A former suspect in the cold-case killing of an off-duty prison guard claims in a lawsuit that he was tortured by Anaheim police into giving a false confession.
Rafael Garcia Miranda accused police of violating his civil rights and using excessive force while interrogating him in the 1998 murder-for-hire of corrections officer Elizabeth Begaren.
Miranda was jailed for nearly four months before police determined he was innocent and released him, but not before he was repeatedly abused, the lawsuit says.
“Miranda was tortured, beaten, punched, kicked, struck, pushed, tormented, intimidated (and) deprived of sleep, food and water,” said the lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court Sept. 24 by attorneys Mark Eisenberg and Jerry N. Gans. The civil-rights complaint names the city of Anaheim as well as theCounty of Orange.
While the suit seeks unspecified damages, earlier tort claims by Miranda asked for $30 million for false arrest and false imprisonment. Those claims were denied by Anaheim and the county, leading to the lawsuit.
Anaheim police would not comment on the litigation. But Senior Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin, who prosecuted the case, said no such beatings are included in the video recordings of Miranda’s interrogation. Yellin added that, in a conversation, Miranda said he confessed because he was a “pleaser” who was trying to work with police, not because he was assaulted.
Miranda was swept up in the same homicide investigation that resulted in the February 2012 arrests of Begaren’s husband, Nuzzio Begaren, and Jose Luis Sandoval. Nuzzio Begaren was convicted in September of orchestrating his wife’s killing by gang-members who pulled over the family car near an Anaheim off ramp on the 91 freeway. Elizabeth Begaren was shot twice in the head as she ran from the family SUV, while Nuzzio Begaren stayed behind with his 10-year-old daughter from another marriage.
Police say Nuzzio Begaren set up the shooting to look like a robbery so he could collect a $1 million life-insurance policy. Jose Sandoval is awaiting trial on murder charges. Also arrested was Rudy Duran, who is also awaiting trial. Police believe the shooter was GuillermoEspinosa, who remains at large.
Although Nuzzio Begaren was immediately suspected in the killing, the case lingered for 14 years. Then on Feb. 02, 2012, Miranda was pulled over by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies while driving with his wife and two children. He was arrested at gunpoint and told he had an outstanding drug warrant.
Authorities said Miranda was implicated by a tip from another law-enforcement department. Miranda’s attorney, Eisenberg, said he had tattoos similar to someone suspected in the killing.
Miranda was driven to the Anaheim Police Department and eventually placed in a cell with Nuzzio Begaren and Jose Sandoval, who had been arrested Feb. 6, 2012. Allowed to call his wife, Miranda learned that television news reports said he was a suspect in the death of a California correctional officer. Reporters swarmed his home, seeking interviews with his family, says the lawsuit.
Miranda, a Cudahy drywall hanger, was taken after two days to an interrogation room by investigator Darren Wyatt and another officer identified in the lawsuit only as “DetectiveHernandez,” the suit said.
When Miranda refused to confess, Wyatt and Hernandez repeatedly hit him in the face and body, the lawsuit said. They also are accused of kicking his legs while calling him a “cop killer.”
“While chained to the table in the interrogation room, Miranda was pushed over in the chair in which he was seated, repeatedly choked and held with his face pressed against the table,” the suit says.
Investigators threatened to take his children to Child Protective Services if he didn’t confess, the suit said. Miranda, who repeatedly invoked his right to remain silent, was denied food, water and the use of a restroom, according to the lawsuit. The abuse was done with full knowledge of Chief John Welter and other Anaheim police officials, the suit says.
The abuse later continued at the hands of an unnamed deputy sheriff when Miranda was transferred to Orange County Jail, the suit says. The deputy told Miranda, “This is what we do to cop killers here.”
Authorities tell a dramatically different story: Miranda confessed the first night of his arrest to being the middleman that brought the husband together with the killers. About two months later, Sandoval confessed and identified his partners in the killing. Miranda wasn’t one of them. But prosecutors wanted to make sure. About two months after that, Duran confessed. He, too, had no knowledge of Miranda. Furthermore, Miranda’s story didn’t match the others, further prompting prosecutors to move to dismiss the homicide charges.
Miranda was released in May 2012.
By TONY SAAVEDRA / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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