AP NEWS

Man asks Supreme Court to review case

December 30, 2018

A civil case surrounding a Brownsville man who spent four years in prison for a crime he was actually innocent of has been submitted to the Supreme Court in hopes that the justices will review the case.

Defense attorney Eddie Lucio, who represents George Alvarez, submitted the appeal this month asking the country’s highest court to reverse a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling dismissing a lawsuit Alvarez brought against the City of Brownsville and the $2.3 million award that man received in 2014 after a two-day jury trial on damages in federal court.

At issue in the request for review to the Supreme Court is whether Alvarez was entitled to evidence that exonerated him of the crime before he entered into a plea deal with the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office on a charge of assault of a public servant in 2006.

On. Nov. 27, 2005, the Brownsville Police Department arrested the then-17-year-old Alavrez, a ninth grade special education student, on suspicion of public intoxication and burglary of a motor vehicle, federal court documents show.

While in a holding cell, he tried to use a telephone to make a call, but the phone stopped working and he banged the handset against its switch hook and made an obscene gesture toward a camera. Because of that, officers decided to remove Alvarez from the cell and transfer him to a padded cell to calm down, which included walking him across the jail’s central lobby booking area, according to court documents.

During that process, a scuffle ensued between Alvarez and Officer Jesus Arias where Arias grabbed Alvarez’s left arm, moved him to the ground and placed him in a choke hold and head lock. Assisting officers shackled and handcuffed Alvarez. They then carried him to the padded cell. All of this was captured on video.

Arias complained and the Brownsville Police Department launched a criminal investigation into Arias’ allegations that Alvarez grabbed his throat and right inner thigh.

The PD also conducted an internal review of Arias’ use of force on Alvarez. That investigation included the jail video. The department ruled that Arias’ use of force was justified, but the video evidence was never turned over to the criminal investigators and the DA’s Office also never received the video evidence when the case was set for prosecution.

Had investigators viewed the video, they would have seen that Alvarez never assaulted Arias, the appeal stated.

It wasn’t until another person, Joe Lopez, 60, was charged with the same offense as Alvarez because of accusations levied by Arias, that the video showing Alvarez and Arias surfaced.

Lopez, unlike Alvarez, did not want a plea deal. He went to trial and a jury found him not guilty of the charge, according to newspaper archives.

Alvarez, after learning of the video, filed a writ of habeas corpus with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which ruled he was actually innocent and the charges against him were dismissed and he was released from prison.

After winning his lawsuit and $2.3 million judgment in front of U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle in 2014, the City of Brownsville appealed to the 5th Circuit, which ruled that Alvarez never had a right to exonerating evidence during the plea deal process.

So Alvarez’s attorney, Eddie Lucio, appealed, asking the Supreme Court to review the decision, arguing that whether the government is obligated disclose exonerating evidence during the plea-bargaining process is an open question with three appeals courts and four state supreme courts determining that the government is obligated to do so, which is in conflict with the 5th Circuit.

"This case provides the Court an ideal vehicle to resolve a question that bears on the pre-trial rights of almost every person charged with a crime-one with particularly high stakes for defendants like Mr. Alvarez, who pleaded guilty in the dark because exonerating evidence remained concealed," the appeal states. "Review should be granted."

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com