By Pablo J. Sáinz
The night of May 26 was just another night in the life of José Guadalupe Martinez. He came home around 8 p.m., properly parked his SUV in his parking spot, and went into his apartment to sleep.
However, the following day turned out to be the beginning of a series of bizarre events that resulted in his driver license being suspended by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
According to his account, Martinez was awoken by a knock on his door around 8:30 a.m. on Monday, May 27th, the Memorial Day holiday. When Martinez opened his door, disoriented having just been awoken on a holiday morning, he saw two San Diego Police Department officers.
One of them told him he had to come down to his parked vehicle, because there had been an incident. What followed was a series of threats made by both officers.
“All the way to my truck they kept saying that they could arrest me, that they could put me in jail for two years,” said Martinez in Spanish, since he speaks very limited English. “I was very confused by what was going on. They had just awoken me, and they wouldn’t tell me exactly what was happening or what they were accusing me of.”
Once they reached his truck, the officers told him that he had hit another parked vehicle next to his in the parking lot. They resumed the threats: That he was drunk, that he could be sent to prison.
After all the above, and a sobriety and breath analyzer test the cops gave Martinez a 3″ x 5″ SDPD accident report card that stated, “no report would be written, and the party responsible for the accident had not been determined.”
After the officers left, Martinez noticed that his car had been hit by another car on the opposite side, corralling his vehicle into the car next to it. He then called the SDPD and the operator said she was going to send a Spanish-speaking officer to investigate.
The same two officers arrived, telling him why he was bothering them that he could have been in jail already if they wanted to. They left, and on June 5th, Martinez received a letter from the DMV stating that his driver license had been suspended for “lack of skill.” The letter stated that SDPD Officer Andrew Scheidecker, one of the two officers who questioned Martinez, stated that he saw Martinez driving his vehicle and he clearly lacked driving skills.
It was then that Martinez sought the help and advice of the Committee on Chicano Rights, a civil rights organization in National City.
“To us this is but another blatant case of governmental incompetence and dereliction of sworn duty,” said CCR president, Herman Baca. “In our opinion Officer Scheidecker made false charges (without any legal basis) under the penalty of perjury against Mr. Martinez. Because of Officer Scheidecker’s false statements, who never witnessed Mr. Martinez driving, or in his vehicle, along with city officials’ failure to investigate.”
Baca has already contacted city officials, the police department, the DMV, and the District Attorney’s office, but nothing official has come out of it.
La Prensa San Diego reached out to the media office of the San Diego Police Department, and the community relations office of the District Attorney, but at the time of press, no formal statement has been made.
The only statement made by SDPD spokesperson Gary Hassen was that Sergeant Tom Underwood is the Internal Affairs officer investigating Martinez’s case.
“Initially it was our hope that SD City officials and California’s DMV would have investigated the false charges by Officer Scheidecker against Mr. Martinez to spare him appearing before a DMV hearing”, Baca wrote in his letter to District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. “Unfortunately California’s DMV policy for person such as Mr. Martinez or whoever is charged by a police officer is that they are guilty (without due process) until they prove their innocence to the DMV.”
Martinez had his first hearing at the DMV on July 12, but Officer Scheidecker did not attend, so the hearing was postponed until July 26. The Committee on Chicano Rights was able to secure legal representation for Martinez.
Meanwhile, Martinez, who is a one-man band who performs at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in National City, has had to ride his bicycle to work, to the doctor, to do his grocery shopping. He is 65 years-old, and being without his license has caused all sorts of problems in his daily life.
“There are three main issues here,” Baca said. “First, the police officer perjuring himself by signing a statement when he knows he didn’t see Mr. Martinez driving or even inside his vehicle. Second, the DMV treating people as guilty before due process and suspending driver license without investigating first. Third, the stonewalling of city officials who have failed to investigate.”
Martinez, who is known by his nickname of Lupillo, said that he feels he has been discriminated for being Latino, and for not being fluent in English.
“It’s not fair,” he said. “When the officers came to my house that first morning I felt that the police were threatening me to take me to jail just for being Latino.”