Sheriff's deputy charged with perjury over false report claims
A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy was charged with perjury and filing a false police report connected to allegations that he falsely claimed he discovered drugs in a patrol car after transporting a suspect, prosecutors said Monday.
In 2009, Deputy Francisco Enriquez and two other deputies made a traffic stop, during which they arrested a couple. Enriquez wrote in a report that he drove the woman to jail and discovered drugs in the patrol car after she was taken out of the car. However, prosecutors said the woman was actually transported by another deputy, not Enriquez.
In 2010, the inconsistencies forced prosecutors to drop a felony charge against Tatiana Anjuli Lopez, whose attorney accused the deputies of lying about her arrest and seeking to have her prosecuted in retaliation for her filing a complaint against them.
Lopez and her fiance were arrested in Downey on Oct. 7 on suspicion of being under the influence of drugs, according to authorities.
In an arrest report, Enriquez said he drove Lopez in his patrol car to the department's Century Station in Lynwood. When she got out of his car, Enriquez wrote, he noticed a plastic bag containing nine bags of methamphetamine on the floor near where Lopez had been sitting.
"The crime report was deliberately falsified," Beck said at the time. "The whole case was fabricated against my client."
The district attorney's office initially declined to file charges against Lopez, 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 a day after Beck said he and Lopez met with a sheriff's lieutenant to discuss a misconduct complaint she had filed against the deputies.
"It was blatant retaliation," Beck said at the time. "They circled the wagons to cover up the behavior."
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Chief William McSweeney, who heads the detective division, said in 2010 that a preliminary review found no dishonesty by the deputies.
McSweeney said the deputy who contacted dispatchers about transporting Lopez did so on behalf of Enriquez as they drove in patrol cars to the station. The chief also disputed the allegation that deputies retaliated against Lopez, saying the additional reports were written after a prosecutor told sheriff's officials he needed more details about the drug arrest before he could file charges.
Nonetheless, he said at the time the department would investigate the details of the arrest.
On Monday, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said that internal investigation is what led to the charges against Enriquez. The deputy, he said, will be relieved of duty without pay as the court proceedings move forward.
“The most important thing for any law enforcement official is to tell the truth,” Whitmore said, “and when someone doesn’t, they’re going to be investigated, found out and prosecuted under the full extent the law allows.”
When Lopez was arrested, she was a student at Cerritos College and had no criminal record.
Her fiance, Miguel Amarillas, who said he once associated with a gang, was twice 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.
On the evening of their arrest, Lopez and Amarillas were driving to her parents' house in South Gate to pick up her 5-year-old son when they stopped for gas near their home in Downey. Lopez said deputies suddenly appeared in two patrol cars and ordered them out.
Enriquez, who was assigned to a narcotics strike team, wrote in his report that he stopped the pair after seeing Amarillas' gold 1993 Lexus driving dangerously on Imperial Highway.
Enriquez said he spoke to the couple and noticed that Lopez was speaking rapidly and sweating, even though the night was cool. He suspected that she and Amarillas were on drugs, and the couple were taken to the sheriff's station in separate patrol cars.
After he dropped Lopez off, 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.
Lopez and Amarillas tell a very different story.
The couple 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.
Lopez was jailed for two days before she was released without charges, according to court records. Amarillas was also eventually released without charges.
Lopez said the episode left her traumatized and that she has had trouble sleeping since then.
"I'd seen it in the movies, but never in a million years did I think it would happen to me," Lopez said.
After Lopez was charged, her attorney sought radio communications and other records of deputies involved in the arrest. A sheriff's detective said in a report that he twice inquired about the records and was told there were none.
But Beck sent a subpoena directly to the sheriff's department, which provided the radio recordings and other records that he said confirmed his client's account.
Last week, Enriquez, 36, turned himself in. He has since been released on $45,000 bail, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, and he is scheduled to be arraigned in October.
He faces one count of perjury in a probable cause declaration and one count of filing a false report. If convicted, he faces up to four years and eight months in prison.
— Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard