Update below: In October 2010, Denver Policeman Hector Paez was booked on a sexual assault charge for allegedly coercing a woman to perform oral sex on him to avoid going to jail. Last September, a mistrial was declared in his case, which is slated for this winter. But his accuser isn't waiting until then: She's filed a civil suit and is on a media blitz to tell her side of the story.
Last night, the woman appeared on CBS4, speaking in shadow and identified only by her first name, Valerie; see the item below. This morning, however, a Denver Post article uses her full name, Valerie Arend.
According to these reports, Arend was waiting at a light-rail station for her boyfriend when Paez pulled up in his cruiser to check out reports of a suspicious female in the area. He soon discovered that there was a warrant out for Arend, whose criminal history includes busts for drugs and prostitution. But rather than taking her directly to jail, she says he drove through alleys and back streets for a while, then demanded that she perform oral sex on him, using the phrase, "You know what to do." She told CBS4 she initially complied, but when he wanted to take things further, she balked. The Post adds that she reacted to this encounter by vomiting out the passenger door.
For his part, Paez has consistently proclaimed his innocence, and was prepared to do so again this past September, when his trial came to a screeching halt shortly after it began. As his attorney, Gary Lozow, told us at the time, jury selection was completed and the main proceedings were getting underway when the Denver Police Department provided a piece of evidence previously unknown to Paez's defense team -- a recording of a phone call involving the victim. And that afternoon, a second phone recording of the victim surfaced.
The next morning, the Paez team questioned Sergeant Kimalee Hull, the person charged with gathering the information in question, about why the recordings hadn't been provided when defense lawyers requested evidence against Paez the previous year. She said they'd wound up in a file she'd forgotten about, and to which other officers had no access -- and she didn't find them until the last minute. She also mentioned a third recording, made when the victim was in a police car, but she recalled it being badly garbled and guessed that she had simply deleted it.
At that point, Lozow asked that the case be dismissed and the prosecution be sanctioned. Denver District Judge Robert McGahey said "no" to these requests, but he did grant a mistrial, after which the jury was disbanded. Then, as members headed home, the prosecution revealed that it had found the third recording -- the one Hull thought she'd tossed out.
Lozow called this chain of events "a little like Alice in Wonderland. It was hide and seek." The forced delay was "very stressful" for Paez, he said, adding, "Sometimes innocence takes a long time to spell out, but this was a very difficult thing to have happen when you think you're finally going to get a resolution on these charges."
As it turns out, this wouldn't be the only obstacle to a speedy trial. The case was rescheduled, then delayed again because, in April, Lozow was badly injured after a car crash into Cherry Creek. The Post reports that the new trial is set to open in November, while CBS4 says December. But either way, the change meant the civil lawsuit needed to be filed before the criminal case was resolved; Arend had two years to do so, and that date falls this October.
Update, 1:15 p.m. May 24: When asked about the civil suit filed against Hector Paez, his Denver Police officer client, attorney Gary Lozow says, "We were assured by this alleged victim's representatives that there was no civil case afoot -- that we had it wrong and were barking up the wrong tree. We were kind of getting a straight-arm on the theory. But we were right, and I think it was just a question of trying to keep it from a jury's consideration until after the criminal case had been resolved."
Translation: Had Valerie Arend, Paez's accuser, filed a civil suit after the criminal case was resolved, this action wouldn't have had to be mentioned at trial. But because of the case's delay, and the need to file before the two-year mark in October, information about the suit could well be shared with a jury.
"Bias, motive: Those are things that go to credibility," Lozow notes. "And I think it likely that a judge would, after hearing the facts, allow the fact that she has filed a lawsuit against Paez as a factor in determining her credibility."
What's his guess about Arend's motives? "Money," he responds. "It's not too fancy. It's money."
The criminal case is slated to get underway in December, Lozow says -- meaning that CBS4 got the scheduling right, while the Denver Post was incorrect. Does he think it will be difficult finding an impartial jury given the publicity being generated by the lawsuit?
"Well, I've been called by you, by Channel 4, by Channel 7," he says. "There seems to have been kind of an all-out blitz here. If it quiets down in the next few days, then hopefully it's not going to affect the selection of a jury. But if there's some continued effort to curry favor or taint the pool, we could have some problems."
After the mistrial, Paez was originally scheduled to go to trial "the first week of May," Lozow allows. "But I was involved in an accident and hospitalized with broken ribs, a broken hand and pneumonia. It took me a few weeks to navigate that, and I'm just starting to come back to standing up and being a lawyer and going to court this week. I wasn't in a position to go into court at the beginning of May to try a case that will probably take over a week."
Given that Paez was weary of the delay last year, how's he feel now? "There's some comfort in not having committed a crime," Lozow says. "But it's a tense time. He's been in this kind of quasi-limbo status -- on leave without pay -- and he's got children, he's got a family. So it's very difficult. Did he expect this new round of publicity? Of course not. But we had some sense that he would be sued from the day we found the lawyer's name in the paperwork. So that part of it was not a surprise to him."
Here's the CBS4 report, followed by a larger look at Paez's booking photo.
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