10th Circuit denies immunity to Denver detectives who coerced teenager’s false murder confession

10th Circuit denies immunity to Denver detectives who coerced teenager’s false murder confession

By Michael Karlik
Colorado Politics
June 4, 2022

Four Denver law enforcement officers may be sued for the coerced confession of a cognitively-impaired 14-year-old boy, resulting in false information that led to his wrongful conviction for murder, the federal appeals court based in Colorado ruled on Friday.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld a strongly-worded lower court decision that rejected the attempts of three detectives and a lieutenant to point fingers at each other to escape civil liability. Key to the outcome was the the U.S. Supreme Court’s precedent in Franks v. Delaware, which established that warrants are invalid when they are based upon knowingly or recklessly false statements relevant to guilt.

Lawrence Rubin Montoya, the panel agreed, had plausibly claimed that, had all the false information in support of his arrest been removed, it would have failed to implicate him in a crime. Because the Denver officers had all participated in the events that led to his arrest warrant, they were liable.

You have to watch that video to see the despair and the distraught in Mr. Montoya's face as these detectives over and over refuse to take his denial 65 times," attorney David Fisher argued on behalf of Montoya.
~ David Fisher

“Mr. Montoya specifically alleges three detectives coerced a false confession for use in an arrest-warrant affidavit. That readily satisfies Mr. Montoya’s burden to allege their personal participation in the Franks violation,” wrote Judge Veronica S. Rossman in the June 3 order.

The panel also rejected the defendants’ attempt to dismiss a claim of conspiracy against the law enforcement personnel.

Montoya’s involvement with the justice system has spanned more than two decades, beginning with the slaying of teacher Emily Johnson, 29, in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2000. Detectives Martin Vigil and Michael Martinez investigated the crime, eventually learning that friends of Montoya’s relatives had taken Johnson’s stolen car for a joy ride.

On Jan. 10, the detectives and Lieutenant Jonathan Priest sat down to question Montoya around 8 p.m. Montoya, an eighth-grade student with a developmental disability, acknowledged that he participated in the joy ride, but that was the extent of his involvement. Montoya’s mother was present during the interview for the first 40 minutes, after which she left and the interrogation continued for nearly two hours.

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