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Did Scottsdale officers violate innocent woman’s right to an attorney?

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Posted at 12:05 PM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-21 08:14:06-04

SCOTTSDALE — After being read her Miranda rights, a Valley woman falsely accused of a hit-and-run was told she wasn’t entitled to talk to an attorney by Scottsdale officers who repeatedly called her a liar and overlooked clear evidence of her innocence.

‘I want to clear my name': Woman speaks out after being falsely accused by Scottsdale police

Yessenia Garcia’s defense attorney — and other lawyers contacted by ABC15 — said this is a reoccurring issue with some officers in the Scottsdale Police Department.

“The main thing for me is they had access to the evidence that exonerated her. That’s the biggest aspect to this story. But in addition to that, piling on and telling her she’s not entitled to talking to an attorney, that’s a problem,” said attorney Ryan Tait.

Garcia was arrested on May 24, 2020 in the downtown area of Scottsdale.

While she was at two bars with friends, a random man jumped on the hood of her parked car and stomped on the windshield and smashed it, according to surveillance video from a nearby building.

Garcia’s then-boyfriend flagged down a bicycle officer when the couple retired to the vehicle. The pair didn’t know that police had responded to a hit-and-run 30 minutes earlier about 0.3 miles away.

Police were certain of Garcia’s guilt almost immediately after seeing the smashed windshield. The first officer to speak to Garcia read her Miranda rights within 30 seconds.

Over the next 45 minutes, multiple officers repeatedly asked Garcia questions about what happened at the scene.

The officers also repeatedly called her a liar.

At one point, Garcia asked if she was being detained and if she could speak to a lawyer.

Officer Ben Roberson told her she was being detained and then said, “No, you’re not entitled to one. You’re under investigation.”

Tait believes that was a violation of Garcia’s constitutional rights.

“Case law is pretty clear that you have a right to an attorney at any point in time unless it will unreasonably interfere with the investigation,” he said. Tait also said, “Unfortunately, I’ve seen this a lot. It happens a lot particularly in Scottsdale.”

Other defense attorneys said it’s a common complaint in DUI investigations in the city.

As part of an initial set of email responses, a Scottsdale Police Department spokesperson issued the following statement about the allegations:

“Ms. Garcia was advised she was under investigation when she first asked to speak to an attorney. When Ms. Garcia was placed under arrest she was given the opportunity to speak to an attorney,” the spokesperson wrote.

Body camera video shows Garcia was allowed to call a lawyer following her arrest and after a blood draw at the police station.

Following Scottsdale’s initial response, ABC15 sent the department additional information that raised separate concerns about the officers’ investigation and conduct at the scene during Garcia’s arrest.

Before Garcia was taken to the police station, officers reviewed the surveillance video and claimed it was “inclusive” about whether Garcia’s car moved.

That’s not true.

ABC15 obtained a copy of the video. It clearly shows the random man stomping on Garcia’s windshield and causing visible damage then be seen on the camera.

The footage also shows her car never moves from the time of the stomp to Garcia arriving to find the damage more than a hour later.

With the camera’s pan, Garcia’s car is never out of view for more than 40 seconds.

The additional information about the video from ABC15 prompted Chief Jeff Walther to launch “a formal internal affairs investigation to fully review the incident.”

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.