Lawsuit: Man wrongly ID’d as robbery suspect

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

An Albuquerque man whose robbery charge was dismissed last year has filed a lawsuit alleging that police arrested and jailed him in 2019 based on an identification process long criticized as unreliable.

Larry Francia, 44, says in the lawsuit that he was arrested when the alleged victim of a robbery identified him as the perpetrator after looking at him only briefly as he stood beside a squad car surrounded by police on the night of the robbery.

“The victim looked at (Francia) briefly in the police lights, with officers around him, and agreed that (Francia) was the male who robbed him,” the suit alleges. “The victim’s degree of certainty in the identification was unclear.”

The robbery charge against Francia was dropped in February 2020, 2nd Judicial District Court records show. The lawsuit names as defendants the city of Albuquerque and two Albuquerque police officers: Paul Chavez and Chris Small. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

Albuquerque Police Department spokesman Gilbert Gallegos did not immediately respond to emails requesting comment.

On June 19, 2019, APD officers were dispatched to the 7500 block of Central after David Diaz reported that he had just been robbed by a man and a woman, according to a Metropolitan Court criminal complaint.

Diaz told police that the man walked up to him on the sidewalk, punched him in the head and demanded money, the complaint said. Diaz handed over his wallet, and the female accomplice removed $21.

Police later found Francia walking in the area, and Diaz identified him as the attacker, the complaint said. Officers arrested Francia on a charge of robbery, a third-degree felony, and booked him into jail.

The lawsuit alleges Diaz made the identification after officers “positioned (Francia) in front of a police car and shined police spotlights on him.”

This technique for identifying a suspect is called a “show-up identification” and has been criticized by judges in New Mexico and other states as “inherently suggestive,” the suit alleges.

Unlike a lineup or a photo array, which require an eyewitness to choose among several suspects, a show-up identification features only one suspect.

The suit alleges that “the identification procedures used in this case were unreasonably suggestive and led to the misidentification” of Francia as the robber.

APD’s identification procedures “are so unreliable that any person walking in a high-crime area at night is subject to potential for stop, arrest and jail time, merely for being at the wrong place at the wrong time,” the suit alleges.

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