EL CENTRO — Jury selection started on Tuesday, Dec. 1, for the trial of an El Centro police officer accused of assaulting a Brawley woman on Jan. 3 who reportedly was having an affair with the officer’s husband.
Alejandra Sanchez Hurtado faces two felonies in connection to the incident, including assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury, with an allegation that great bodily injury did occur, as well as a charge of false imprisonment.
The alleged victim, Alexis Retana, had gone to the Imperial home Hurtado shares with her child and husband, Michael Hurtado, on the night in question at his request and while his wife was on duty, he previously testified.
A physical altercation between the women ensued shortly after Hurtado had gone home about 1 a.m. to retrieve a phone charger and reportedly encountered Retana hiding in a back room.
Retana, who was then 31 years old, reportedly suffered a broken hand as a result of the altercation. Hurtado, who was 28 years old at the time, was placed on administrative leave by the department following the incident.
The trial is expected to last about three weeks. If convicted of both counts, Hurtado could face up to eight years in state prison, the county District Attorney’s Office stated.
Jury selection got underway the afternoon of Dec. 1 in the Imperial County Courthouse in El Centro following a hearing in the morning at the Brawley court that determined which evidence and testimony would be admitted for trial.
On Monday, Nov. 30, county Superior Court Judge William D. Quan also denied a motion by defense attorney Earl Robertson III that had sought to suppress the statements Hurtado had provided to Imperial police officers who had questioned her around 10 a.m. Jan. 3 at the Imperial station.
Robertson had argued that Hurtado did not voluntarily waive her right to have an attorney present during her questioning by Imperial officers, and that her statements to police were made in violation of her Miranda rights against self-incrimination.
Hurtado had been driven to the Imperial police station by a superior officer about 10 a.m. after having reported to the El Centro police station earlier that morning to start the process associated with being placed on administrative leave, two ECPD officials testified during Monday’s motion hearing.
Robertson had argued that the circumstances of Hurtado’s interactions with fellow ECPD personnel and the Imperial officers on that morning amounted to being in custody. And that the admonition Hurtado had made over speaker phone to her husband, who was in the presence of two Imperial police officers who had been interviewing him about 8:30 a.m. at the station, that she was unwilling to speak with police about the incident in the absence of legal counsel should have precluded them from subsequently questioning her.
“A defendant is not required to testify against themselves,” Robertson told the court. “That is the foundation of our legal system.”
Hurtado, who was not handcuffed, reportedly began to speak freely with Imperial officers after they had read her the Miranda rights, according to the motion to suppress filed in April. She was ultimately placed under arrest at the conclusion of her interview with the police.
During Monday’s hearing, county Deputy District Attorney Mario Vela told the court that Hurtado had not been pressured by ECPD personnel to provide a statement to Imperial police and that a sergeant had solely facilitated a ride for her to the Imperial police station.
He further reminded the court that Hurtado’s request to have an attorney present during questioning was made nearly two hours prior to her interview with police and that case law has determined that a suspect cannot anticipatorily invoke their right against self-incrimination if they are not in custody.
“There was absolutely no question that it was voluntary,” Vela said, referring to her statement to police.
Ultimately, Quan ruled that Hurtado’s remark about wanting to have an attorney present during police questioning came at a time when she was not in custody, and that case law has ruled that a suspect cannot anticipatorily invoke their right to counsel unless they are being subjected to custodial interrogation.
His ruling on the motion came after listening to the testimony of Hurtado’s husband as well as several El Centro and Imperial police officers who had either interacted or directly questioned her following the incident.
Quan also noted that Hurtado voluntarily started talking about the incident after having being read her Miranda rights, to which she had answered in the affirmative when asked by Imperial police if she had understood the rights they had read to her.