Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Latest Texas exoneration: State hid evidence cop beat suspect while handcuffed, prosecuted victim; FBI says not a one-off

Check out the most recent Texas exoneration from the National Exoneration Registry: Carlos Flores, who allegedly was beaten by San Antonio Police Officer Matthew Belver while handcuffed, then charged with assaulting an officer.
Flores, a legal permanent resident from Mexico with no criminal record, was charged with assault on a public servant. Flores filed a complaint with the San Antonio Police Department accusing Belver of attacking him while he was handcuffed and asserting that he kicked at Belver in self-defense.

Flores said in his complaint that after Belver handcuffed him and placed him in the back of the police car, he told Belver, “I want to kick your ass.” Flores said Belver opened the back door of the police car, yanked him out onto the ground and began beating him while he was still handcuffed. During the tussle, Flores said he kicked Belver in the face.

Belver radioed for assistance, but had managed to put Flores back into the police car by the time other officers arrived.

In May 2011, Flores received a letter from the San Antonio Police Department informing him that after an Internal Affairs Unit investigation, “corrective action” was taken against Belver, but did not specify the nature of the action except to say it would be “noted in his personnel file” and would serve “as a reference in the event there a reoccurrence of this type of action by the officer.

On December 6, 2011, Flores pled no contest to assault on a public servant in Bexar County Criminal District Court and the judge deferred an adjudication of guilt for four years. He was ordered to complete 350 hours of community service and pay $2,300 in restitution to the police department.

In April 2013, the FBI reached out to Flores to interview him because Belver was the subject of a federal investigation into allegations that [he] was beating people while making arrests and conducting improper searches without warrants.

One month later, in May 2013, Flores’s deferred adjudication was revoked because he missed three meetings with his court supervision officer, had only paid $600 in restitution and had not completed his community service. He was sentenced to prison for three years.

In May 2014, Flores was scheduled to be released from prison on parole and discovered that because of his conviction, he was subject to deportation.

In October 2014, Flores filed a state-court petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking to vacate his conviction on the basis of actual innocence. The petition said that although the FBI investigation had not resulted in any charges against Belver, he had been suspended for 30 days without pay for filing a false report of his arrest of Flores and for failing to take Flores for medical treatment on the day of the arrest.

A hearing was held on the petition and the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office agreed that the information should have been disclosed to Flores prior to his guilty plea. A judge recommended that the writ be granted.

In September 2015, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the writ and vacated the conviction. “This information was not disclosed to the defense before (Flores) entered his plea, and is consistent with (his) contention that he did not intentionally or knowingly assault the officer,” the appeals court said. “The trial court conducted a habeas hearing, and the parties agree that the information regarding the disciplinary action against the arresting officer should have been, but was not disclosed to the defense in this case.”

In October 2015, the Bexar County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit filed a motion to dismiss the charge. On October 21, 2015, the motion was granted and Flores was released.
The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in Flores' favor based on a Brady claim, not actual innocence, even though the evidence prosecutors concealed "is consistent with Applicant's contention that he did not intentionally or knowingly assault the officer."

But that's quite a fact-pattern for an innocence case! One wonders what information SAPD Internal Affairs and the feds had that made them believe the word of the suspect over Officer Belver?


Murphyscat said...

n April 2013, the FBI reached out to Flores to interview him because Belver was the subject of a federal investigation into allegations that Flores was beating people while making arrests and conducting improper searches without warrants.

Doesn't this need a correction?

Anonymous said...

If you compare agg assault statistics with murder across Texas, you will find the police departments that have a policy to affect such charges / arrests.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Good catch, Murphyscat! That's from the registry page! Will correct here and email them.

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Peter.Marana said...

Wow, Internal Affairs confirms that the officer had beaten several people while handcuffed and he got only a 30 day suspension! What does a police officer in San Antonio have to do to get fired? And, of course, the police just get defensive when someone expresses distrust of their culture and institutions.

And let's not leave out the prosecutors. What sort of depraved prosecutor would press for a conviction when they knew that the police officer filing the charge had been formally disciplined for the exact conduct being claimed by the defendant.

I have lived here for six years and still cannot get over how such behavior by the police and prosecutors is tolerated at all. Texas needs to get out of the 1950's.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

I completely agree with Peter, not only should they be investigating the Cop (as well as firing and jailing him)(My opinion)

The Asst. DA who filed that charge is part of the poisonous system. The charge was filed because they figured to intimidate Mr. Flores. To make sure he had no recourse. It is part of the culture.

I will say I hope things will change in the future, with conviction integrity units and such but it has long been understood in legal circles that once charges are filed, the defendant is simply a statistic on a prosecutor's conviction rate sheet. They no more care if they are convicting an innocent person than they care if a bug flew across their yard. They give no thought to the persons innocence. CONVICT, CONVICT, CONVICT

jay brandon said...

Here's what else needs correcting: prosecutors did not conceal evidence in this case. I am the chief of the conviction integrity unit in the Bexar County DA's office, and I handled this case post-conviction. Police never forwarded this information to the District Attorney's Office until a couple of years after the conviction, when a writ was filed. It was at my suggestion and with my cooperation that the defense subpoenaed the records that showed the disciplinary action. This wasn't a case of prosecutors hiding evidence, it was a case of a properly conducted post-conviction review by the District Attorney's Office.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jay, according to the CCA opinion, your office agreed "that the information regarding the disciplinary action against the arresting officer should have been but was not disclosed to the defense in this case."

Is that not accurate?

jay brandon said...

Yes, but that's not the whole story, which we so rarely get from CCA opinions. It should have been disclosed to both the defense AND the prosecution by the police department, but it wasn't. As you know, police agencies are considered part of "the State" for Brady purposes, but the DA's office can't disclose what hasn't been disclosed to us. As a result of this case, we are working to fix this problem pre-trial, and we hope to have the fix in place by late next week. This is another important function of conviction integrity units, to find problems that led to wrongful convictions and fix them so they don't happen again.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jay, I agree the cops should have disclosed this. The problem there is the state civil service code makes disciplinary actions secret, and the cops hide that info from you in addition to the public. While I'm glad y'all identified this problem, it's been known: Barbara Hervey's Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit has discussed it in the past. It may be the biggest shortcoming of the new Michael Morton Act, which mandates impeachment evidence be handed over that the police consider secret, even from prosecutors.

That said, I don't think a correction is required. The headline said the "state" hid evidence, and it's true. Cops are part of the government and prosecutors are responsible for their failures under Brady. From the defendant's perspective, the blame game is decidedly unhelpful.

I'm curious: What is your fix? I'm not sure I understand what local policy prosecutors could enact that could change it when the files are secret under state law, but I'm interested in what y'all are doing.

We agree there needs to be a change to hold police accountable for concealing evidence - especially in cases like this where it's supervisors and department policy hiding the ball, not just an individual cop. Only 73 or so departments get to hide these files under the civil service code. The legislative fix is to eliminate the secret disciplinary file under local government code 143.089 and put disciplinary files back under the open records act, which they were before 1989 in civil service cities and the same way 2,500+ other law enforcement agencies operate around the state, including the Bexar County Sheriff.