Disabled man can sue county
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a developmentally disabled man can sue Douglas County and five detectives and investigators for a false arrest in a rape case in 2009.
The Denver federal court upheld a Douglas County District Court ruling, determining that qualified immunity laws didn’t shield deputies who arrested Tyler Sanchez from being sued.
Sanchez had sued the detectives and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, alleging that he was charged even though they knew his confession was untrue.
The court ruled that a “cause of action” existed on the basis of malicious prosecution. The 10th Circuit decision Monday allows Sanchez’s lawsuit to go forward.
“Mr. Sanchez’s factual allegations are sufficient to overcome qualified immunity at the pleadings stage,” the ruling says.
The appeals court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction on another claim by defendants: that the statute of limitation for appeal had lapsed.
Over the span of 17 hours on July 17, 2009, the 18-yearold disabled man confessed to trespassing, but not to the sexual assault of an 8year-old girl during a burglary a week earlier.
The case lacked physical evidence, and Sanchez didn’t match the victim’s description of the assailant.
The girl described her attacker as being roughly 40 years old, weighing 190 pounds, with no tattoos and with brown hair parted in the middle. But Sanchez was a teen, weighed 130 pounds, had prominent tattoos on both arms, and had red hair in a buzz cut, the ruling says.
Sanchez had pronounced cognitive disabilities and scored in the 60s and 70s on IQ tests. He repeatedly told interrogators that he was tired while his eyes were closed. He had been awake for 30 hours by the end of the interviews.
Sanchez was unable to give any details regarding his involvement in the crime. Instead, he simply agreed to the details suggested to him. At one point, he agreed to an untrue detail that the investigator had posed, the 10th Circuit ruling says.
The two detectives asked Sanchez if he was simply saying what they wanted to hear and one of them wrote that Sanchez had difficulty remembering details of his supposed crimes and had given vague answers.
Furthermore, DNA found on the victim’s underwear wasn’t his, and the litany of other break-ins he confessed to eventually were pinned on other people.
“Mr. Sanchez alleges that his confession was false, explaining that he confessed only because his disabilities prevented him from understanding what was happening during the interviews,” the written appeals court ruling says. “A subsequent medical examination supported Mr. Sanchez’s explanation, and the district attorney dropped the charges in April 2012.”
His defense attorney, Iris Eytan, has said Sanchez’s case underscores the need for training for law enforcement officials in how to deal with suspects who have disabilities.