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Marco Antonio Garcia, et al v. United States of America

November 14, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David O. Carter United States District Judge


Before the Court is Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion") filed by Defendant ICE Special Agent Raymond Escobar ("Defendant" or "Defendant Escobar"). (Dkt. 227). For the following reasons, the Court DENIES the Motion with respect to the Fourth Amendment claim asserted by Plaintiff Marco Antonio Garcia ("MAG"). The Court GRANTS the Motion with respect to the other Plaintiffs who are not MAG.


On March 24, 2011, a Third Amended Complaint ("TAC") was filed by Plaintiff Marco Antonio Garcia ("MAG") and other plaintiffs ("Other Plaintiffs") who were present during MAG's arrest and the search of their residence conducted by federal officers on December 6, 2007. (Dkt. 149). The gravamen of the Complaint is that Defendant ICE Special Agent Raymond Escobar ("Defendant") provided information to a prosecutor that contained misrepresentations and omissions regarding whether MAG had been identified as the driver of a Jeep in a money-laundering investigation. Based on Defendant's information, the prosecutor obtained a warrant, grand jury indictment, and arrest of MAG at his residence and then held him for 50 days-all without probable cause that MAG was indeed the driver who had been surveilled. The Other Plaintiffs' claims arise from their treatment during MAG's arrest and the warrantless search of the residence on December 6, 2007.

Because the Court is determining Defendant's motion for summary judgment, the Court relates the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving parties, that is, MAG and the Other Plaintiffs. See Beck v. City of Upland, 527 F.3d 853, 857 (9th Cir. 2008).

a.Investigation and Surveillance on May 14 and 17, 2007

This case arises from the May 2007 surveillance conducted primarily by two federal agencies and some non-federal agencies as part of an investigation of a money-laundering operation. In May 2007, the Houston office of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") learned through wiretaps that the subject of a money-laundering investigation was traveling to Southern California for a May 14, 2007, meeting with an English-speaking male Hispanic who identified himself as "Seca" or "Soca." ICE Houston contacted ICE Los Angeles and arranged for ICE Special Agent John Reed to coordinate surveillance with other ICE agents and with the Inland Regional Narcotics Enforcement Team ("IRNET"), a division of the San Bernardino County Sheriff.

On May 14, 2007, IRNET officer Victor Moreno ("Moreno") observed the money-laundering target exchange bags with the driver of a silver 2002 Jeep with license plate number 4UVX229. Four days later, on May 18, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") observed the same Jeep in a parallel money-laundering investigation being conducted by the DEA.

On May 18, 2007, the DEA phoned Defendant Escobar to learn the identity of the driver. Defendant emailed the DEA a DMV photograph of Plaintiff Marco Antonio Garcia ("MAG") and stated that the "LA Group and IRNET ID'd this guy as the driver." See Sealed Pl. Evid., Ex. 1 at 4. Defendant also told the DEA that the car was registered to a different person, "LOPEZ-PALMINOS," but that "the utilities for the address are in [MAG's] name." Id.

Marco Antonio Garcia ("MAG") would later be indicted and arrested as the driver of the silver Jeep and the "Seca/Soca" heard on the wiretaps.

b.Information Provided by Defendant to the Prosecutor Regarding MAG's Identification

Defendant Escobar gave Prosecutor Luege an August 22, 2007 Prosecution Report ("August PR") that describes the May 14, 2007, transaction as involving "GARCIA" driving a "silver Jeep" with California license plate 4UVX229. The report states that the transaction was observed by both ICE Los Angeles and IRNET agents. Defendant indicates that IRNET agent Moreno identified the suspect as "GARCIA," shown by the name "Detective Moreno" next to the description of the transaction. See Opp'n 3; Sealed Pl. Evid., Ex. 21 at US-1351-52.

Defendant's August PR was Prosecutor Luege's source of information regarding the identification of MAG. Although Prosecutor Luege also relied on a prosecution report filed by the DEA, that DEA report identifies MAG only by citing Defendant's August PR. See Sealed Pl. Evid., Ex. 19 at US-1330. Specifically, under the heading "Marco Antonio GARCIA Aka SECA/SOCA" in the DEA's prosecution report the following phrase appears: "Identity: ICE Prosecution Report page 12 (Exhibit 258)." This is a reference to Defendant's August PR.*fn1

c.MAG's Indictment and Arrest and the Search of the Home

On December 5, 2007, a grand jury indicted "Marco Antonio Garcia aka Seca/Soca" for conspiracy to conduct and attempt to conduct unlawful financial transactions affecting interstate commerce. On the same day, a court issued a warrant for MAG's arrest. On December 6, 2007, at the DEA's request, several ICE agents including Defendant executed the warrant to arrest MAG and did so at MAG's home.

Defendant was designated the "team leader" for MAG's arrest. Prior to executing the arrest, Defendant's supervisor discussed with the team a plan to obtain consent from the residents to search the home. No search warrant was issued for MAG's home.

On December 6, 2007, federal agents burst into the home of MAG and the Other Plaintiffs. Defendant arrested and handcuffed MAG and transported MAG to the Santa Ana Jail in the City of Santa Ana, where he was imprisoned for fifty days until January 25, 2008, after which he was released on bond. During the arrest, ICE agents-but not Defendant-searched the home and detained the Other Plaintiffs during the search. The Other Plaintiffs claim to have suffered physical and emotional injuries during the search. After the search, these agents obtained written consent to search from the Other Plaintiffs. One of the Other Plaintiffs signed her written consent form only after an ICE agent-not Defendant-threatened that her children would be taken away.

d.MAG's Subsequent Release

On April 28, 2008, Prosecutor Luege unilaterally moved to dismiss the charges against MAG without prejudice. The only explanation provided was that "[t]he [DEA] has determined that, at this time, there is insufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, [MAG's] involvement in the conspiracy charged in count two of the indictment." See United States v. Le, et al., No. 8:07-cr-00278-CJC-9 (C.D. Cal.), at Docket 1.

e.Information Known to Defendant Regarding MAG's Identification, But Not Provided to the Prosecutor

MAG has identified the following documents which were known to Defendant Escobar before the indictment but which Defendant did not provide to Prosecutor Luege:

(1) Defendant's May 2007 report ("May Escobar ROI"), which has the stated purpose of "document[ing] a . . . criminal associate identified as Marco Antonio Garcia." The report states that, on May 18, 2007, "[b]ased on a DMV photograph" provided by Defendant, "DEA Orange County surveillance team members positively identified the [unknown male driving a silver jeep] as GARCIA." It also states that, on May 14, 2007, the suspect was "identified as Marco Antonio GARCIA by a California . . . (DMV) photograph during surveillance by SAC/LA and . . . (IRNET) officers." See Sealed Pl. Index. Evid., Ex. 6 at US-68-69.

(2) The IRNET Report ("May IRNET Report") of surveillance on May 14, 2007, contains a description of the transaction involving the driver of the silver Jeep with California license plate 4UVX229, but does not identify the driver or mention "GARCIA" or "Marco Antonio Garcia." Moreno is the Detective identified as the "Case Agent" in the report. See Opp'n 7-8; Sealed Pl. Evid., Ex. 22 at US-449-50.

(3) The DEA Report ("May DEA Report") of surveillance on May 18, 2007, states that an "unidentified male" with a "mustache, and possibly a goatee . . . was later identified as possibly being GARCIA, Marco Antonio." The report does not state who identified the suspect. See Sealed Pl. Evid., Ex. 2 at US-30 (emphasis added).

In addition, MAG has identified the following visual evidence which was known*fn2 to Defendant but which Defendant did not provide to Prosecutor Luege:

(1) MAG's California driver's license

(2) Surveillance photos taken by Pomona PD at the end of June 2007 of the suspect ...

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