2 Scottsdale Police employees suspended after internal investigation into 2020 arrest

Jan 11, 2022, 2:00 PM
A screenshot of police body camera footage shows Scottsdale police questioning Yessenia Garcia on M...
A screenshot of police body camera footage shows Scottsdale police questioning Yessenia Garcia on May 24, 2020. (Via Taylor & Gomez LLP)
(Via Taylor & Gomez LLP)

PHOENIX – At least two Scottsdale Police employees were suspended without pay following an internal investigation into a 2020 case that spawned a wrongful arrest lawsuit, the department announced Tuesday.

“We made some mistakes plain and simple, and the involved employees have been disciplined for those mistakes,” Chief Jeff Walther said in a press release. “We are not infallible and any expectation of such is unrealistic.

“I remain committed to maintaining a strong culture of accountability, transparency and professionalism. When employees fall short of those standards, there are consequences.”

An attorney representing Yessenia Garcia, who was arrested for DUI and hit-and-run on May 24, 2020, characterized the response as “mild.”

“It doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that the Scottsdale Police Department’s unwarranted harassment of Ms. Garcia resulted in a mild reprimand for the officers involved,” Benjamin Taylor of Taylor & Gomez Law told KTAR News 92.3 FM in an email.

“At this time, the lawsuit is still pending against the Scottsdale PD, and we are confident that a positive outcome in Ms. Garcia’s favor will prevail.”

Garcia had flagged down police after leaving an Old Town Scottsdale night club and finding that the windshield of her car was shattered. Police didn’t believe her story, even though multiple witnesses corroborated it, and instead took her into custody for a hit-and-run that occurred nearby while she was in the club with friends.

Garcia’s federal wrongful arrest lawsuit seeking at least $300,000, filed in May 2021, alleges that an officer should have watched parking lot security video that contained proof she wasn’t involved. The footage shows an unknown vandal jumping on Garcia’s car and breaking the windshield, according to the lawsuit.

According to Tuesday’s police press release, the department’s internal investigation found that “technical difficulties” prevented officers from watching the security video before they made the arrest.

The release said that while officers may have had probable cause based on what they knew at the time, “some of the employees involved in the incident violated department policy and/or should have conducted a more thorough follow-up investigation consistent with the standards of our organization.”

Police issued a press release to the media after the arrest, including Garcia’s mug shot, but later dropped all charges.

“I was arrested, forced to strip, humiliated, and my photo put all over the news because the police chose to ignore the evidence. … We shouldn’t have to fear false arrest, humiliation or even death for simply seeking help from the police,” Garcia said in an August 2021 press release.

Walther, who ordered the internal investigation after ABC15 reported about Garcia’s plight, said in Tuesday’s press release there was no “malice or ill intent” demonstrated by his officers.

“I know that does not change how the events unfolded that evening or how Ms. Garcia was affected, and for that she has my most sincere apologies,” he said.

An unspecified number of staffers “received some degree of discipline or counseling” for violating policy or failing to meet expectations, according to the release.

In the strongest rebukes, one person was suspended for 40 hours and another for 20 hours, both without pay, according to the release, which didn’t say what other punishments were handed out or how many.

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2 Scottsdale Police employees suspended after internal investigation into 2020 arrest