Scottsdale releases details on officers who arrested woman wrongly accused of hit and run

·3 min read
Yessenia Garcia's attorneys, Anthony Ramirez and Benjamin Taylor, speak to reporters on Tuesday.
Yessenia Garcia's attorneys, Anthony Ramirez and Benjamin Taylor, speak to reporters on Tuesday.

Newly obtained police records identified six Scottsdale police officers and two retired officers who violated department policy when arresting a woman who was wrongly accused of a hit-and-run in 2020.

The records were not initially released but were made available Wednesday after The Arizona Republic requested them. The documents detail an investigation into the arrest of Yessenia Garcia and how the officers involved in her arrest violated department policy.

She was arrested in May 2020 for a hit-and-run she had proof she didn't commit. When the story came out last year, Police Chief Jeff Walther ordered an investigation into Garcia's arrest.

Department spokesperson Sgt. Kevin Quon released the main findings of the investigation last week, saying the officers "who were found to have violated policy or fell short of department expectations received some degree of discipline or counseling depending on the severity of their policy violation."

But Quon declined to release more information about the investigation, including how many officers were disciplined, who they were and which policies were violated. Records obtained by The Republic under the Arizona Public Records Law show these details.

Yessenia Garcia listens during her press conference on Aug. 31, 2021, at the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse plaza at 401 W. Washington St. in Phoenix.
Yessenia Garcia listens during her press conference on Aug. 31, 2021, at the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse plaza at 401 W. Washington St. in Phoenix.

What the records show

Sgt. Brian Steel received a 40-hour unpaid suspension, the harshest of the punishments, for failure to supervise because he didn't further investigate the alibi of Garcia, who was at a bar when the hit-and-run happened. He also didn't turn on his on-body camera when interacting with a security guard, who provided him surveillance footage.

Officer Nicholas Fay received a 20-hour unpaid suspension for failure to perform duties after the investigation showed he could have further investigated Garcia's alibi. He also didn't turn on his on-body camera when interacting with the same security guard.

Officers Kavon Attarpour and Craig Malley received letters of reprimand for failure to perform duties for not following up on Garcia's alibi.

Detective Anthony Dipalmo received a letter of reprimand for failing to activate their on-body camera when searching Garcia's car and finding drug paraphernalia.

Officer Jacob Pedersen received a letter of counseling for not turning on his camera when interviewing a witness.

The investigation noted that since Officer Ben Roberson and Sgt. John Ghiglia, who were also involved in the incident, "retired prior to this investigation, no investigatory findings regarding their actions will be made. However, it is worth noting that Ofr. Roberson had probable cause for Garcia's arrest."

Walther released a statement last week that recognized the department made mistakes when arresting Garcia and offered her his "most sincere apologies."

"We are not infallible and any expectation of such is unrealistic. I remain committed to maintaining a strong culture of accountability, transparency and professionalism," the chief's statement read.

Garcia is suing the Scottsdale Police Department, six officers and the city in federal court.

What happened

Garcia parked her car by the Galleria Corporate Center in Old Town around 8:40 p.m. on a Sunday in May 2020. While she went to two nearby bars and had three drinks, a hit-and-run took place on 6th Avenue on the north side of VIP Spa Massage, according to surveillance footage and police records.

Court records say that despite surveillance footage showing her car remained parked at the time of the hit-and-run, she was booked into jail for possession of drug paraphernalia, driving under the influence and failure to stop at the scene of an accident causing injury or death.

Garcia was never formally charged with any crimes, but her attorney, Benjamin Taylor, told The Republic last week the incident was traumatizing for her, especially since her booking photo and charges were released the next day and published on the internet.

Reach the reporter at rclo@arizonarepublic.com or at 480-267-4703. Follow her on Twitter @renataclo.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: More details released on officers who arrested wrongly accused woman