Wednesday, November 20, 2002
C.A. Affirms Judgment for Aspiring Lawyer Wrongly Convicted of Rape
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A judgment requiring the state to pay more than $4 million to a former psychiatric nurse who served more than three years in prison for rape of a state hospital patient, before being cleared by DNA evidence, has been affirmed by this district’s Court of Appeal.
Div. Four, in an opinion by Justice Daniel Curry, said Monday there was ample evidence to support then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Florence Marie Cooper’s 1998 ruling that state investigators fabricated evidence used to convict Mark Bravo.
Bravo, who graduated from Western State University College of Law while pursuing the suit, could not be reached yesterday for comment. In a recent e-mail, responding to a television documentary that mentioned his case and posted on the program’s website, he said he had returned to nursing but intends to take the bar exam.
Bravo also sued Los Angeles County. Supervisors approved an $875,000 settlement after their attorney reported that a sheriff’s deputy had withheld evidence that might have persuaded the district attorney not to prosecute.
Cooper, now a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, presided over a non-jury trial held four years after Bravo’s release. In her written ruling, she charged investigators with a “chilling eagerness to eliminate or explain away all evidence which could . . . exonerate the plaintiff.”
Howard Giblin, the Metropolitan State Hospital senior investigator who turned the case over to the district attorney, violated Bravo’s right to due process of law, the judge said. Giblin “harbored a willful, deliberate, and malicious mental state” and “abused the power of his position in the worst possible way—by bringing about the conviction of an innocent man.”
A reasonable investigator, Cooper said, would have reviewed Bravo’s attendance records, which would have shown that he was not at the hospital when the rape occurred; would have interviewed Bravo, his supervisor, and co-workers, who would have provided exculpatory information; and would have reviewed the victim’s medical charts which would have shown that she was likely to confuse fantasy with reality and had a history of inappropriate sexual behavior.
Giblin also should have advised Bravo, his lawyer, and/or the district attorney that a sexual assault involving a man named “Tony” on another patient was reported at the hospital under “very similar circumstances” two weeks prior to the felony complaint being filed against Bravo, the judge said. The patient whom Bravo was convicted of assaulting at one time told Giblin that “Tony Bravo” was her assailant, Cooper noted.
Metropolitan State Hospital is in Norwalk.
Cooper ruled that Bravo was entitled to nearly $5 million in damages, including $1 million for emotional distress, less an offset based on the settlement with the county.
Curry, writing Monday for the Court of Appeal, rejected the state’s contention that Giblin did not violate any clearly established constitutional right of the plaintiff and was thus entitled to qualified immunity from liability.
As a general rule, the justice acknowledged, the police have no constitutional obligation to continue investigating once they have obtained the statement of the putative victim of a crime, or of an eyewitness.
But the general rule does not apply, Curry explained, when the police are aware of facts casting doubt on the reliability of the witness or accuser. Giblin, an experienced investigator of claims made by mentally ill patients, was clearly aware of such facts, Curry said.
“What we find most troubling about the actions of the hospital police is how persons supposedly experienced in handling the accusations of the mentally ill managed to impair the investigation,” the justice went on to write.
When the woman said she had been raped by Tony Bravo, an officer asked if she meant Mark Bravo, “although [the officer] knew that mental patients are highly suggestible,” Curry wrote. Giblin also engaged in “bad procedure” by not having the officers who interviewed the victim present at later interviews, to determine whether her story changed over time, the jurist said.
The justice also rejected the claim that since the District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Department chose to proceed with the case based on independent investigation and review of the evidence, any lack of diligence on the state investigators’ part could not have been a legal cause of the plaintiff’s damages.
The decision to prosecute, Curry said, was apparently influenced by misrepresentations by Giblin and his subordinate as to the time of the attack.
Giblin, the justice said, falsely said the victim reported that the attack occurred close to lunch time—meaning around 1 p.m.—thereby discrediting two hospital police officers and another employee whose statements indicated that the attack had to have occurred later.
The false statement, Curry said, was part of a pattern that included the constant denigration of anyone who could have exculpated Bravo.
When one witness said the victim had recanted her accusation, Giblin passed the information along with a note that said the witness “doesn’t really know what she was saying,” the justice explained. When an employee who had not been interviewed called to complain and said she could verify Bravo’s alibi, Giblin “told her not to tell him how to do his job,” Curry added.
Such conduct, the justice declared, “was not objectively reasonable.”
Bravo was represented on appeal by Hermez Moreno. Deputy attorneys general Richard J. Rojo, Barbara A. Noble and Tania M. Ibanez represented the state.
The case is Bravo v. Giblin, B125242.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company