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City of Trinidad answers ACLU police lawsuit filing

DENVER — Attorneys for the City of Trinidad last week filed an answer to an American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado lawsuit against the municipality and two detectives filed on January 8th in U.S. District Court. The ACLU lawsuit was filed on behalf of two women swept up in a mass drug arrest of suspects named by a confidential informant, Crystal Bachicha, who was working undercover for Trinidad police in 2013. Although the charges against the two women, Danika Gonzales and Felicia Valdez, a probation officer and school district employee respectively, were eventually dismissed, both lost their jobs after their arrests were announced. The ACLU lawsuit said, “None of the 40 arrests that were made as part of the 2013 drug sting resulted in a drug-related conviction”. The City of Trinidad’s contention, spelled out in their answer to the suit, said defendants TPD Detectives Phil Martin and Arsenio Vigil, “acted with probable cause and/ or a reasonable, articulable suspicion.” The answer also said, the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity from a lawsuit against them in U.S. District Court. All in all, 40 people

were arrested in the December 2013 roundup, but later all drug charges were dismissed against all named defendants. Gonzales and Valdez say through their lawsuit, ”In 2013, the TPD conducted a drug sting culminating in late December with highly publicized arrests throughout the community in which innocent citizens were arrested based on false, deficient, and misleading arrest affidavits from the TPD who regularly relied almost exclusively on uncorroborated and untrustworthy information provided by confidential informants who accused various individuals of selling them drugs.” The suit said the police department, during the course of the ‘controlled buys’, made as part of the operation, provided an open opportunity for informants to lie with impunity, to divert the police buy money for themselves, to skim drugs for their own use, and to act on the basis of personal motives to frame innocent persons. The ACLU called Bachicha an opportunistic confidential informant, saying she took advantage of the willful blindness and lax supervision on the part of police to falsely accuse innocent people of selling drugs. The ACLU alleges the arrest of many of the 40 was “on the basis of false, deficient and misleading arrest affidavits,” written and sworn to by the detectives.