Suit says deputy misconduct led to false detention - Albuquerque Journal

Suit says deputy misconduct led to false detention

David Chacon holds his newborn daughter alongside his girlfriend. Chacon was jailed for more than five months before the case against him was dismissed. (Courtesy of Ryan Baughman)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

David Chacon, 37, spent more than five months in the county jail charged with aggravated assault.

During that time he got COVID-19 and staph infections “at least three separate times, in three separate locations on his body.”

He missed the birth of his daughter and the last moments of his grandfather’s life and the funeral services. He lost his job.

Then, in late January 2021, the case against him was dismissed because belt tapes from the arresting deputies – turned over after many delays – “revealed discrepancies” and “called into question the credibility of the allegations against the defendant.” On the tapes deputies could be heard saying they thought his accuser was drunk and lying and wondering whether they should charge her with making a false report, according to a lawsuit filed against Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales and county commissioners.

The suit, filed at the end of November, alleges, among other things, false arrest, malicious prosecution, defamation and negligence in training and supervision on the part of the sheriff.

“Defendants, through its deputies and Sheriff, falsely arrested and imprisoned (Chacon), and maliciously prosecuted him, knowing that it had … evidence in its possession and within its knowledge, but refused to release it to detectives or the District Attorney,” the lawsuit states.

Chacon is asking for compensatory and punitive damages for the months he spent behind bars.

The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to requests for comment. The county declined to comment.

Chacon’s attorney, Ryan Baughman, said in the months since his release from jail Chacon has basically had to start his life over, finding a new job while caring for a newborn baby at home.

“Now he is working, he is doing great, he is raising his family, he is really happy,” Baughman said. “There’s just this whole six months of his life that are missing. It’s unfortunate that this is how this played out.”

Criminal complaint

According to a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court, on Aug. 13, 2020, a woman called 911 to say her neighbor, Chacon, messaged her and told her to “go outside and he will put a bullet in her mouth.” She said he was outside with a gun.

Deputies were sent to the Sage Canyon Apartments on Fourth Street near Montaño NW where they talked with the woman who appeared to be very upset. She told them she had gone outside and Chacon had walked toward her and grabbed a black pistol out of his waistband – “implying he would use it” – and told her he would put a bullet in her.

The deputies set up a perimeter and ordered Chacon to come out. He did and raised his hands in the air but then did not comply with the deputies’ demands to get on his knees, according to the complaint. He yelled at them to shoot him and the deputies shot him in the chest with a pepperball, a nonlethal weapon.

Chacon was taken into custody and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a fourth-degree felony.

Prosecutors cited the felony charge and the allegations against Chacon and asked for him to be held in jail pending trial. The motion was granted.

In the meantime, his attorneys began requesting evidence – including belt tapes from the arresting deputies – be turned over to them in order to prepare for trial.

It took months, and three requests, before the deputies finally complied, according to the lawsuit.

That’s when the defense and the prosecution heard the deputies say things on their belt tapes that dramatically undermined the case. The deputies described the alleged victim as “drunk” and “(expletive) lying,” discussed discrepancies in her frequently changing story and suggested they “could get her for making a false report,” according to the lawsuit.

“Despite knowing that (the woman’s) stories were conflicting, she was severely intoxicated, was lying to deputies, and deputies were contemplating charging her with making a false police report, the deputies did not inform the detectives of any of the exculpatory evidence,” the lawsuit states.

Five and a half months after Chacon was charged, prosecutors asked for the case to be dismissed, saying that the contents of the belt tapes made it so the state could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The content of the outstanding belt tapes revealed discrepancies between what was documented in the police report and what was in the belt tapes,” the prosecutor wrote in a motion. “The belt tapes further called into question the credibility of the allegations against the defendant and the validity of the search warrant that was the basis for the collection of evidence.”

Chacon was released from jail.

Pretrial detention

The issue of pretrial detention has taken center stage as the governor and several lawmakers push an anti-crime package that includes pretrial detention reform.

In an attempt to cut rising violent crime, the detention proposal would make it easier to keep some people charged with violent crimes in jail pending trial. But defense attorneys and some researchers insist such proposals will not reduce crime and say more people will end up sitting in jail when they shouldn’t.

As it is, the Law Offices of the Public Defender says that in recent years more than 20% of those held pending trial were not convicted of the crime for which they were locked up. The District Attorney’s Office said the majority of cases that fail do so because of a lack of witness or victim cooperation.

Baughman says there isn’t much civil recourse for those individuals because most of the cases don’t involve allegations of misconduct.

But Chacon’s case appears to be different.

“In this instance deputies … knew he shouldn’t be charged with a felony, they knew if they included all the facts in the search warrant they’re not going to get it, so it basically deals with their lack of truthfulness,” Baughman said. “There’s really not a recourse if the case is just dismissed unless there is wrongdoing on the part of the officers.”

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