Heather and Stephen Maresca and children
Elementary school principal Stephen Maresca was heading home from hiking in the Sandias with his wife, three children and their dog when the family was arrested by armed deputies after a rookie Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office deputy typed in a wrong license plate number.
Responding officers had the couple and their children exit the truck, walk backward with their hands up and lie face-down on the pavement. The officers aimed firearms at the parents and children, including two boys ages 17 and 14 and a 9-year-old girl, according to a summary of evidence in an opinion by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
The court ruled last month that the arrest was illegal – reversing an earlier decision that gave the arresting officer, Deputy J. Fuentes, immunity.
The county is now on the hook for that 2013 arrest by Fuentes…
So, that much took two years.
The reversal was based not on the mistyped number itself, the appeals court said.
Instead, it was based on the fact that the deputy failed to notice the difference between a 2009 Chevrolet sedan with expired plates, which was the vehicle reported stolen, and a 2004 Ford pickup with current plates, the vehicle Maresca was driving, or to check the information. That information was in front of Fuentes on a computer screen the entire time…
Incredible. Ignore the typo. The copper who called in the bust and all the responding boys in blue never noticed a Ford pickup truck doesn’t look like a Chevy sedan.
According to the family’s lawsuit, Fuentes, followed by another patrol officer in a separate vehicle, called in the correct license plate number to dispatch but entered a number off by one digit in her computer.
The computer indicated from that number that the vehicle was stolen.
Garbage in = garbage out. Forever.
The deputy behind her, G. Grundhoffer, did not run any plate numbers before the two approached the pickup at gunpoint…
Other officers arrived, but none verified that the license plate belonged to a stolen car…
The family was detained for about 40 minutes, fearful, humiliated, tearful and separated from one another in different vehicles, it says. Maresca had been allowed to take their agitated dog, Maya, with him after it wandered into the highway.
Eventually, a sergeant arrived and apologized for the deputies’ mistakes…
The case was first heard by Circuit Judge Paul Kelly of Santa Fe, who found all the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because the stop was an investigatory detention reasonable under the circumstances.
The three-judge panel in the Appeals Court found that “an unreasonable mistake of fact cannot furnish probable cause…” NSS! Stupid does as stupid is – is not a reasonable defense. None of the responding coppers ever checked the description of the vehicle. Not so incidentally, the father of this family tried his best to lead them through correct procedure. He was an ex-cop.