A federal magistrate judge on Monday tossed out a $10 million federal lawsuit contending public officials falsely arrested a former commander in the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, Juan "John" San Agustin, ruling that San Agustin had not shown malicious intent.
“Although plaintiff alleges malice, he does not show how a reasonable factfinder could find it from this record,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Hegarty ruled. “Many of his arguments do not rise much above the conclusory or speculative level, and for that reason, summary judgment should be entered in defendants’ favor.”
His ruling dismissed claims of malicious prosecution and conspiracy against Colorado Bureau of Investigations Agents Ralph Gagliardi and Timothy Martinez.
San Agustin and his lead lawyer, Jane Holse Fisher-Byrialsen of Denver, could not be immediately reached for comments.
Hegarty previously had ruled that the lawsuit should proceed against those two agents after ruling in 2019 that immunity from liability granted to law enforcement officers, prosecutors and witnesses warranted dismissal of claims against other public officials, including then-El Paso County District Attorney Dan May, then-Arapaho County District Attorney George Brauchler and El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder.
The lawsuit revolved around the prosecution of San Agustin, who claimed that his 2016 arrest alongside ex-Sheriff Terry Maketa and ex-Undersheriff Paula Presley was fueled by a conspiracy. It had contended that San Agustin was targeted for publicly criticizing May for not indicting potential co-conspirators in the March 19, 2013, killing by 211 Crew member Evan Ebel of Tom Clements, the state’s top corrections official.
The charges against San Agustin stemmed from the jailing of a domestic violence victim, Kelli Trull, who crossed a friend of Maketa. Prosecutors later dismissed the charges against San Agustin after jurors would not convict Maketa.
“Plaintiff is aggrieved over being subjected to a criminal prosecution, and if he played no role in Trull’s arrest, as his lawsuit implies, the frustration is fully understandable,” Hegarty wrote in his ruling.
Hegarty added: “Plaintiff later challenged those charges, and ultimately, they were dismissed in his favor. However, that does not mean the act of securing the underlying indictment violated the law.”
The lawsuit contended Gagliardi and Martinez conspired with others and worked with others to maliciously prosecute San Agustin. It alleged that conspiracy involved presenting evidence during the grand jury that made it appear San Agustin was in a room where the arrest of the domestic violence victim was decided.
The lawsuit contends the agents were aware of key card data that revealed San Agustin had left the building before the meeting. Cellphone records also showed San Agustin made no calls to the people involved in the arrest and received no calls from them the day the domestic violence victim was arrested, according to the lawsuit.
Gagliardi testified in a deposition taken for the litigation that with the benefit of hindsight, he now believed the specific key card data point that showed San Agustin’s departure, prior to Trull’s arrest, was a “salient” fact “of some importance.”
Gagliardi went on in the deposition to say that at the time of his grand jury testimony, that key card data point “wasn’t a focus" or the "totality of the facts."
Hegarty, in his ruling, said prosecutors were focused on other factors beyond the key card data, primarily San Agustin’s relationship with Maketa.
“The most substantive allegation concerns the key card data,” Hegarty ruled. “But it was a minor part of the overall record before the grand jury and not even relevant to the prosecution’s theory.”