Convictions at risk after YPD officer provides "inaccurate" evidence

Convictions at risk after YPD officer provides "inaccurate" evidence »Play Video
YAKIMA -- They are sworn to serve and protect, but when good cops go bad, there can be long term implications. A KIMA investigation dug deeper into the case of a Yakima Police detective disciplined for providing bad evidence to get a search warrant. Now, those consequences are starting to surface. Other cases Gary Garza touched are now being called into question. KIMA spoke with a local defense attorney who already made inroads because of Garza's involvement on his cases. There could be more to come.

"They needed to get into a certain residence and Gary Garza made that happen,” said criminal defense attorney Rick Smith. “He did that by making up the information."

Accusations like that made Detective Gary Garza the subject of an internal investigation within the Yakima Police Department. Fellow officers say Garza bent the rules to get a search warrant. Smith poured over every document of the review.

Yakima City Manager Don Cooper suspended the former Narcotics Unit detective in October after concluding Garza, "included incomplete, inaccurate and potentially false information" in order to obtain a search warrant for a drug investigation.

So why'd he do it? In documents obtained by KIMA, we learned, "Detective Garza said such information was based solely upon his memory, as he had not taken notes to document the events he claimed to have occurred."

He was allowed to stay on to work as a patrol officer despite three of his supervisors on the force calling for his termination.

There could be wide-ranging consequences for Garza's actions. Defense lawyers handling current cases or others that ended with convictions could have ammunition to get the whole thing thrown out if Garza had anything to do with the investigation. Smith has one of those cases. He represents a client facing federal drug charges that could carry a minimum five-year sentence. Garza was the lone witness at the hearing to present evidence in August. The judge allowed Garza's evidence to be used in the case. That was before this investigation surfaced.

KIMA asked Smith, "What was the court's reaction when you asked for a new hearing?"

"It was automatic,” he responded. “We went back to the judge with the information we had. We asked the court to strike his testimony and order a new hearing, which it did. In cases where he has been the affiant, I expect attorneys are going back and going over that, and making other public disclosure requests."

Yakima Police told KIMA Gary Garza worked on hundreds of cases during his career since 1988 with a direct involvement in dozens. At issue is whether his work can stand up in court.

KIMA asked City Prosecutor Cynthia Martinez, "how will this impact future cases throughout your department and all the ones he's involved in?"

"It does create more arguments, more motions, more court time because we have to argue what's going to come in to trial,” she responded.

Prosecutors concede it is possible older cases connected to Garza could be overturned and risk putting convicted felons back on the street. All because of a search warrant that used "incomplete, inaccurate, and potentially false information."

We tried contacting Garza, but our calls were not returned. He hasn't started serving his suspension because his case is on appeal. To keep this story balanced, KIMA also contacted the police union for a response, but it declined to comment.