The city of Albuquerque has reached a $700,000 settlement with a woman wrongfully arrested for murder as a teenager and left in jail for days.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, which represented Gisell Estrada alongside law firm Ives & Flores, announced the settlement Wednesday.
City spokeswoman Ava Montoya said “it was in the interest of all parties to resolve the case.” The city will also assist in the expungement of Estrada’s record.
The lawsuit was filed in December 2020 against the city after police detective Jessie Carter — with the help of Albuquerque Public Schools employees — misidentified Estrada as the suspect in a 2019 homicide.
As a result of that wrongful arrest, the then-17-year-old was locked up at the Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention Center for six days until an accomplice charged in the case told Carter he had the wrong girl.
Estrada, now 20, told the Journal she hopes police “do their job better” so nobody else has to go through what she did.
She said she still has nightmares from the ordeal and any time she is driving and sees an officer nearby, Estrada is paralyzed with fear.
“It affected me, my life, my feelings, my education,” she said. “Everything, it just affected everything.”
Estrada said she wants to put the case in her rear view, planning to go to school and pursue a career in orthodontics.
“We can only hope that this sends a clear signal to the department to take these investigations seriously, and not engage in games of pin the tail on the donkey with young people’s lives,” ACLU-NM Deputy Director Leon Howard told the Journal on Wednesday, adding in a statement that “calling the APD’s work sloppy and negligent is an understatement.”
Carter, a former homicide detective with the Albuquerque Police Department, was suspended for 32 hours without pay for the mistaken identity. Rick Ingram, a former homicide sergeant and Carter’s supervisor at the time, was given a letter of reprimand.
Both Carter and Ingram have since left the homicide unit but stayed in law enforcement.
When Calvin Kelley was gunned down during a robbery in July 2019, Carter found the Facebook profile of the girl who allegedly planned the crime. He sent two profile photos to an Albuquerque High School resource officer and administrator who identified the girl in the photo as Estrada, a student aide.
Prosecutors signed a warrant for Estrada, and Carter arrested her on a murder charge, even as she and her public defender told him she was the wrong girl. Five days later, another suspect in Kelly’s death told Carter he arrested the wrong girl and Alexis Pina was identified as the suspect.
An Internal Affairs investigation found Carter made a “fundamental oversight” by not further confirming Estrada’s identity beyond the APS employees’ assertions, according to the investigation. Furthermore, the prosecutor who signed her arrest warrant failed to scrutinize Carter’s evidence due to a “fondness” for the detective’s prior work.
The District Attorney’s Office, headed by Raúl Torrez at the time, said they changed warrant review process based on the case — requiring more details into how a suspect was identified.
On Wednesday, Howard of the ACLU said he hopes APD has ensured this won’t happen again. Despite the settlement and expungement, he said the case can follow Estrada for life with a simple Google search.
“I think people have a natural tendency to think, ‘OK, she was arrested, maybe wrongfully, but she was running with the wrong crowd or there’s some sort of reason that this happened to her,’ ” Howard said. “And this is truly a case that she was picked out of thin air. So having this public, that she had absolutely nothing to do with it, will hopefully help her anxiety around people searching her name and finding the connection that she was arrested for murder.”