The L.A. County Sheriff's Department is seeking to fire a narcotics deputy charged with lying about finding drugs after detaining a couple, whom the county will pay $550,000 to settle a false-arrest lawsuit, officials said.
Francisco Enriquez has pleaded not guilty to one count of perjury in a probable cause declaration and one count of filing a false report in connection with the October 2009 arrests of Tatiana Lopez and Miguel Amarillas.
Enriquez is due in court July 3 for a preliminary hearing to decide whether there is enough evidence for a trial on the charges.
The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved the settlement for Lopez and Amarillas at the recommendation of the county attorneys, who cited the "risks and uncertainties" of fighting the couple's civil rights lawsuit at trial.
The couple accused Enriquez, a member of a narcotics task force, of lying and planting drugs after he claimed he had driven Lopez to a sheriff's station and discovered several bags of methamphetamine in the patrol car after she was taken out.
Their attorney, Thomas Beck, obtained radio transmissions that showed Enriquez never took Lopez to the sheriff's station, making it impossible for him to discover methamphetamine in the cruiser after she got out.
Beck obtained the radio transmission after the department initially said no such recordings existed.
Prosecutors filed criminal charges against Enriquez last July after concluding Lopez had been driven by another deputy, not Enriquez.
Lopez said Tuesday she was relieved the county had finally approved the settlement, saying the ordeal had taken a psychological toll on her. She said she has had trouble sleeping since the Oct. 7, 2009, incident and now views law enforcement with suspicion.
"It's hard to trust again," she said. "There's no amount of money that can make up for the damage that was done."
Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said his department is in the process of firing Enriquez, who joined the agency in 2001.
In addition to the settlement award, the county has spent more than $322,000 to fight the lawsuit, including $288,000 on attorney fees, according to county records.
Lopez was a student at Cerritos College and had no criminal record when she was arrested in Downey. Amarillas, who said he was once associated with a gang, had twice been incarcerated, the first time for robbery in 2000 and the second for assault in 2007, according to prison records. He worked checking cables on oil rigs for a company in Long Beach.
Enriquez wrote in his report that he noticed Lopez was speaking rapidly and sweating, even though the night was cool. He suspected she and Amarillas were on drugs, and the couple were taken to the sheriff's station in separate patrol cars.
After he dropped off Lopez, Enriquez wrote, he and other deputies searched the couple's home, where he found another bag with drugs in a bedroom dresser. The bag, he wrote, contained the same distinctive insignia as the bags found in the patrol car.
Enriquez said he gave Lopez and Amarillas a chance to provide a urine sample for a drug test, but they refused.
The couple, however, said they were never asked to take a urine test and that they had not used drugs and did not possess any. Lopez accused the deputies of trying to pressure her into saying the drugs belonged to her fiance and said a deputy threatened to have her son removed from her home.
The L.A. County district attorney's office initially declined to file charges, concluding there was not enough evidence. But prosecutors later charged her with possession for sale of a controlled substance after deputies wrote new reports that provided more details about the night of the arrest.
Those reports were written after Lopez and her attorney met with a sheriff's lieutenant to discuss a complaint she had filed, alleging the deputies falsely arrested her and her fiance, according to Beck, who accused sheriff's officials of pursuing the case in retaliation for her complaint.
The Sheriff's Department told The Times in 2010 that a preliminary review of Lopez's claims had found no dishonesty by the deputies, but the department would investigate the allegations. That subsequent investigation led to criminal charges against Enriquez.
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