By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Although there are allegations that Chavez has lied in the past, proving it is a difficult proposition. In the documents used to get Luis’ arrest warrant, Chavez wrote that two of the men who allegedly bought drugs from Lil’ Happy stated in the course of police interviews that they’d also bought drugs from Luis several times. Later, both of those men (identified in previous “American Family” chapters as Gus de la Rosa and Juan Garcia) stated unequivocally that they’d never bought drugs from Luis, nor did they ever tell Chavez they’d bought drugs from Luis — and that they are willing to come to court and say as much to a jury. But drug addicts make notoriously unimpressive witnesses, so Overland isn’t sure they’d be of any real help.
There is, however, a third man listed in the arrest warrant whom Frances tracked down a few weeks ago. We’ll call him Carlos Cardoza. Cardoza was arrested by Chavez for buying rock cocaine from Lil’ Happy. Unlike the other men, Cardoza actually wrote out and signed a statement in which he said he’d also bought drugs “over the past four months” from Luis.
Cardoza, 30, lives in a tiny one-room apartment and admits to being a drug addict. He is well-spoken, and looks more graduate student than base head. Cardoza says he bought drugs three times or so from someone on the Aguilars’ property: once from the back door of the Aguilars’ house, twice more from the parking lot. Each time the seller was someone whom Cardoza describes as a teenager. “I don’t know the exact age,” he says. “But I never saw anybody over 20 years old. That’s what I told the cop, that the only people I ever bought from were kids, nobody else.” When asked why he wrote that he bought from Luis, Cardoza says he didn’t know any of the sellers’ names, that he just wrote the names the officer told him to write. “The cop kept telling me, ‘We have you on film buying from this Luis guy,’” says Cardoza. “I said, ‘Okay, if you say so.’ They kept telling me things would go easier with me if I said what was going on in the house with this Luis guy. I said, ‘Look. I bought what I bought from kids. That’s it. I never saw nobody else.’ And they kept saying they had me on film. So I figured they knew the names. So I wrote what the cop told me.” The interviewing cop listed on Cardoza’s statement is Rudy Chavez.
Overland thinks Cardoza might make an okay witness for the defense. He also wants to find out if anyone has accused Chavez of lying or falsifying evidence in cases unrelated to Luis’. In response to Overland’s Pitchess motion, seeking details of any alleged misconduct noted in the officer’s personnel file, Judge Dymant turned over the names of five people (other than Frances) who have filed complaints against Officer Chavez pertaining to honesty or veracity. Yet, because the judge cannot legally reveal the content of the complaints, this means that each complainant must be individually tracked down and interviewed. In that a couple of years have passed since the most of the complaints were made, all but one of the people have moved, none leaving a forwarding address.
Another piece of research on Overland’s agenda is to have someone videotape the view from Chavez’s surveillance location to see if it was even physically possible for the officer to have seen what he claims he saw on the day in question. This particular task is made a tad more difficult by the fact that the prosecutor has thus far refused to disclose the surveillance location. Through a process of elimination, Luis feels fairly certain he’s figured out the spot, in a neighbor’s yard, that the cops used. To be sure, neighbors must be interviewed, measurements must be taken, and the video must be made.
“In other words, we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” says Overland.
How exactly that work is to get done is another problem. In the American criminal-justice system, the resources accorded to non-affluent defendants are not equal to those available to prosecutors. For instance, prosecutors can make liberal use of police officers and detectives to accomplish whatever investigative work they deem necessary. But the defense attorney must petition the judge for a small stipend — in Overland’s case, $1,400 — to hire someone from the court’s pool of investigators, which usually means a retired cop supplementing his pension. “And most of these guys are not exactly what you’d call ‘defendant-friendly,’” Overland says.
Frances’ moods continue to undulate between wrung-out despair and a calm, cheerful, can-do kind of optimism. She works energetically to build a life that will thrive, with or without Luis. Recently, for example, she decided she needs to get into better physical condition, so she’s started taking nightly aerobic walks. For company, she has recruited a friend, another single mother, named Beatrice Salazar. “I like Beatrice because she’s really smart and tries to better herself,” says Frances. “She’s working at 7-Seas restaurant right now, but soon she’s going back to school to become a registered nurse.”
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