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Alleged love triangle compromises prosecution of O.C. gang member

A veteran Santa Ana police detective is accused of having an affair with the fiancee of a gang member he was investigating. Prosecutors have to cut a deal.

August 24, 2012|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times

The affair began unconventionally.

Mitchell Graves, a veteran Santa Ana detective, was searching the home of a suspect in a street shooting, when he came across photos of the gang member's fiancee.

The detective, the lead investigator on the case, began calling the woman, according to court records, even as he continued to investigate her fiance on suspicion of attempted murder. He flirted with her during interviews, told her that he had enjoyed going through her underwear drawer and repeatedly asked her to dinner.

The two developed a relationship, which led to trysts in motel rooms, meetings in bars and sex in the back seat of the detective's vehicle, where there were children's toys and a car seat, according to the records.

Now prosecutors said their case has been so compromised that they've been forced to cut a deal with a gang member who shot a man in 2008. On Friday, Michael Granados, 25, will be sentenced to 19 years in prison rather than the life term he originally faced.

"As a result of what the Santa Ana police officer allegedly did, we decided it would be in the best interest of the case to settle it," Deputy Dist. Atty. Mark Geller said.

Prosecutors said a man was standing in his frontyard off Fifth Street in Santa Ana when a gold car driven by Granados pulled up; Granados got out of the car and shot about four rounds, striking the other man. Granados was later arrested.

Maria Perez, Granados' mother, said phone calls from Graves to her son's fiancee started coming to her home about a week after the arrest — one of them at 2 a.m. The fiancee was living with Perez at the time.

Graves eventually met with the woman under the pretense of the investigation but, according to multiple witness statements in court documents, ended up releasing Granados' impounded car to the woman. She wasn't charged the normal impound fees for the vehicle, according to court records.

Graves told the woman that Granados was cheating on her. According to court documents, she later said that she used the relationship with the detective — which lasted about a year — as retaliation for the infidelity.

Perez told attorneys that the detective and the woman would talk for hours on the telephone about "personal and intimate things" and not police business. The relationship led to Perez asking the woman, who is the mother of her grandchild and is no longer in a relationship with her son, to move out.

Perez said she told a defense attorney and a prosecutor about the indiscretions but was rebuffed. Granados' current defense attorney, Roger Sheaks, said that when Perez brought up the situation, he didn't initially believe her.

"You hear it too much," he said.

But then, Sheaks said, he began receiving letters from other family members, including the woman's niece and her sister. The letters were very specific, he said.

Sheaks forwarded the letters to the district attorney's office, which investigated the allegations.

"The D.A.'s office concluded that Officer Graves did in fact have sexual relationship with Defendant's then fiance and lied about it," according to court documents.

Sheaks said in the document that Graves lied about the relationship during a preliminary hearing and continues to deny the allegations.

Graves is now the subject of an internal investigation and is on paid administrative leave, said Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna. A call placed to Graves' home was not returned, and his attorney did not return a request for comment.

Perez, who is raising Granados' 8-year-old daughter, said the entire case has made her lose faith in the criminal justice system.

"This is wrong," she said. "This is not what the justice system is supposed to be about."

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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