Lawsuit: Shelbyville police illegally recorded attorney-client talks
SHELBYVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A man has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Shelbyville and several police officers alleging the department framed him for assault, fabricated evidence, illegally recorded a meeting he had with his attorney and lied during court testimony.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court on behalf of Enrique Gonzalez, claims the police department also was engaged in “systemic corruption" that involved officers routinely listening to privileged conversations between witnesses, suspects, defendants and their attorneys -- then using the information in investigations.
“The mass recording of communication amongst defense counsel and their clients – without permission – is a widespread affront to the constitutional rights of defendants in Shelby County,” according to the suit.
Police also recorded Gonzalez’s conversation with his mother. The lawsuit claims police used the recorded conversations to identify witnesses to “harass in their effort to” frame Gonzalez, who was 17 when he was arrested.
A woman who answered the phone at the police department said they had no comment. The Shelbyville County Attorney did not immediately respond to a message.
In a story WDRB News did last December, Gonzalez's attorney Amy Robertson said when prosecutors turned over evidence they had against the teen, it included a recording of her entire conversation she had with him when they met on Oct. 27 at the Shelbyville Police Department.
As is typical, police had told Robertson the discussion with her client would not be recorded. The suit claims an officer also listened to the conversation while it was being recorded.
The Shelbyville Police Department recording system in the police interrogation room had been recording non-stop from the time it was installed in July 2017 until it was repaired in December, the department has said.
At the time, Shelbyville Circuit Court Judge Charles Hickman ordered the police department to preserve "all electronic recordings" involving any criminal cases created during the malfunction" of the equipment in the interrogation room.
The lawsuit claims a man who was attacked on Oct. 27 told police the name of his attacker and that Gonzalez was not involved.
But several Shelbyville officers “reached an agreement amongst themselves to frame” Gonzalez, according to the suit.
While Gonzalez maintained his innocence during a police interrogation – even offering to take a polygraph -- police “fabricated” evidence to charge him, including coercing a witness to implicate the teen, the lawsuit says.
A witness to the assault had told police Gonzalez was not involved. But Officer Bruce Gentry told the witness he could either say he saw Gonzalez, armed with a gun, assault the man or be charged himself with complicity in the crime.
The witness “eventually succumbed to Defendant Gentry’s illegal tactics and falsely implicated Mr. Gonzalez in the assault,” according to the suit.
The witness later recanted his testimony.
Police are accused of attempting to get other witnesses to falsely implicate Gonzalez. When one witness refused, he was charged with criminal trespassing, according to the suit.
And another officer, Nick Fiscante, is accused of falsely testifying about Gonzalez’s role in the assault in a detention hearing, causing the teen to be incarcerated.
Much of the information obtained by police was not turned over Gonzalez’s defense attorney, including several witnesses of the assault who said the teen was not involved, according to the suit.
The charges were eventually dismissed on a motion from the prosecution, but Gonzalez spent months in jail, including Thanksgiving and his 18th birthday.
The suit says Gonzalez was a straight-A student who had a job and was a senior in high school when he was incarcerated. He lost his job and his plans to join the Marines were put on hold, the suit claims.
The lawsuit names the department’s chief, Istvan Kovacs, Gentry, Fiscante and other officers as well as the city as a whole. The suit was filed by attorneys out of Chicago, including Amy Staples and Elliot Slosar.
Last year, Melanie Lowe, directing attorney of the Shelbyville Public Defender's office, told WDRB she believed the recordings could be a criminal violation, breaking Kentucky's "eavesdropping" law, which bars people from recording a conversation between two individuals if neither of those people know they are being recorded.
But Kovacs told WDRB the recording was unintentional and was the result of a mistake made when a new system was installed earlier last year.
And he said he didn’t believe any other cases were affected, saying at the time that "nobody else has been in the interrogation room" for the last six months as most interviews of suspects happen on the scene.
In addition, Kovacs said police never heard the audio in the juvenile's assault case.
"We didn’t know it was recording," he said. "We never listened to it."
Lowe said she has asked both the Kentucky State Police and Attorney General's office to look into the issue, without success.
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