A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy was charged with perjury and filing a false police report in connection with allegations that he falsely claimed to have found drugs in a patrol car after transporting a suspect, prosecutors said Monday.
The charges stem from a 2009 traffic stop in which Deputy Francisco Enriquez, 36, wrote that he drove the suspect to a sheriff's station and discovered several bags of methamphetamines in the patrol car after she was taken out. Prosecutors said the woman was transported by another deputy, not Enriquez.
The woman, Tatiana Anjuli Lopez, accused Enriquez of lying and planting the drugs. She spent two days in jail after the arrest and was later charged with a felony, but the case was dismissed after her attorney obtained sheriff's radio communications showing that another deputy told dispatchers he was transporting Lopez.
"That's awesome," Lopez, 28, said on Monday when a reporter told her about the charges. "I lost a lot of trust in the people who are supposed to protect us."
Enriquez is the fourth local law enforcement officer to be arrested in recent days. Last week, two Los Angeles police officers were arrested on suspicion of perjury and, in an unrelated incident, a sheriff's supervisor was accused of stealing thousands of dollars during narcotics investigations.
Lopez and her fiance were arrested Oct. 7, 2009, in Downey. The district attorney's office initially declined to file charges, concluding there was not enough evidence. But prosecutors later charged her with possession for sale of a controlled substance after deputies wrote new reports that provided more details about the night of the arrest.
Those reports were written after Lopez and her attorney met with a sheriff's lieutenant to discuss a complaint she had filed alleging that the deputies falsely arrested her and her fiance, according to her attorney, Thomas E. Beck. Beck accused sheriff's officials of "blatant retaliation" in the decision to pursue the case.
Beck said Monday he believed other deputies should also be prosecuted for lying in the case. He said his work on a civil lawsuit Lopez has filed against the county shows the Sheriff's Department concluded that at least one other deputy falsified a report.
Nevertheless, he said he was pleased that the district attorney's office had taken action against Enriquez.
"The evidence against Enriquez is damning," Beck said. "The guy should have been thrown out of law enforcement long before he met my client."
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Chief William McSweeney, who heads the detective division, told The Times in 2010 that a preliminary review of Lopez's claims had found no dishonesty by the deputies but that the department would investigate the allegations.
On Monday, sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said that that internal affairs probe led to the charges against Enriquez. The deputy, he said, would be relieved of duty without pay, pending his criminal case.
"The most important thing for any law enforcement official is to tell the truth," Whitmore said, "and when someone doesn't, they're going to be investigated, found out and prosecuted under the full extent the law allows."
When Lopez was arrested, she was a student at Cerritos College and had no criminal record. Her fiance, Miguel Amarillas, who said he once associated with a gang, had twice been incarcerated, the first time for robbery in 2000 and the second for assault in 2007, according to prison records. He worked checking cables on oil rigs for a company in Long Beach.
Enriquez wrote in his report that he spoke to the couple and noticed that Lopez was speaking rapidly and sweating, even though the night was cool. He suspected that she and Amarillas were on drugs, and the couple were taken to the sheriff's station in separate patrol cars.
After he dropped Lopez off, Enriquez wrote, he and other deputies searched the couple's home, where he found another bag with drugs in a bedroom dresser. The bag, he wrote, contained the same distinctive insignia as the bags found in the patrol car.
Enriquez said he gave Lopez and Amarillas a chance to provide a urine sample for a drug test, but they refused.
Lopez and Amarillas told a very different story. The couple said they were never asked to take a urine test and that they had not used drugs and did not possess any. Lopez accused the deputies of trying to pressure her into saying the drugs belonged to her fiance and said a deputy threatened to have her son removed.
Lopez, who now works as a caregiver, said she suffered from anxiety after the arrest and saw a psychologist for a while. Chunks of her hair fell out soon after the incident and she continues to have trouble sleeping, she said.
"They did a horrible thing," she said. "I don't want this to take over my life, but at the same time, it's still there."
Last week, faced with an arrest warrant, Enriquez turned himself in. He faces one count of perjury in a probable cause declaration and one count of filing a false report. He has yet to enter a plea. If convicted, he faces up to four years and eight months in prison.