ALBUQUERQUE, NM - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, along with civil rights law firm Kennedy, Kennedy, & Ives, filed a lawsuit against the City of Albuquerque for wrongfully arresting Gisell Estrada, a 17-year-old student at Albuquerque High School. Estrada, despite being demonstrably innocent of the crime of which she was accused, was subjected to a traumatizing and humiliating ordeal inside juvenile detention.
“The ordeal that APD put Gisell Estrada through was nothing short of horrific. The system failed her at every turn,” said ACLU of New Mexico attorney Zoila Y. Alvarez Hernandez. “Sloppy police work from an APD detective meant that Gisell, an innocent 17-year-old girl, was torn from her family’s loving arms and placed behind bars for a week. This was a deeply traumatic experience for both Gisell and her family, and they deserve justice for the great harm done to them.”
After a young man named Calvin Kelly was shot and killed in Albuquerque on July 10, 2019, APD Detective Jesse Carter was assigned to investigate the murder. Eyewitness description and co-conspirator accounts led him to suspect a subject named Alexis “Lexi” Barraza, a possible Highland High School student according to her social media page as accomplice in the shooting. Detective Carter obtained a photo of Lexi from one of her Facebook accounts and proceeded to Albuquerque High, a completely different school, where he showed the photo to a school resource officer.
Based on a single picture, the school resource officer and an administrator misidentified Gisell Estrada as the person in the photo. The only similarities between the two students was that they are both female and Hispanic. Detective Carter did not mention the Facebook identification in his affidavit for arrest warrant and misled the court as to how he identified Gisell. Without properly following up to confirm her identity or involvement, Detective Carter filed a warrant for Estrada’s arrest and Gisell later received a notice of the felony warrant in her family’s mailbox. Frightened and confused, Estrada’s family secured legal representation from the Law Office of the Public Defender, and under advice of her attorney Estrada surrendered herself to Detective Carter in hopes that the misunderstanding could be rectified.
Despite possessing information that Estrada was the wrong person, Detective Carter placed Estrada in handcuffs and she was subsequently transported to juvenile detention where she was imprisoned for seven days apart from her family. While in detention, Estrada was subjected to multiple humiliating strip searches in which guards forced her to “squat and cough” naked in front of them. During her time behind bars she was distraught to the point that she could barely eat or sleep.
“I kept hoping that it was just a nightmare,” said Estrada. “I didn’t understand why I had been arrested or what I’d done to deserve this kind of treatment. I missed my family and I was so upset I could barely eat or sleep the entire time I was in jail. It was such a horrible and humiliating experience, and I don’t want any other innocent person to suffer like I did.”
After Estrada was finally identified as the wrong person, she was released without apology. Estrada suffers lasting psychological and emotional effects of the traumatic experience, was humiliated before her peers and educators, and worries that her wrongful association with the murder will hamper future employment opportunities. In her lawsuit, Estrada seeks compensatory damages for the harm caused her by the police work that led to her wrongful arrest.
A copy of the legal complaint is available below.
Video footage of Estrada’s arrest is available here, and has been made available by the family for use and/or broadcast by media organizations: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ul56iIJbMdEopgcumZtUVGmotT40KDzf/view?usp=sharing