Former Miramar police officers sued

Former Miramar police officers William Mantesta, from left, George Pierson and Bill Guess were sued in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. Attorneys for Anthony Caravella say they coerced the 15-year-old, who had an IQ of 67, into falsely confessing to a rape and murder in 1983. He spent nearly 26 years in prison before DNA testing set him free. (Susan Stocker / February 19, 2013)

A police inquiry that put a mentally challenged 15-year-old in prison for more than 25 years was "shoddy, incomplete [and] not an objective investigation," an expert on law enforcement procedures told jurors Tuesday in the civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the former prisoner.

Lawyers for Anthony Caravella, now 44, want damages and compensation for the Broward County man. He was freed from prison in September 2009 and his conviction was later thrown out when DNA testing excluded him as the source of physical evidence in the 1983 rape and murder of a Miramar woman.

Testifying in the trial in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Melvin Tucker, a former police chief and law enforcement instructor, told jurors there were several problems with the investigation, including failing to pursue other more likely suspects, not writing complete reports or taking necessary sworn statements, and contaminating and failing to test relevant evidence.

Detectives, who obtained four increasingly self-incriminating statements from Caravella, violated standards for interrogating mentally challenged people — standards that were commonly known and accepted in law enforcement circles dating back to at least the 1970s, Tucker testified.

People with mental challenges have a "propensity to try to please people" and may confess to crimes they didn't commit, Tucker said, adding that officers should have questioned and conducted follow-up investigations on why Caravella got many key details of the crime wrong.

"He didn't give them any evidence they didn't [already] have," Tucker told the jury.

Caravella may have been fed details about the case while officers drove him around for hours between his statements, which were given over several days, his lawyer told jurors. One detective testified they brought Caravella to the crime scene, though the officer later insisted he meant the street where the woman was purportedly abducted and not the murder scene on the grounds of Miramar Elementary.

Tucker criticized the work of three former Miramar police detectives, George Pierson, William Mantesta and Bill Guess, and a retired Broward Sheriff's deputy, Tony Fantigrassi, who are being sued personally as well as in their former official roles, along with the city of Miramar and the Sheriff's Office. The men, the city and the Sheriff's Office deny all the allegations.

On Tuesday, testimony from 1984 court hearings in the criminal case were read aloud to jurors in the civil case. Much of that testimony came from a court psychologist who tested Caravella in 1983 and 1984 and found he had an IQ of 67, was "mildly mentally retarded" and in the "mentally deficient range." The psychologist testified Caravella thought "on a very concrete level" without benefit of either hindsight or foresight.

DNA testing linked another man, Anthony Martinez, to the violent slaying of Ada Cox Jankowski, 58. He died of natural causes in 2010 shortly after Miramar police and state prosecutors named him as a "person of interest."

The trial of the lawsuit, which alleges that officers conducted a "malicious prosecution" and that Miramar and the Sheriff's Office negligently supervised the officers and allowed them to keep their jobs, is expected to wrap up sometime next week.

pmcmahon@tribune.com, 954-356-4533 or Twitter @SentinelPaula