Withheld Evidence Will Cost Los Angeles Cops
(CN) – Two Los Angeles police officers who deliberately withheld evidence of a man’s innocence, causing him to spend 27 months in jail, must pay $106,000, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.
Officers Steven Moody and Robert Pulido arrested Michael Walker in 2005 after employees at an EB Games store identified Walker as the man who robbed the same store three days before.
This robbery was the 12th robbery in southwest Los Angeles perpetrated by a man presenting a handwritten note that demanded money from the cashier.
While Walker was in custody, however, two more demand-note crimes took place, and the robber in both cases matched the description of the man who committed the prior crimes.
About a month after Walker’s arrest, Stanley Smith was arrested while fleeing from a Blockbuster he had just robbed using a demand note. Smith specifically confessed to committing roughly two robberies per week, including one which occurred just days after Walker’s arrest.
The case against Walker nevertheless continued full steam; neither officer informed prosecutors about the two other robberies that occurred after Walker’s arrest, or of Smith’s arrest.
In fact, a police report falsely said that “since the arrest of Walker the crime spree caused by the ‘Demand Note Robber’ has ceased.”
Given this false report, Walker’s defense attorneys did not request discovery on other demand-note crimes until a forensics test showed that his fingerprints did not match those found at the EB Games store.
Only after battling for additional discovery did the defense learn that demand-note robberies continued after Walker’s arrest, and ultimately found that Smith’s fingerprints matched those at EB Games.
Walker was released the same day – after spending 27 months in jail on $1.1 million bail. He died while his civil case was still in litigation, and his family is now pursuing his claims.
A jury found that Moody and Pulido violated Walker’s constitutional rights by withholding key evidence of his innocence, and awarded him $106,000.
The 9th Circuit affirmed the verdict and award Wednesday.
“Here, Walker was detained for 27 months after preliminary hearings that, as noted, offered him no protection from Moody and Pulido’s misconduct, because the exculpatory information was withheld both before and after the hearings,” Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for a three-judge panel. “That period of time, under any measure, is sufficiently lengthy to trigger the narrow due process right at issue here.”
Jurors had also been properly instructed on the standard for judging whether the officers’ mistake showed deliberate indifference, the Pasadena-based panel found.
The “mens rea standard is a subjective one and describes a culpable state of mind,” Berzon said. “The jury’s determination that Moody and Pulido acted with deliberate indifference or reckless disregard for Walker’s rights thus satisfies the standard applicable to violations of due process.”