ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York’s top court reinstated a civil lawsuit Tuesday against four New York City detectives accused of falsely arresting and maliciously prosecuting a woman whose lawyers say she was coerced into signing a false murder confession.
Maria De Lourdes Torres was jailed four years at Riker’s Island based on the coerced confession contradicted by physical evidence, including crime scene DNA, which her lawyers say the detectives didn’t pursue.
“The evidence gave rise to a triable issue of fact as to whether the detectives falsified plaintiff’s confession and brazenly arrested her without even arguable probable cause,” Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam wrote. The four other Court of Appeals judges agreed, reversing lower courts.
Torres was charged in the 2002 stabbing death of Einstein Romeo Acuna, her friend and lover, after initially telling police that she didn’t know him. Her attorneys said that after 21 hours with police she finally signed a confession written by a detective, who told her she could go home if she signed it.
In 2007, prosecutors moved to dismiss murder charges against Torres, an immigrant from Mexico in the country illegally. She later sued.
The court upheld the dismissal of civil claims directly against the city and police department, finding insufficient evidence that their policies promoted arrests without probable cause. The city and department still face claims related to the detectives’ actions.
“Six weeks after the indictment the DNA tests came back and showed the blood at the scene, and there was massive amount of blood, was that of the victim, mixed with two males, in various parts of the apartment,” attorney David Perecman said. Acuna had been stabbed 20 times. There was no DNA from a woman, but police stuck with Torres as the suspect.
It’s a rare ruling on false arrest and malicious prosecution for New York courts, which generally credit an indictment as sufficient probable cause and dismiss claims, co-counsel Zachary Perecman said. “Until this point, they’ve never clarified what kind of police conduct was sufficient to make such a case,” he said.
The city corporation counsel, which represented the city, police department and detectives, was pleased the court rejected claims that there was a pattern of unconstitutional conduct by city personnel, spokesman Nick Paolucci said. “She will have to prove her other allegations against the city and the police at trial,” he said.
Torres is now married with two children, Perecman said.
The case now returns for trial in the court that originally dismissed the case.
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