in a drug-related conviction.
The ACLU lawsuit charges that detectives Martin and Vigil sought arrest warrants based on confidential informant Crystal Bachicha’s uncorroborated accusations while deliberately concealing from the judge a wealth of facts they knew would cast doubt on her credibility and motives. In addition, the ACLU charges that the detectives laced the arrest affidavits with false and misleading assertions designed to manufacture probable cause for arrest.
Danika Gonzalez, who had been Bachicha’s probation officer, lost her job as a result of the false arrest. Felicia Valdez was fired from her job with the Trinidad School System, and she and her children were evicted from their federally-subsidized housing.
Read: The Snitch Who Stole Christmas: How Trinidad’s War on Drugs Attacked the Innocent by Alan Prendergast of The Westword.
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