ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Almost four years after Gisell Estrada was wrongfully arrested and placed in juvenile detention for robbery and murder, the City of Albuquerque has agreed to assist in her record expungement and pay her a significant settlement as part of an agreement the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico made public today.
The ACLU, along with the law firm Ives & Flores represented Estrada against the City of Albuquerque in a case filed in December of 2020.
“I had nothing to do with any crime, but they arrested me and put me in juvenile detention. I was so scared and depressed. I thought I might never get out of there, especially when I was asked to enroll in school while I was detained. When I was finally released, people at school were showing me screenshots of the news and asking me if that was me. It destroyed everything: my family, my feelings, my education,” said Estrada. “No one should ever have to go through what my family and I went through. I hope this settlement makes the police do their jobs better so this doesn’t happen to another innocent person.”
Estrada’s horrific journey began in July 2019, when she was only 17 years old and a senior at Albuquerque High School. A young man named Calvin Kelly was shot and killed in Albuquerque and APD Detective Jesse Carter was assigned to investigate.
Eyewitness descriptions and co-conspirator accounts led him to suspect that the person who committed the crimes was a young woman, Alexis “Lexi” Barraza, a possible Highland High School student whose description did not match Estrada. Carter found a photo of Barraza on Facebook and showed it to a school resource officer at Albuquerque High – even though the suspect was thought to attend Highland High. The Albuquerque High staff suggested the person in the photo looked like Estrada, though Estrada didn’t go by the name “Lexi” nor did she match descriptors such as red-dyed hair.
Based on no other evidence, the detective concluded that Estrada committed first-degree murder, a capital felony. Without ever questioning her, he wrote up an affidavit for an arrest warrant that falsely stated another person involved in the crime had “positively identified” Estrada and inexplicably noted that Estrada was also known as Lexi Baraza.
Following the advice of her public defender, Estrada surrendered herself to Detective Carter who handcuffed her. She was separated from her loving family and imprisoned in juvenile detention for seven days where she was strip searched regularly. During her time behind bars, she was distraught to the point that she could barely eat or sleep.
“Justice is not a game of pin the tail on the donkey. The people of Albuquerque should be able to trust that their police force will fairly and thoroughly investigate crimes in this city,” said ACLU-NM Deputy Director Leon Howard. “Calling the APD’s work sloppy and negligent is an understatement. Gisell, an innocent young girl, was put through a traumatizing and humiliating ordeal only because she was in high school, Latina, and female. We are pleased that she now has some compensation for her suffering and that her record will be expunged, but unfortunately, she is only in the beginning stages of the healing process.”
After Estrada was finally identified as the wrong person, she was released without apology.
“What happened to me will never go away. It’s a terrible memory that I’m going to have for the rest of my life,” Estrada said. “This settlement means a lot to me and to my family who suffered so much. Now I can get on with my life with a clean record and think about my future.”
A short video of Estrada’s reaction to the settlement, available for use and/or broadcast, can be found here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/2ilxh7mdecoinok/AABEOKY-ymKZIOtkXK6TSw1Aa?dl=0