L.A. sheriff’s detectives face charges after fellow deputy accuses them of lying
The search of an East L.A. home by the Los Angeles County sheriff’s gang detectives yielded a sizable haul: an assault rifle and other guns, a large amount of meth, some black tar heroin, and plastic baggies and a scale used in drug dealing.
Two men were arrested on that Saturday in 2018 and, after the search, Det. Pedro Guerrero-Gonzalez, the lead investigator, approached another detective with a startling question: Would he be willing to say he’d seen one of the suspects holding the rifle before throwing it to the floor?
“I told him no, that that’s not what happened and that I wasn’t going to say that,” Det. Jason McGinty recalled in May during secret testimony before a grand jury in a downtown courtroom. Detectives had found the rifle in a case and neither of the suspects had touched it, he said.
Undeterred, Guerrero-Gonzalez, 34, wrote in his report on the search that McGinty had made the claim about the man throwing the rifle, a prosecutor from the L.A. district attorney’s office told the grand jurors. Another detective, Noel Lopez, 41, also included the allegedly bogus detail in a sworn declaration, the prosecutor said.
Both detectives now face criminal charges alleging they lied in the drug and gun investigation. They have pleaded not guilty.
McGinty’s account of the confrontation with Guerrero-Gonzalez and other details about what led to the detectives’ indictment in May were laid out in a transcript of the grand jury proceedings that Superior Court Judge Michael Garcia made public last week. In a hearing, attorneys representing the detectives objected to a request from The Times to release the transcript, asking the judge to keep it sealed until they could challenge the allegations against their clients.
In seeking the indictment, Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Baker told the grand jury that the case boils down to two detectives pressuring a third to lie.
“When a deputy, when a detective, when a peace officer is testifying under oath ... we need to trust them,” Baker said. “We need to trust that they’re telling the truth.”
The charges against the detectives stem from a drug raid in September 2018. Sheriff’s investigators from the department’s Operation Safe Streets bureau targeted the home on Rowan Avenue in East L.A. after receiving a tip from a confidential informant, McGinty testified.
When the team entered the house, McGinty was the first to reach the bedroom where the two men, rifle and drugs were found.
Guerrero-Gonzalez quickly caught up to him, and they searched the men and the room. Afterward, when McGinty told Guerrero-Gonzalez he wouldn’t lie, he said the investigator looked dumbfounded.
“I had said to kind of alleviate it ... ‘Hey, if you go to speak to them and they tell you something or if it’s something you had seen, then you put that in the report, but don’t put something that I didn’t see or that I didn’t say,’” McGinty testified.
Guerrero-Gonzalez walked away.
While still at the house, Lopez, who McGinty considered his mentor, raised the same question, according to McGinty’s testimony. Was there an issue, Lopez asked, with him saying one of the arrested men had thrown the gun down?
Again, McGinty protested, saying it was not what happened.
Lopez didn’t say anything, but McGinty testified that he felt the mood shift between them, leaving him uncomfortable.
“It went against my culture. It went against my values. It just went against everything,” he said.
McGinty recalled for the grand jury that he told his wife what happened when he returned home after the drug bust. In talking it over, he decided to resign from the Sheriff’s Department. He gave his captain his resignation letter, saying he was dealing with a family issue.
A lieutenant convinced him to stay.
A year went by and McGinty was working an overtime shift when he received a subpoena to testify at a preliminary hearing in the drug and gun case. At the hearing, a judge would decide whether there was sufficient evidence against the men to continue with the case.
Expecting to testify, McGinty looked up the report submitted in the case to jog his memory.
“I saw a bunch of lies,” McGinty testified.
Guerrero-Gonzalez’s report indicated that McGinty said he had seen one of the men throw the case with the rifle inside on the floor. The prosecutor who filed the case against the men testified at the grand jury proceedings that she had relied on McGinty’s statement to file gun charges against the man.
“That was evidence that he possessed” the gun, the prosecutor told the grand jury.
The accused man also testified at the grand jury hearing, saying the assault rifle was not his and that he was holding a video game controller and his cellphone when the police showed up in the doorway.
McGinty reported the allegedly fabricated document to the Sheriff’s Department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, which investigates criminal allegations made against deputies.
Days later, prosecutors moved to drop the criminal charges against the two men before the preliminary hearing was held.
Nearly two years passed before prosecutors sought charges against the two detectives. Guerrero-Gonzalez faces one felony count of filing a false report, and Lopez faces a count of perjury. The detectives were suspended without pay in June, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman said.
Neither the Sheriff’s Department nor the district attorney’s office have explained the delay. The D.A.’s office also declined to say whether prosecutors are reviewing other criminal cases in which Guerrero-Gonzalez and Lopez were involved for signs of dishonesty.
Guerrero-Gonzalez’s attorney Vicki Podberesky said the grand jury did not hear testimony from other deputies involved in the drug bust that would have undermined the case against the detectives.
Lopez’s attorney Joshua Ritter said he believes the case is part of a “politically motivated” effort by Dist. Atty. George Gascón to show he’s fulfilling a campaign promise to hold police officers accountable.
Baker, the prosecutor, said during the court hearing over whether to release the transcripts that the grand jury process had been fair. According to the transcripts, he summarized to grand jurors the statements that Lopez and other deputies gave about the raid.
In his statement, Lopez claimed he overheard McGinty tell someone that he saw one of the suspects holding or throwing a gun, but couldn’t remember who McGinty was speaking to, the prosecutor told the grand jury. Lopez also said he didn’t recall writing the declaration that had included the alleged lie and that because of computer glitches other detectives often used his computer.
Baker, the prosecutor, posed a question to the grand jury: If McGinty had gone along with the lie, “who would have known? And what did it matter?” The man who was arrested, he said, “probably was up to no good, right?”
“The problem is it’s a lie. And the problem with that lie is it’s a crime,” Baker said.
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