Immunity Claim Shields Detectives from Lawsuit

by Chris Outcalt

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals last week reversed a district court decision that had allowed Lawrence Montoya to pursue constitutional violations, including claims of malicious prosecution and coerced confession, against members of the Denver Police Department. The 10th Circuit, however, found that qualified immunity and absolute testimonial immunity shield the detectives from Montoya’s claims.

The case, Montoya v. Vigil and City and County of Denver, stems from the murder of Emily Johnson, a 29-year-old Denver school teacher. On the morning of January 1, 2000, a neighbor found Johnson dead in her backyard. The neighbor also noted that Johnson’s vehicle was not at her house. Denver police detectives Martin Vigil and Michael Martinez investigated the crime, and a tip led them to interview a man named Nicholas Martinez.

Martinez told police he and his cousin, Lloyd Martinez, had discovered Johnson’s white Lexus unlocked and found the keys inside. He said they picked up some friends and took the car for a cruise—that was it, he said. One of the other names Nicholas Martinez gave to police was Luke Anaya, Montoya’s cousin. No one claimed Montoya, who at the time was 14 and in 8th grade, was involved in the crime; nevertheless, because he seemed to know many of the people who were implicated, the police interviewed him.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the August 13, 2018 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.