LAS VEGAS (AP) — An online search for Jesus Carvajal immediately yields news articles that identify him as a suspect in sexual assaults by someone posing as a police officer in downtown Las Vegas.
His photo, plastered on a Google image search page, is what his family, friends and prospective employers see.
It’s what he sees every day.
It reminds him of spending three weeks in jail last year, how he lost his job and how acquaintances and strangers turned on him on the internet and in real life.
His life in tatters after being accused of crimes he didn’t commit, Carvajal has resorted to therapy, unable to exorcise the embarrassment.
When he encounters his neighbors, he wonders if they still associate him as the suspect they once saw on TV or online.
“People believe in the news,” Carvajal told the Las Vegas Sun . “You tend to believe that.”
The experience, which he called the “most horrible eye-opener ever” motivates him now to seek criminal justice system reforms to help wrongly accused people bounce back.
Las Vegas police reported Aug. 10 that Carvajal had been arrested on charges that he impersonated an undercover police officer who coerced at least four victims into sex acts by threatening them with arrest.
Police posted a news release announcing Carvajal’s arrest and distributed his jail booking photo.
Carvajal spent three weeks at the Clark County Detention Center awaiting court appearances on felony charges before he was freed on house arrest.
All charges against him were dropped two months later, after police arrested Tommy Provost, 34, and accused him of the crime. The department at that time did not send out arrest information and a mug shot like in August.
According to police, a victim gave detectives information that led them to Provost, his car and items described by his alleged victims.
“Due to additional evidence obtained during the investigation. Provost was identified as the suspect in these cases and the district attorney dropped the charges against Carvajal,” Las Vegas police said in an email statement.
Provost has pleaded not guilty to kidnapping, sexual assault and impersonating an officer charges and is being held at the Clark County jail pending trial. His attorney, Robert Draskovich, was not immediately available Friday to comment.
In pursuing charges against Carvajal, the Clark County District Attorney’s office determined there was probable cause to have him arrested, prosecutors said in a statement. When authorities learned Carvajal was not responsible for the crimes he was released.
“At all times, the (District Attorney’s office) acts appropriately in ensuring that the guilty are held accountable and that the innocent are set free,” the statement said.
Carvajal said he never received an apology from police or prosecutors.
Side-by-side photos show Carvajal and Provost resemble each other.
When he was arrested, Carvajal said, he was identified through a photo lineup. But if his whole body had been shown, police may have noticed he is substantially taller and heavier than Provost, he said.
Police said the two men drove similar cars, but Carvajal said that his Dodge Caliber does not look like Provost’s Dodge Charger.
Police said they found a gun, a badge, a knife, handcuffs and a radio on Carvajal when he was arrested.
He said he is a shooting enthusiast who owned tactical-style gear, large Rambo-style knives and regular kitchen knives. A vest with glow-in-the dark reflectors that he used at work could be confused for police attire, Carvajal said.
He wasn’t their guy, he maintained.
There also was a phone number that investigators said linked the crime to the house that Carvajal rented. Carvajal said that number had been used two years before he moved in.
Carvajal said that due to his arrest he lost his job as a supervisor with a company that contracts with Amazon deliveries. He lost his car, which he is still paying for, and he lost his reputation. He said job interviewers unexpectedly cancel meetings.
He said he respects police but would like to see changes in photo lineups and how information is disseminated to the public.
When he was told his case was dismissed, Carvajal was elated. But he said what he has suffered left him with a very bad taste in his mouth.
He doesn’t want to stay silent, he told the Sun. “I’m a fighter. I believe in our rights.”
Information from: Las Vegas Sun, http://www.lasvegassun.com