Monday, March 11, 2002
Judge Sets Deadline for Discovery Requests by Ex-Inmate Suing Over Confession Allegedly Forced by LAPD Officers
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
Lawyers in the case of a Mexican man who is suing the city of Los Angeles over his 1984 murder confession that was coerced during a late night questioning session by police were given until March 25 by a federal judge Friday to file a joint statement on what discovery needed to be conducted in the case.
Senior U.S. District Judge Wm. Matthew Byrne Jr. said that no discovery has been conducted by Guillermo Plascencia, who filed the suit on his own behalf last June, and asked for a laundry list of things that need to be done in order for a trial to start.
Plascencia, now 40, is claiming in his suit that was denied his Miranda rights when Los Angeles Police Department officers dragged him out of a San Diego jail in the middle of the night, drove him to the Hollywood police station and forced him to confess to shooting a man to death.
Plascencia claims that officers kept him awake the entire night, without allowing him time to regain his mental faculties, and interrogated him with continual and sometimes trick questions, according to court papers.
Plascencia appeared in court Friday for the first time since he was deported to Mexico three months after his release from prison in 1996. A Tijuana resident, Plascencia obtained a four-day visa to attend the status conference at the downtown Federal Courthouse.
Plascencia’s attorney, Gregory W. Moreno of Moreno, Becerra, Guerrero & Casillas, said Plascencia was mistreated, and physically and mentally abused by members of the LAPD while they coerced him to confess.
“They basically mentally broke him until they got the confession they wanted and then they took 12 years of his life,” Moreno said. “From 22 to 36, that’s the heart of a man’s life.”
Upon his return to Tijuana, Plascencia became a salesman for several curio shops on Avenida Revolucion, the city’s main tourist hotspot.
Plascencia is asking for $20 million in his suit, naming the city of Los Angeles and Officers Daniel R. Bunch, Richard Jackson, and Jerry Stephens as defendants. LAPD spokesman Officer Don Cox said Bunch is no longer with the department, but could not say for sure whether Jackson and Stephens are still department employees.
In 1993, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Plascencia’s 1984 confession to the murder was illegally coerced by police who continued questioning him after he asked for a lawyer.
The court ruled that police not only violated Plascencia’s right to remain silent and see a lawyer, but also used methods designed to coerce his waiver of those rights, referring to the persistence, tone and early morning hour of the questioning.
Plascencia, then 22, was in the San Diego County Jail on suspicion of auto theft in July 1984 when Los Angeles police took him to the Hollywood station and started questioning him at 4 a.m. about a fatal shooting. Plascencia said he had crossed the border from Mexico to look for someone in the Unites States.
After being advised of his rights, Plascencia said four separate times that he wanted a lawyer. Officers continued questioning him for 13 minutes after his initial request, shouting and swearing at him, telling him others had implicated him and saying he would not get a lawyer until the following week, according to court documents.
While in prison, Plascencia, who acted as his own lawyer in the appeal, used the prison’s law library to aid him in his unsuccessful appeals to the state courts and to U.S. District Judge William Gray.
After having served 12 years of his 27-year-to-life sentence for the murder, Plascencia was released from prison in 1996 when a federal appeals court freed him on a writ of habeas corpus.
Plascencia said he suffered mental and physical abuse while in prison, including a three-and-a-half inch gash in his head after another inmate bludgeoned him with a large rock, and being sent to solitary confinement for over a month.
Plascencia said he wants to establish prison law libraries all around Mexico, starting in Tijuana, so that innocent people in Mexican jails will have the resources available to them to be able to set themselves free.
“There are lots of innocent people in jail in Mexico,” Plascencia said. “We don’t have things like this there.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company