Scottsdale approves $200,000 payment to settle wrongful arrest lawsuit

Apr 6, 2023, 1:00 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 – The Scottsdale City Council approved a $200,000 payment to settle a lawsuit filed by a woman who said police ignored evidence of her innocence before arresting her in 2020.

Yessenia Garcia was exonerated after being arrested for DUI and hit-and-run on May 24, 2020. She filed a federal wrongful arrest complaint in May 2021 seeking at least $300,000. The case had been set to go to trial May 9.

The City Council voted unanimously to settle out of court, using funds from the city’s Safety and Risk Management Operating Budget, as part of the consent agenda during Tuesday’s meeting.

On the night of her arrest, Garcia found the windshield of her car broken out after she left an Old Town nightclub. She flagged down officers, who made the assumption she was involved in a nearby hit-and-run collision.

Surveillance video showed Garcia’s vehicle parked at the time of the hit-and-run. The footage also showed an unknown vandal jumping on Garcia’s car and breaking the windshield, according to her lawsuit.

Despite the available video evidence and witness reports that corroborated Garcia’s story, officers took her into custody.

Police issued a press release about the arrest at the time, including Garcia’s mug shot, but later dropped the charges.

“I was arrested, forced to strip, humiliated, and my photo put all over the news because the police chose to ignore the evidence,” Garcia said in an August 2021 press release.

The case first drew attention after ABC15 ran a story about it. Scottdale Police Chief Jeff Walther ordered an internal affairs investigation, which led to at least two department employees getting suspended without pay.

An unspecified number of staffers “received some degree of discipline or counseling” for violating policy or failing to meet expectations, the department said in a press release at the time.

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.

“We made some mistakes plain and simple, and the involved employees have been disciplined for those mistakes,” Walther said in the release.

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Scottsdale approves $200,000 payment to settle wrongful arrest lawsuit