The Los Angeles County Sheriff must face a civil rights trial on claims that deputies wrongly jailed a man in 2012 based on a 1994 felony warrant even though his fingerprints didn’t match and he was a different height and weight.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision that former Sheriff Lee Baca and his deputies do not have immunity from the claims of Mario A. Garcia that they had arrested the wrong ma. He was held initially in Riverside County jail.
Garcia, who was first arrested on a drunken driving charge, sued saying the department ignored his claims that the 1994 felony arrest warrant was for a different person. He argued the deputies failed to investigate the mistaken identity claim, even though the warrant was for a man with a different middle initial, Mario L. Garcia, and their height and weight did not match.
The warrant was for a man listed as 5’1” and 130 pounds, while Garcia is 5’10” and 170 pounds. In addition, the biometric identifiers, including fingerprints, criminal indentification number and criminal history did not match, according to the court.
Garcia was transferred the next day to Los Angeles County jail but his claims of misidentification were again ignored, even though he said he had previously been stopped wrongly on the old warrant.
“Even a cursory comparison of Garcia to the warrant subject should have led officers to question whether the person described in the warrant was Garcia,” wrote Judge Ronald Gould. “Information that raised questions about Garcia’s identity should have prompted the LASD to investigate more deliberately,” he said.
In addition, Baca may be held to account for alleged failure to train employees to avoid misidentifications, the court held.
Garcia was not released for several days, when the LA County staff located the correct fingerprints and found they did not match and released Garcia.
Riverside County previously settled with Garcia and is not part of the current lawsuit.
“Whether the officers who subjected plaintiff to imprisonment on the warrant acted reasonably is a question that must be determined in this litigation assessing the boundaries of due process,” Gould said. There is no state or federal law immunity, he said.
Case: Garcia v. County of Riverside, No. 13-56857