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Innocent man sentenced to year in jail after deputies planted gun, DA says

April 23, 2014|By Kate Mather

See correction to the headline below.

Two former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies have been charged with planting guns at a medical marijuana dispensary that led to the arrest of two men, one of whom prosecutors said was sentenced to a year in jail before the bad evidence was discovered.

Julio Cesar Martinez, 39, and Anthony Manuel Paez, 32, face two felony counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice and altering evidence, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday. Martinez was charged with two additional felony counts of perjury and one count of filing a false report.

If convicted of the charges, the former deputies each face more than seven years in prison.

In court documents filed last week, prosecutors allege the pair shut off electricity and a video surveillance system inside the dispensary when they planted the weapons on Aug. 24, 2011. Martinez and Paez were patrolling West 87th Place that day when Martinez claimed he saw a man with a gun in his shorts pocket take part in a drug deal, the felony complaint alleged.

Martinez said he followed the man to the dispensary and watched him discard the gun near a trash can, the complaint read. The deputies claimed they found a second gun sitting on a desk near some ecstasy pills.

But prosecutors allege Martinez kicked a wall outlet to shut off the electricity. Paez then allegedly opened a drawer, pulled out a gun and put it on a chair.

Prosecutors claim Paez planted another gun on top of the desk, which he crawled under to disable the security system.

The deputies then arrested two men: one on suspicion of having an unregistered firearm, and another for possessing ecstasy in the presence of a firearm.

It wasn’t until the following year that the sheriff’s Internal Criminal Investigation Bureau began investigating the incident, the district attorney’s office said. During that inquiry, officials discovered a video recording from inside the dispensary that was “inconsistent” with the deputies’ reports.

Charges filed against one of the men falsely arrested were dropped, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office. But the second man had already pleaded no contest to the drug charge before investigators determined the evidence was planted, she said.

That man was sentenced to a year in jail as a result, Robison said, but it was unclear how much time he had served. Prosecutors were in the process of contacting his attorney Wednesday.

Martinez and Paez were arrested Friday. Each was released later that day after posting $50,000 bail. They are scheduled to be arraigned in June.

In a brief statement, sheriff’s officials said Martinez and Paez “separated” from the department on Feb. 27, 2013. Martinez had been with the department for 15 years; Paez for seven.

“There was an administrative investigation where the appropriate administrative action was taken,” the statement said.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida declined to elaborate further, but said the investigation mentioned was separate from the inquiry that revealed the alleged crimes.

Correction: An earlier headline said one of those arrested spent a year in jail. He was sentenced to a year in jail, but officials said they could not say how much time he spent behind bars.

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kate.mather@latimes.com

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