Updated August 13, 2020 - 7:40 pm
Two years after he was wrongly accused of impersonating an officer and sexually assaulting women, Jesus Carvajal dreams of the life he could have had.
“If none of this would have happened, I’d probably have kids right now,” the 36-year-old said. “And I would be in my home, a beautiful home with a big backyard. My dogs would be able to run up and down.”
In early August 2018, he was working as an Amazon distributor, managing 40 people and striving toward owning his own company. But one morning, he was awoken by explosions outside his Arlington Ranch neighborhood home in southwest Las Vegas.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” he said of that morning. “It looked like a movie in front of my home.”
With his German shepherd Flash at his side, he reached for his gun and peered through the window into a cloud of white.
“The first thing that went through my mind,” he said, “was defending my home and family.”
When officers shouted his name, he stepped outside in only his underwear and saw a team of armed men with rifles and shields. When they told him the charges — sexual assault and attempted sexual assault with a deadly weapon, kidnapping and false impersonation of a public officer — he thought they were joking. He said he had alibis to show that they were mistaken, but police arrested him anyway. He was fired by Amazon almost immediately.
Almost exactly two years later, through attorneys Michael McAvoyAmaya and Timothy Revero, Carvajal filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department and the Clark County district attorney’s office.
Through a spokesman, Metro declined to comment on the lawsuit, and officials at the district attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
‘Life has been ruined’
The complaint filed last weekend alleges illegal search and seizure, false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and deprivation of liberty and property without due process.
Carvajal and his lawyers said that Metro rushed to arrest an innocent man for forcing sex on prostitutes in order to cover up wrongdoing among the department’s vice squad. And even after the charges against Carvajal were dropped, prosecutors fought his efforts to seal court records, the suit stated.
Carvajal’s lawyers wrote that his “entire life has been ruined by defendants’ wrongful arrest, unconstitutional confinement and malicious prosecution.”
In obtaining a warrant for Carvajal’s arrest, Detective Eric Charaska wrote that he found pictures of Carvajal on social media “holding various firearms while wearing police style body armor and a vest,” according to the lawsuit.
But Carvajal’s lawyer’s said the detective left out a key detail.
“Charaska failed to inform the judge that these pictures were of plaintiff with his professional paintball team in full paintball gear and masks, some which have the words ‘paintballphotography.com’ printed on the bottom,” McAvoyAmaya and Revero wrote in the complaint.
The detective also told the judge that two victims identified Carvajal with “100 percent certainty” when that was not true, misidentified the suspect’s vehicle and failed to say that Carvajal was taller and heavier-set that the victims’ description of the suspect.
Carvajal’s lawsuit references a federal investigation into the department’s vice unit, which has been cited in other criminal cases, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s ongoing legal battles with Metro over public records.
“It is our theory of the case that they were desperate to get the media attention off the police department,” McAvoyAmaya said. “Their policy and practice of trying to conceal this conduct kicked in, and they went and pinned it on whoever they could find. This was a desperate mad dash to find somebody to pin it on that isn’t a cop. And they did that. And now they’re going to have to pay for it. It’s an egregious violation of constitutional rights.”
Carvajal spent three weeks in the Clark County Detention Center, while most of his friends and even some family members distanced themselves from him. They believed the authorities.
“They all turned their back on me,” he said during an interview this week, rubbing tears from his eyes. “Every single one of them turned their back on me. I was left alone.”
Prosecutors ultimately dropped the charges against him after another woman reported being raped by someone impersonating a police officer in October 2018.
Prosecutors have since charged Tommy Provost for what Carvajal was originally accused. But Provost’s lawyer, Robert Draskovich, said he also was framed and told a judge that “the investigation into this case was a sham.” Provost is set for trial this year.
Carvajal, who works as a vendor for a garden center, said that he often meditates before he speaks about his experience in order to “talk in a way where you’re not visualizing what you’re saying.”
He carries a video camera in his pocket, has another in his car and keeps surveillance on his one-bedroom apartment near UNLV. Because of his arrest, he said, he struggled to find work, his credit was destroyed and he’s still making payments on the vehicle that police auctioned off while he was in jail.
He wants to push for change and transparency among police, he said, and see funding for increased training.
“I don’t think anything’s going to make me whole,” Carvajal said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to find peace within me. I try to find forgiveness for what was done to me.”
His lawyers have yet to put a dollar figure on what they believe the wrongful arrest is worth, and that may be up to a jury to decide.
“The question is what is your freedom worth,” Revero said. “In this case, moreover, it’s freedom, reputation, standing in the community. Mr. Carvajal lost all those things.”
Contact David Ferrara at dferrara @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.