San Jose Officers Involved in Wrongful Conviction Case Sued for Falsifying Evidence  

By Connie Martinez

SAN JOSE, CA – An exoneree, Lionel Rubalcava, has sued three San Jose police officers—Joseph Perez, Topui Fonua and Steven Spillman—for fabricating evidence that led to Rubalcava being imprisoned for 17 years, according to a story by Courthouse News Service.

Rubalcava was arrested after a drive-by shooting in San Jose in 2002 to which he was found guilty for the attempted murder of Raymond Rodriguez. He spent 17 years wrongfully incarcerated behind bars before being exonerated, according to Courthouse News.

Rubalcava was found to be not guilty in 2019, and filed his misconduct claims against the officers and the city of San Jose in 2020. 

Last month, “U.S District Judge Beth Labson Freeman ruled that three San Jose Police Department officers must face multiple civil rights claims of faking evidence to wrongfully convict Lionel Rubalcava,” the Courthouse News article stated.

In the same news story, Rubalcava claims the “San Jose Police Department and the Santa Clara County investigators fabricated evidence and committed other misconduct” to have him convicted, asserting the three officers “deliberately fabricated their police reports.”

As stated in the article, Judge Freeman found the lack of solid probable cause that Rubalcava was the shooter because the officers ignored initial witness statements and withheld evidence.

Freeman said, “A reasonable jury, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Rubalcava, could draw an inference that Perez, Fonua and Spillman falsified their police reports for an improper purpose — to arrest Rubalcava without any substantial evidence of his guilt — and thus could find that the malice element is satisfied.”

The three initial officers will be taken to trial to distinguish whether they were guilty of government misconduct, said Courthouse New Service.

Anna Benvenutti Hoffmann, Rubalcava’s attorney, said, “It should have been obvious from the beginning that the police had the wrong person in custody, but instead they fabricated evidence and got witnesses to falsely identify our client, who spent 17 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.”

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