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George Alvarez

Other Guilty Plea Exonerations with Official Misconduct
On November 27, 2005, police in Brownsville, Texas arrested 17-year-old George Alvarez on a charge of burglarizing a motor vehicle. While Alvarez was in the Brownsville jail, one of the guards, 35-year-old Jesus Arias, said that Alvarez was upset with the telephone because it was not working and began banging the receiver against the wall.

Arias later said that he decided to move Alvarez from the holding area to a cell and that Alvarez attacked him, requiring other officers to come to his aid to subdue Alvarez.

As a result, Alvarez was charged with assaulting a peace officer. On May 2, 2006, Alvarez pled guilty in Cameron County District Court. He was sentenced to six months in a drug treatment program to be followed by eight years’ probation. In November 2006, Alvarez was kicked out of the drug treatment program for failing to comply with the rules. His probation was revoked, and he was sentenced to eight years in prison.

In 2008, Jose Lopez filed a federal lawsuit against the same jail guard, Jesus Arias, accusing Arias of choking him and using excessive force. The lawsuit alleged details remarkably similar to what happened to Alvarez. Lopez, a 65-year-old military veteran, was arrested on May 8, 2006, on a charge of sexual assault. While in his cell, he became upset because the telephone was not working. Arias later claimed that he decided to move Lopez to another cell, and that Lopez lunged and swung at him, requiring the use of force to subdue him.

Lopez, like Alvarez, was charged with assaulting a peace officer. But unlike Alvarez, Lopez pled not guilty and went to trial. After the trial began, one of the defense attorneys noticed that a report mentioned a computer monitor in the jail. The Brownsville police were asked if there were any recordings of what went on inside the jail. A video of the day of Lopez’s arrest was then turned over to the defense.

That video showed, in contrast to Arias’s report, that Arias pulled Lopez from his cell and took him to the floor. Another officer grabbed Lopez’s pony tail and pulled his head back while another guard placed his knee on the back of Lopez’s neck and ground his face into the floor.

The video was shown to the jury, which deliberated only a few minutes before acquitting Lopez.

After Lopez filed his lawsuit, his lawyer discovered that another video existed showing that Arias had been similarly aggressive toward Alvarez. The video showed Arias putting Alvarez in a chokehold and taking him to the floor. Two other officers then joined to help drag Alvarez into another cell.

The video was turned over to Alvarez’s attorney, Eddie Lucio, who filed a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On October 13, 2010, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the writ, vacated Alvarez’s conviction, and declared him factually innocent. On October 25, 2010, the Cameron County District Attorney’s office dismissed the charge and Alvarez was released from prison.

In 2011, Alvarez filed a federal civil rights lawsuit instead of seeking state compensation. After a federal judge found the city of Brownsville liable for failing to disclose the video, a trial was held to determine damages. In September 2014, a jury ordered the city of Brownsville to pay $2 million in damages to Alvarez. An award of attorneys’ fees of $300,000 brought the total to $2.3 million.

However, in June 2017, the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals set aside the jury award and dismissed the lawsuit. The appeals court ruled that because Alvarez had pled guilty, Brownsville could not be held liable for the failure to disclose the video to his defense attorney.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/6/2017
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Sentence:8 years
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No