EL CENTRO — El Centro City Council Member Tomas Oliva testified at a Jan. 8 hearing he and former mayor Edgard Garcia had just left an El Centro bar on May 7, 2019, and were headed to visit a constituent’s residence to discuss city business when Garcia was stopped and arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.
After being stopped, Garcia,
now back to being a council member due to standard office rotation, registered
blood-alcohol levels of .208, .23 and .24, about three times the legal limit of
.08, court records show. He was stopped about 10:15 p.m. near the intersection
of Aurora and Cypress drives.
Oliva and Garcia had concluded
a city council meeting about an hour prior to the stop, Oliva testified.
The meeting ended at 8:28
p.m., according to minutes posted on the city website. One of the final activities
at the meeting was recognizing an employee’s birthday, according to a meeting
video also posted on the city website.
The Jan. 8 hearing in Superior Court in El
Centro concerned a motion by Garcia’s attorney, Jason Amavisca, to suppress evidence that led to the stop by police
Sgt. John Seaman.
testimony by Oliva and Seaman, the motion was denied by U.S. District Court
Judge Donal Donnelly. He has been presiding over the matter since local judges
recused themselves due to potential conflicts of interest.
The case is
being prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s Office after the county
District Attorney’s Office also declared potential conflicts of interest.
Donnelly’s ruling, Amavisca notified the court he intends to appeal it.
Donnelly then granted a suspension of the proceedings until the appeal is heard.
He scheduled a status conference for April 29.
against the motion to suppress, Donnelly said he found Seaman had sufficient
experience on which to base his conclusion that Garcia was speeding and drove on the wrong side of the street.
driving safely, Oliva testified. He said he was following Garcia from The
Courtroom bar at Ninth and Main streets not to ensure Garcia’s safety but so
Garcia could drop his truck off at home and then ride with Oliva to visit the
not intoxicated at the bar when they arrived or when they left, Oliva said,
adding he has seen Garcia intoxicated.
Donnelly did not find it credible that there was a “motive for bias” in Seaman’s stop against Garcia. Although that was never expressly mentioned by Amavisca during his argument Jan. 8, Donnelly addressed it in rendering his decision.
Staff reporter William Roller contributed to this report.