DENVER | Police continued to pursue charges against a Colorado man in a young girl’s sexual assault, ignoring his disabilities during hours of questioning that led to a false confession, according to attorneys for the man suing detectives for malicious prosecution.
Attorneys for Tyler Sanchez argue that the two detectives for the Douglas County Sheriff’s office ignored conflicts between their 18-year-old suspect’s slim build and other physical features that clashed with the girl’s description of a middle-aged man fleeing out the window of her second-story bedroom after the assault.
The jury trial that opened Monday in federal court in Denver is set to last up to nine days.
To prove malicious prosecution, Sanchez’s attorneys will have to convince jurors that detectives Heather Mykes and Mike Duffy intentionally caused his jailing or prosecution despite a lack of probable cause.
A pair of detectives from the Parker Police Department first brought Sanchez in for questioning in an unrelated trespassing case in 2009. But they also questioned Sanchez about the girl’s assault, which occurred a week earlier.
When Sanchez said he had been at the house but did not touch the girl, the Parker detectives contacted the Douglas County investigators handling that case: Mykes and Duffy. They then questioned Sanchez themselves.
The lawsuit said Sanchez could not provide details about the crime, repeatedly told the detectives he had slept only a few hours in two days and struggled to understand questions but eventually signed a confession saying he had broken into the girl’s house but did not assault her.
He was charged with three felonies connected to the sexual assault.
Sanchez’s attorneys said their client has an IQ score in the 60s or 70s. Family members also have described him as being eager to comply with authority figures.
“They put conviction over actual innocence or guilt,” attorney Seth Benezra told jurors, calling Sanchez’s disabilities “obvious to anyone.”
Sanchez is seeking unspecified financial damages; the lawsuit said he spent 125 days in jail and nearly three years in fear between his arrest and when prosecutors dropped the charges in 2012.
The lawsuit said a state mental health evaluation that year found Sanchez’s statements to police were not given knowingly or voluntarily. Prosecutors soon said that they could not rely on the statements as evidence because of Sanchez’s disabilities.
According to the suit, Sanchez had a “language disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, auditory processing deficits, social anxiety, submissive personality characteristics, and hearing impairment.”
Attorneys for the detectives said Mykes and Duffy felt Sanchez answered some questions easily and became evasive when they questioned him about the girl’s assault.
“Rhodes scholar, maybe not,” attorney Kelly Dunnaway said after playing a clip of the detectives’ interview with Sanchez for jurors. “But he’s certainly able to answer questions.”
Dunnaway said jurors also would hear during the trial that several psychiatrists have reached various conclusions about Sanchez’s mental state.