Saturday, April 23, 2011

Actual innocence case from Brownsville: Teen choked by city jailer he was falsely accused of assaulting

Here's an actual innocence case out of Brownsville that doesn't exactly fit the DNA exoneration mold, from the Courthouse News Service, which reports the story of George Alvarez, who "spent 4 years in prison based on a Brownsville Police jailer's false assault charge against him, and BPD's concealment of a video that proved his innocence." The Court of Criminal Appeals recently approved his habeas corpus writ based on "actual innocence" grounds, and he's filed a civil rights lawsuit (pdf) in federal court. (Texas has no state civil rights statute of its own comparable to Sec. 1983 in the Civil Rights Act.)

Alvarez was 17 years old, 5'4" and a slight 135 lbs. when he was jailed for allegedly burglarizing a car then attacked and choked by a 200 pound city jailer. The jailer filed an offense report claiming Alvarez attacked him seeking assault charges, but he and his superiors failed to include with the complaint exculpatory video evidence showing that was not true. The blue wall of silence continued even after the evidence was discovered during an investigation by BPD's internal affairs division, making them complicit in the coverup. What's fascinating to me is how the exculpatory evidence was ultimately discovered, a roundabout tale described in the closing paragraphs of the article:
While Alvarez was doing his time, a detainee named Jose Lopez filed a similar lawsuit against BPD "for use of excessive force by its jailers, for the withholding of video evidence, and for the filing of fabricated charges against him," according to the complaint.

Through discovery in the Lopez case, the video of Alvarez was discovered in BPD's internal affairs records, Alvarez says: "Plaintiff George Alvarez's CD was buried inside an internal affairs folder along with the Brownsville Police Report filed against plaintiff," Alvarez says. "Counsel for plaintiff noticed that a police report charging George Alvarez with felony assault was attached to the CD and also noticed that the police department withheld the CD and did not include it as part of the police report. A review of the CD quickly revealed its exculpatory content."

Alvarez filed for habeas corpus and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found him "'actually innocent' of the charges that sent him to prison," according to the complaint.
He seeks punitive damages from the City of Brownsville, Police Chief Carlos Garcia, Jailer Jesus Arias, Sgt. David Infante, Lt. Henry Etheridge and Cmdr. Robert Avitia.
Quite remarkable: There were not one but at least two cases where the Brownsville PD Internal Affairs division allegedly withheld exculpatory video to cover up assaults by their employees, one of them resulting in a man being sprung from prison on an "actual innocence" habeas writ. This is the biggest police department on the eastern end of the Rio Grande - how confident does this make you that BPD Internal Affairs is diligently pursuing corruption among their rank and file officers?

Here's a link to Alvarez's habeas writ before the CCA, though regrettably all the documents don't appear to be linked there as one would usually expect.


Anonymous said...

Another sad story for my former profession.

You know something Grits, it sheds a little light to another concern and that is to what extent some defense attorney(s) go to investigate their clients cases.

I can only assume the attorney went to the jail facility, saw they had a video system and inquired as to whether or not there was a recording.

Depending on the type of recording equipment and even if he was told there was no CD, the video could have been retrieved from the systems hard drive by way of a court ordered subpeona.

I make no excuse for these officials if what has been stated is true. OTH, there is no excuse for poor representation of those accused of crimes, if that be the case here.

Retired LE

TriggerMortis said...

I hope you're not so naive to believe incidents like this are the exception. The fact is that many times even the district attorneys are complicit in these schemes to hide evidence of wrongdoing by police departments.

The reality of our times is that many times money has become so important that it trumps justice. Especially in regards to serious misconduct claims where million-dollar judgments could be awarded in court, the coverups go clear to the top and could even involve mayors and judges.

Anonymous said...

Well this certainly sounds familiar.


Anonymous said...

Another case where video evidence would prove the cops did wrong. If a cop makes a questionable arrest the video and audio were broken, not turned on etc. Happens every day in our great state and as long as DA offices are not held accountable it will continue. Billy bad ass beating up on a cuffed high school kid. I hope this entire department rots in jail.

Anonymous said...

I was assaulted by an investigator in the Smith County DAs office. I was then charged with assaulting him. I was told there were no video cameras. My attorney told me he checked and there were none. If there had been I would have had a good case for unlawful arrest and excessive force. Instead I ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge to avoid having people in the DAs office lie at trial and send me to prison. This story makes me wonder if I ought to do some more checking and see if there really weren't any security cameras in that area. Matt Bingham, the Smith County DA knows the investigator lied. What TriggerMortis said is true...this stuff happens a lot...and some prosecutors are complicit in it.

rodsmith said...

you dont' want to know what i think this individual and his family has every legal right to do to ever ONE OF THESE CROOKS!

let's just say

death is TOO GOOD for them!

Anonymous said...

On a collateral point - the CCA website is a farce - incredibly difficult for the casual user to find anything on it, and even a tired old pro can be tricked. The CCA recently "set and filed" i.e. ordered briefing in a capital habeas case under # AP-76,533. The case is that of one Ker'sean Ramey and involves the perpetual problem of the unreliable state shrink Dr. Richard Coons. There was a dissenting statement - Keller, Hervey and Keasler - objecting on procedural grounds to the other 6 members of the court ordering briefing. That got filed under # WR 74,896-01 - and there's no link from one case to the other. In other words, you needed to know what was going on to find out what was going on. No doubt Keller is happy to leave things obscure as she and her cronies try to keep sweeping the scandal of the State's long-standing use of Coons in death penalty cases, in spite of the lack of any scientific support for his predictions of future dangerousness.

Anonymous said...

Good point 11:44. That future dangerousness issue needs to be looked at. The opinions of these so called experts have proven unreliable on this issue time after time. You'd think after Dr. Grigson was discredited courts would have been more leary of this type of testimony. Grigson testified that Kerry Max Cook was a dangerous individual who was likely to kill again in prison. Thing is, he had never killed in the first place. He displayed no violence during his wrongful 22 years of incarceration. Psychiatry in general should be given little weight in court. So much of it is speculation and guess work. And, so many experts just skew their opinion to favor one side or the other. If the courts arent' smarter enough to figure that out....well I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Just another story of "Business as Usual". Any police units that still have "To Protect and Serve" on their cars should be forced to remove it. The Federal government has so militarized the local law enforcement community they are little more than Gestapo agents. In Temple, Texas many of the local police are ex-army. After several tours in the Middle East they have more than enough PTSD to go around. In Temple, Texas the city council members actually give the PTSD cops guns to carry. PTSD is high in first responders so why hire most of your police force from military personnel who have a healthy dose of PTSD going into the profession? I sure as hell don't feel safe around the Temple Police Officers. The last people I want to call would be the local police who could be much more dangerous than most of the local criminals. If they screw-up and it all goes bad they make you the bad guy and put you in jail.

The Bell County Sheriff's Office arrested a guy who reported a fellow model air plane flier missing at Lake Belton. They arrested him on a bogus gun charge ( in his car) while he was on private property under his control as a club member. The missing guy was found drowned in the lake later and ruled an accidental death. They had to drop the bogus gun charge but said they were going to charge him with a weapons violation for having a pocket knife with a clip on it. It was a knife like many Texans carry and was purchased at Academy Sports. I think the BS knife charge is in hopes it will block a law suit. The guy arrested has never even had a speeding ticket much less a previous criminal record. The Bell County Sheriff's Department screwed up and now don't know how to get out of their own trap. The DA is helping the officers to hold the BS knife charges active. I once thought Sheriff Dan Smith was an honorable man and helped to get him reelected but now I see he is either not controlling his department or has gone bad. Dan Smith has lost one of his best supporters along with several more I know who are aware of this incident.

Who are you going to call
When seconds count
The local PTSD Officers are only minutes away

Anonymous said...

An 11-year-old Texas girl who accused 19 men of raping her was in foster care Tuesday, days after a raucous town meeting where she was outrageously blamed her for instigating the attacks.

"She lied about her age," Angie Woods told the Houston Chronicle. "Them boys didn't rape her. She wanted this to happen."

I wonder how many Grits readers blame the 11 year old and argue that the 19 men are innocent?