The claims keep piling up against the City of Trinidad and its police force over a badly misfired drug-sting operation that was the subject of my 2014 feature "The Snitch Who Stole Christmas." The latest lawsuit, filed by civil rights attorney David Lane in federal court earlier this week, seeks damages for false arrest and malicious prosecution of four women who were snagged in the sting because of allegations by an undercover informant — whose credibility problems led to the collapse of the entire operation.
As we first reported last year, the sting operation led to the arrest of forty people for allegedly selling small amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, prescription painkillers and other drugs to two informants, who were "working off" their own legal problems from drug busts and earning cash from the police for each drug transaction. All forty cases were eventually dismissed, however, after defense attorneys uncovered numerous problems with the supposed facts stated in the arrest warrants and especially the veracity of informant Crystal Bachicha. Among other issues, Bachica claimed to have bought methamphetamine and heroin on the street from two suspects who turned out to be in jail at the time.
Several of the targets of the sting lost jobs or housing as a result of their arrests. Early last year, the ACLU of Colorado filed suit on behalf of former probation officer Danika Gonzales and former school employee Felicia Valdez, claiming negligence on the part of the police detectives running the operation. Arrest affidavits in the case suggested that Bachicha had been supervised during her supposed drug purchases from the two women, when the police actually conducted no such surveillance; that the drugs obtained field-tested positive for heroin or meth, when in some instances they turned out to be fake; that the informant was thoroughly searched before and after each buy to prevent hanky-panky, when the searches actually were cursory pat-downs; that the audio recordings made by Bachicha contained incriminating evidence that, in fact, didn't exist.
In recent months several other plaintiffs have made similar filings. Bachicha has claimed to be a victim of manipulative detectives — who, she says, lied about her degree of involvement in the operation and exposed her identity, leaving her to face the wrath of the suspects. She pleaded guilty to one count of perjury for statements she made in court about her role as an informant.
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The latest suit, on behalf of Raquel Garcia, Marilyn Tyler, Vickie Vargas, and Melissa Vialpando, provides additional details about why Bachicha may have targeted certain individuals for arrest. Vialpando, for example, used to date Bachicha's husband. Tyler and Bachicha had also been romantic rivals at one point, and the man in question was also a victim of a drive-by shooting in which Bachicha was among four implicated suspects — although all charges against her in the case, including attempted murder, were eventually dismissed.
"Three of the people who CI [confidential informant] Bachicha had accused of selling her drugs were individuals who CI Bachicha had been charged with attempting to murder," the complaint states. " The lure of settling personal scores was an additional motivation for her activities as a CI."
The complaint contends that police officers relied on "fabricated evidence" to build their cases for arrest, and in many instances failed to confirm the whereabouts of the persons targeted for arrest. The filing maintains that Vargas, who worked a graveyard shift at a motel in Raton, New Mexico, wasn't even in the state on the evening she supposedly sold heroin to Bachicha. The purchase, which officers stated tested positive for heroin, was later determined by a state lab to not contain any illegal drugs at all.