“Are you aware of a video and audio recording that completely contradicts what you have testified to today?”
With those words – and the presentation of the promised video recording – the defense attorney for a suspected Hollywood drug dealer successfully demonstrated that two police officers had lied on the stand in an apparent attempt to frame his client.
“They have two officers who came into court and blatantly lied and planted evidence,” Deputy Public Defender Victor Acevedo told the judge.
Attorney Victor Acevedo, left, Guillermo Alarcon Jr., right
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Superior Court Judge Monica Bachner ended the trial and exonerated Guillermo Alarcon Jr., a grocery store worker, on charges of crack cocaine possession that were built largely on the testimony of the two police officers.
The video, presented as a surprise to the prosecution, came from an apartment surveillance camera. Though grainy and difficult to hear, the video shows events clearly contradictory to the police officers’ testimonies and records one officer saying after the “discovery” of evidence, “Be creative in your writing,” possibly referring to the later arrest report that would need to be filed.
“Oh yeah, don’t worry,” said another officer in reply.
After reviewing the 37-minute video, Deputy District Attorney Liza Tom told the Times, “The video speaks for itself. There do appear to be sufficient inconsistencies to render a verdict beyond a reasonable doubt unlikely in this case.”
According to the Times, officers Richard Amio and Evan Samuel testified that they saw Alarcon outside his apartment complex, shined their spotlight on him and gave chase when the suspect bolted down one of the building’s walkways. There, they testified, they saw Alarcon throw a black object toward a dumpster.
According to the officers’ testimony, they apprehended Alarcon and picked up the object from only a few feet away. “As it hit the dumpster, I observed that once it landed on the floor it cracked open,” Officer Amio testified.
He also testified that Officer Samuel picked up the box and found both powder and crack cocaine inside with a street value of $260.
The video, however, shows that the critical evidence was not found immediately by Amio and Samuel, but that it took over 20 minutes and the help of other officers on the scene before it was found.
Before submitting the video into evidence, Acevedo asked Amio if it took 20 minutes to find the drugs.
According to the Times, Amio laughed and said, “No.”
Samuel testified, “He threw it to his right and it hit off a dumpster in the same general area.”
Acevedo then asked the officers if they heard or said several comments that Acevedo secretly knew were made by officers on the video, including a threat to drop Alarcon to his knees if he talked again.
The officers testified that they had not.
When Acevedo presented the videotape, it showed a starkly different story. After Alarcon was detained, officers spent nearly 15 minutes looking for someone to unlock a laundry room door that they had seen Alarcon close. The actual discovery of the black box and the alleged planting of evidence are neither seen nor confirmed on the video, but more than 20 minutes after the arrest, the officers came together and discussed opening a container. The comments officers Amio and Samuel denied could be heard on the recording.
According to the Times, Acevedo accused the officers of setting up Alarcon after they had arrested him weeks earlier on suspicion of assault but discovered that he had been released without being charged.
After reviewing the videotape and its contradictions with the officers’ testimony, prosecutors in the case moved for dismissal.
Los Angeles Police Department officials confirmed that an internal affairs investigation of the officers has been launched. Police Cmdr. Richard Webb told the Times, “We’re trying to figure out the facts as fast as we possibly can. We take this kind of stuff very, very seriously.”
Alarcon told the Times he was relieved to have the threat of prison lifted. “If I didn’t have the videotape, nobody would believe me,” he said.