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Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Sept. 27, 2023

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Lawsuit alleging ex-deputy falsified report settled

Oyster farmer acquitted in domestic-violence case to get $250,000


MOUNT VERNON (AP) — A lawsuit filed by a Washington oyster farmer accusing a former county deputy of falsifying an arrest report and urging a person to lie during a domestic-violence investigation has been settled for $250,000.

Gerardo Rodarte, the owner of Samish Gold Seafoods, sued Skagit County and former deputy Joseph Gutierrez in 2020, after Rodarte was acquitted by a jury of domestic-violence assault charges, The Seattle Times reported.

The charges were based on the deputy’s sworn statement and reports. Court documents show Gutierrez, who was fired in 2018 over allegations of having sex while on duty and failing to aid other officers during a jail escape, refused to testify at trial.

Rodarte’s lawsuit alleged that Gutierrez conspired with Rodarte’s niece, who was also an oyster farm employee, to falsely accuse her uncle of assaulting her in exchange for help with her immigration status.

The niece called the sheriff’s office on June 7, 2017, and claimed she had been assaulted by Rodarte. Gutierrez responded and arrested Rodarte, despite his claims and statements from his wife that the niece attacked him, biting his thumb and hitting him in the head with a telephone handset, according to the lawsuit and other documents filed in U.S. District Court.

Rodarte claimed in his lawsuit that, while taking him to jail, Gutierrez met his niece and told her “they needed to change their story because it did not fit the evidence, and that they had to fix it so it looked real,” according to the documents.

He claimed Gutierrez took pictures of the niece’s neck, which showed bruising and marks that weren’t there previously. U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in a 2021 ruling denied Gutierrez’s motion to dismiss the fabrication and false-evidence claim and ordered it to proceed to trial.

Rodarte’s wife, Fabiola Higareda Hernandez, also signed a sworn affidavit claiming Gutierrez had falsified statements attributed to her in his arrest report.

Gutierrez appealed Rothstein’s decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. An appeals court panel in January upheld Rothstein’s trial decision.

As for damages, the appeals judges wrote, “We have held that it ‘is virtually self-evident’ that ‘there is a clearly established constitutional right not to be subjected to criminal charges on the basis of false evidence deliberately fabricated by the government.’ ”

Rodarte’s lawsuit alleges a clam harvest worth $500,000 he had farmed the day of his arrest spoiled while he was incarcerated.

The Skagit County Attorney’s Office, which represented Gutierrez, didn’t respond to a phone message from the newspaper seeking comment on the settlement.