A woman who claims she was wrongfully arrested for a hit-and-run she did not commit has settled her lawsuit against the city of Scottsdale after its city council voted unanimously to settle the case and pay her $200,000 earlier this week.
Yessenia Garcia had parked her car at the Galleria Corporate Center in Old Town on May 24, 2020, at around 8:40 p.m. and visited a bar and had three drinks before she arrived back at her car shortly after 11:10 p.m. when she found the windshield damaged, according to her attorneys.
Garcia then flagged down a couple of nearby officers who were riding bicycles to report the vandalism of her vehicle.
About 20 minutes earlier, officers Kavon Attarpour and Nicolas Fay started investigating a hit-and-run that took place on Sixth Avenue on the north side of VIP Spa Massage, according to Garcia's complaint.
Body-camera footage shows Garcia seated on the curb of the parking lot next to her car as an officer questioned her regarding how many alcoholic beverages she had consumed between when she first arrived at the parking lot to when she contacted police about her vandalized vehicle.
Footage shows the officer continuously asking about what kinds of drinks Garcia had consumed and how long she estimated it took her to drink them when Garcia asks whether she’s being detained to which the officer replies that she is.
“OK, well can I get a lawyer?” Garcia asks.
“No, you’re not entitled to one,” the officer replies. “You’re under investigation.”
Garcia's attorneys claim that despite surveillance footage showing her car remained parked at the time of the hit-and-run and that she was actually the victim of a property crime, she was booked on charges of drug paraphernalia, two counts of driving under the influence and failure to stop at the scene of an accident causing injury or death.
Although her case was dismissed shortly thereafter, Garcia’s mugshot had already been published on the Internet.
After news broke of her lawsuit against the city, Scottsdale Police Chief Jeff Walther announced the department would conduct an internal investigation into the incident. Several months later, the department determined the officers involved in Garcia’s arrest had violated policy.
Walther released a statement after the investigation’s conclusion 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.
Benjamin Taylor, an attorney representing Garcia, described the incident as an egregious example of police harming the very people who called them for help.
“Ms. Garcia, she’s calling for being vandalized as a victim and then she ends up being victimized by the Scottsdale Police Department,” Taylor told The Arizona Republic.
Taylor acknowledged that police officers have difficult jobs and can make mistakes, but pointed to the sheer amount of evidence available, including surveillance footage of the parking lot showing Garcia’s car didn’t leave its spot when the hit-and-run occurred.
More than anything, Taylor said the incident irreparably damaged Garcia’s trust in law enforcement.
“One of the hardest things was, here she was asking for help,” Taylor said. “And how do you trust police anymore? How do you trust and call an officer anymore when you knew what happened last time when you trusted an officer.”
Taylor recommended anyone who felt their civil rights were being violated to contact a civil attorney to look into their case, as oftentimes the only way they can be compensated for any injustice they receive will be through the courts.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Woman paid $200K settlement in Scottsdale police wrongful arrest claim