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Man sues Las Vegas police over handling of sexual assault case

A man who fought sexual assault charges for eight years has filed a civil rights lawsuit that accuses Las Vegas police of withholding evidence that was favorable to him.

The criminal case was dismissed in June 2014 after the evidence came to light.

Victor Villalta, 31, was arrested in November 2006 after he was accused of sexually assaulting two sisters, 6 and 9, who lived in his central valley neighborhood. Eight years later, the day before his case went to trial, it was dismissed by a judge.

Last week Villalta filed a lawsuit in Clark County District Court against the Metropolitan Police Department and Det. Tracy Smith.

“Defendent Smith affirmatively withheld exculpatory evidence, case notes, purported victim’s statements, and reports which indicated Mr. Villalta’s innocence,” according to the civil complaint.

The lawsuit’s claims include negligence, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It also accuses the defendants of violating the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unfair search and seizure, and the 14th Amendment, which guarantees a person’s right to due process.

Villalta’s criminal case was dismissed after two prosecutors at the district attorney’s office found notes taken by Smith that questioned the validity of the girls’ claims. The prosecutors had been assigned to the case in 2013 after the original prosecutor was found to have a conflict with another criminal case she was handling.

As the June 24, 2014, trial date drew near, the pair were preparing their case and combing through evidence when they discovered some of Smith’s case notes from a 2006 interview with the girls’ therapist.

The therapist said she was uncertain whether Villalta molested the girls because their stories changed all the time.

Immediately after finding the notes, the new prosecutors called Villalta and said that if he passed a polygraph test, they would move to dismiss his case. He passed the test on June 23, 2014.

Villalta’s lawsuit alleges that Smith and the Police Department arrested him without probable cause, acted with malice toward him and falsely imprisoned him.

“Plaintiff suffered injury to his reputation, humiliation, embarrassment, mental suffering, financial damages, and inconvenience” at the hands of the department and Smith, according to the lawsuit.

Metro spokesman Michael Rodriguez said on Tuesday that the department does not comment on pending litigation. Though he could not confirm Smith’s employment status with the department, public salary records show she made $151,851 in total pay and benefits in 2015.

Contact Kimber Laux at klaux@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283. Find her on Twitter: @LauxKimber

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