Federal judge finds facts cast doubt on Cornelius officers credibility

by: COURTESY PHOTO: CORNELIUS POLICE DEPARTMENT - Bilingual Officer Miguel Monico visits the Linden Street Migrant Head Start in Cornelius for a Meet Your Policeman session, where he talked about the importance of staying away from drugs and following rules.Six months after four Cornelius police officers complained to city officials about corruption, misconduct and “malicious untruthfulness” within their department, doubts about the veracity of one of those officers have been raised by a federal district court judge.

According to U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak, a jury could reasonably conclude that Officer Miguel Monico “entirely fabricated” the confession of a man he arrested in 2010 and also that Monico lied about a drug test critical to the arrest.

Papak’s written comments, made in April, were included in court records related to a 2011 lawsuit filed by the man and his family. That lawsuit, including Papak’s findings and responses from city of Cornelius officials, are currently under review by another federal judge at the federal courthouse in Portland.

The case being reviewed involves a married Cornelius couple, Diego Mata-Gonzalez and Lilia Lopez-Guzman, who moved to the United States from Mexico in 1986. They found jobs, settled in Cornelius and had three sons: Diego Jr., now 19; Vladimir, 13; and Johnny, 9.

Diego Jr. was involved in “minor troublemaking,” according to court documents, and ran away from home several times. At one point, Lopez-Guzman told him he could not come back until he met certain conditions.

Diego Jr. was not living at home on Jan. 27, 2010, when he became a suspect in a gang-shooting incident in Cornelius. Still, on Feb. 4, 2010, Cornelius police officers searched his parents’ home for guns or identifying documents that might tie Diego Jr. to the attempted murder.

Monico, the department’s only Spanish-speaking patrol officer, was called in to help with the search. Lopez-Guzman spoke no English and her husband spoke limited English.

Powder found with pot

Officers found no sign of any guns other than one 9mm cartridge, but Monico seized a baggie filled with white powder, found in a drawer with some paper cups and a small bag of marijuana.

According to a nine-page declaration Monico made on Nov. 15, 2011, he suspected the powder was cocaine. He claimed he tested the substance on-site and that “the liquid test kit turned a pink and blue color, which indicates a positive result.”

Later that day, according to his declaration, Monico returned to the home with Officer Dustin DeHaven, speaking in Spanish with Mata-Gonzalez and translating the conversation for DeHaven.

DeHaven was more recently at the center of a 15-page complaint Monico signed last October with three fellow officers. Their details of alleged corruption and misconduct within the police department included examples related to DeHaven, who they claimed repeatedly exhibited “untruthfulness” while on duty.

During his second visit to Mata-Gonzalez’ home, Monico claims he told DeHaven he’d asked Mata-Gonzalez about the white powder and that Mata-Gonzalez admitted, “the marijuana and cocaine were his, that they were old, and he had forgotten they were in the drawer.”

Monico said he later tested the powder a second time and that it again tested positive. He then sent a copy of his report to the Oregon Department of Human Services.

On Feb. 22, 2010, DHS employee Laurie Wuthrich contacted Monico. According to his declaration, Monico told her that although the home was clean and the two young boys appeared healthy, he feared that the middle son, Vladimir, might be hurt by retaliatory gang violence.

Wuthrich visited the home Feb. 25, 2010, and ordered the children be removed and put into foster care.

The next day, Feb. 26, Monico arrested Mata-Gonzalez for possession of cocaine. Although released from jail after his arrest, Mata-Gonzales was forbidden from seeing his young sons or re-entering his home. Lopez-Guzman was allowed to see her sons for one hour each week.

After 77 days, on May 13, 2010, the state’s forensic lab found the white powder from Mata-Gonzalez’ drawer did not test positive for cocaine. Criminal charges were dropped immediately, and the two boys were returned to their parents.

Confession ‘highly implausible’

As described in Judge Papak’s 33-page findings, submitted April 10, 2013, Mata-Gonzalez’ story differs from Monico’s in several key ways.

For one thing, Mata-Gonzalez claims he told Monico that the white powder was “cascarilla,” a soap made of eggshell powder used for ritual religious cleansing.

He said he showed Monico another bag with the same white powder and a “cascarilla” label.

At that point, “Monico told Gonzalez that he (Monico) had ‘the power to do anything he wanted’ notwithstanding Gonzalez’ protestations of innocence, including the power to have Gonzalez deported,” Papak found.

In his findings, Papak described the complicated three-part color patterns required for a positive result from the field drug test kit Monico said he used on the white powder. Monico’s results did not appear to match those patterns, Papak wrote. What’s more, the judge wrote, “False positives are possible and, indeed, are not uncommon.”

Regarding Mata-Gonzalez’ alleged confession, Papak wrote: “It is highly implausible that Gonzalez would confess to law enforcement officials that a powder he knew to be cascarilla was in fact a controlled substance.”

Six weeks ago, on April 24, Monico and the city of Cornelius filed objections to Papak’s findings and the case is now awaiting review by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman.

The lawsuit, which once listed 21 claims, has been pared back to three: two against Monico and one “vicarious” claim against the city. At this point it has not specified what damages the family is seeking.

“All I can say is that the case is still pending,” said Cornelius Police Chief Ken Summers. “We can’t talk about a pending case. We are concerned, of course, and waiting on the outcome to see what the courts ultimately rule.”

If Judge Mosman upholds Judge Papak’s findings, a trial date will be set, according to Michelle Burrows, the lawyer representing the Gonzalez family.

Future testimony at risk

Any decision against Monico could have broad implications for the officer and the city. Police officers are regularly called to testify during criminal trials. Prosecutors often become “gun shy” when it comes to an officer whose credibility has been questioned, said Washington County Defense Attorney Robert Harris, who is not involved in the case.

When told of Papak’s findings, Harris said, “This is the type of evidence a defense attorney seeks to put in front of a jury.”

It’s possible, however, that the case may not get to trial, Burrows said, even if Mosman backs up Papak’s findings.

“The defendants may also be more interested in settlement at that point. If the matter settles, there probably won’t be much in the way of ramifications for Monico,” Burrows wrote in an email to the News-Times.

“If the matter is tried and the jury finds (Monico) lied — as Judge Papak intimated — then the department will have to decide whether they want to employ a police officer willing to falsify evidence, testimony and reports,” Burrows wrote.

“It would be premature of us to assume the court is going to rule one way or another,” Summers said. “We have to be very cautious and make sure our actions are only based on the court’s final ruling.”

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