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Los Angeles County D.A.’s chief of staff sues Azusa police over public intoxication arrest

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s chief of staff filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the Azusa Police Department, accusing officers of violating his civil rights when they arrested him last month.

Joseph Iniguez, 36, was arrested on suspicion of public intoxication on Dec. 11 after officers pulled over a vehicle driven by his fiancé shortly before midnight. Hours before the lawsuit was made public, Azusa police released several pages of documents in response to a public records request filed by The Times. In the documents, an officer claimed Iniguez had “bloodshot” eyes and was slurring his speech when he allegedly interfered with the officers’ actions during the vehicle stop.

According to the police report, officers initially stopped Iniguez’s vehicle because his fiancé, who was driving, made an illegal U-turn into a McDonald’s drive-through in the 900 block of East Alosta Avenue.

The arresting officer — who is identified in the documents only as “Cpl. R. Martinez” — approached the car and said he smelled alcohol, according to the report. He asked Iniguez’s fiancé if he had been drinking and Iniguez replied that he “was the cause of the odor and he had consumed several alcoholic beverages,” according to the report.

“Iniguez began to question me and give legal advice. I informed Iniguez that I was not speaking with him and I was speaking with the driver and attempting to determine his sobriety,” the officer wrote in the report. “Iniguez continued to interfere with my traffic stop.”

The officer threatened to arrest Iniguez for public intoxication because of his admission that he had been drinking. Ultimately, the officer said he handcuffed the driver because of Iniguez’s constant interference and then placed Iniguez under arrest.

“I could see that his [Iniguez] eyes were bloodshot and watery, he had slurred speech, a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from his breath and person, he admitted to consuming alcoholic beverages and he was not listening to commands from officers,” the report read.

Officers later determined Iniguez’s fiancé’s blood-alcohol content was below the legal limit to drive, and he was released without incident, said Cpl. C.J. Wilkins, the president of Azusa’s police union. Wilkins, who said he spoke directly to the arresting officer, believed the incident would have amounted to little more than a traffic citation if not for what he described as Iniguez’s “belligerent” conduct.

In an interview with The Times last month, Iniguez claimed he had done nothing wrong and said the arrest was improper. Under California law, to be guilty of public intoxication, a person must be so drunk that they cannot care for themselves, he argued.

Iniguez also said he decided to film the encounter because Azusa police officers do not wear cameras and claimed the arrest was in retaliation for his decision to film the encounter. He has refused to release footage of the encounter to The Times, however.

On Thursday Iniguez sued the city of Azusa, alleging he had been falsely arrested.

“On Dec. 11, 2021, Mr. Iniguez was lucid, calm, responsive and communicative… Mr. Iniguez was arrested for exercising his 1st Amendment rights while objectively documenting the investigation,” his attorney, Glen Jonas, wrote in an e-mail to The Times.

“Mr. Iniguez is driven by the moral imperative to protect the citizens of the community from abuse of authority,” Jonas continued. “His goal is to hold [Martinez] accountable and to compel patrol officers of the APD to wear body-worn cameras.”

Asked why Iniguez would not release the video, Jonas said the recording “will be released in due course, we’re not going to litigate that in the press.”

An Azusa police spokesman said he could not comment on the suit because the city had yet to be formally served.

Iniguez had been a prosecutor for only a few years when he announced a longshot bid to unseat then-Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey in 2019. After gaining little traction in the race, Iniguez dropped out and joined Gascón’s campaign team. After Gascón’s victory, Iniguez was named interim chief deputy district attorney, making him the de facto second-in-command of the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office.

Iniguez has since been replaced in that position and now serves as chief of staff, but his rapid ascent has drawn scorn from many longtime prosecutors, who believe he lacks the experience necessary to hold such a high rank within the office.

Wilkins, the police union president, has also accused Iniguez of threatening to put the arresting officer on the district attorney’s so-called “Brady List,” which contains officers with problematic disciplinary histories whose testimony might be challenged or impeached in a trial. The name is a reference to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to turn over evidence favorable to a defendant, including evidence of police misconduct.

In the police report made public Wednesday, the arresting officer said that Iniguez “stated he was falsely arrested, said he would see me again and called me ‘Brady’” when he was released from custody.

Iniguez has denied making the comment and Wilkins did not immediately return a call Thursday seeking clarification on his allegation.

Iniguez was released hours after the arrest, and police records show he was apprehended for “intoxication only” and no other criminal proceedings were desired. But police have since submitted a case “for review and consideration of any criminal charges” to the California attorney general’s office, said Azusa Police Lt. Rocky Wenrick.

Alex Bastian, an advisor to Gascón, has said any possible prosecution would have to be reviewed by an outside agency because of the conflict of interest created by Iniguez’s employment. Iniguez remains in his position as chief of staff, according to Bastian, who has declined to comment on what, if any, internal discipline Iniguez might face because of the arrest.



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