Updated 11/25/19 with comment from attorney Lance Hendron.
Jesus Carvajal lost everything when he was rousted from sleep by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police department’s SWAT team in August 2018. He was arrested, jailed and charged with impersonating a police officer and forcing prostitutes into sex.
Now more than a year later, Carvajal, who was cleared of the charges in October 2018, says he’s being unfairly treated by the District Attorney’s office and sold out by his former attorney.
An investigator’s report reveals police had no evidence connecting Carvajal to the crime, with the exception of a landline phone number on an insurance application filed years earlier, not by Carvajal, but by the owner of the home he rented.
The number, 702-355-4151, matched the cell phone number given to the victims by the suspect, who called himself Lee.
Police discovered the alleged link between the number and Carvajal via one of a number of subscription databases accessed by law enforcement, according to a report from private investigator Gavin Vesp, a former Metro sergeant who worked for Carvajal’s defense.
“The common denominator between all of these open source databases is that the information provided is not 100% certain and requires independent investigation to evaluate the relevant data being used,” Vesp wrote.
Vesp reported the phone number was associated with eight individuals and one business.
Metro Police did not say what efforts, if any, they made to independently verify the information.
Police also bolstered their case with Facebook pictures of Carvajal in what appears to be tactical gear.
“Social media was queried for Carvajal and photographs were located of him holding various firearms while wearing police-style body armor and a vest,” police wrote in their report.
Carvajal’s Facebook page is replete with photos from his professional paintball gun team, as well as his work as part of a media team that reviews weapons.
When questioned by Vesp, victims who identified Carvajal from photo lineups “with 100 percent certainty,” according to police reports, turned out to be unsure he was their assailant.
District Attorney Steve Wolfson dropped the charges against Carvajal last year, when police arrested another suspect in the assaults, Tommy Lee Provost, who remains in custody.
“I’ve lost my job, my car, my girlfriend,” Carvajal told the Current. “My life has been like one of those Denzel Washington movies but I haven’t gotten to the point where everyone knows the truth and I get my life back.”
The arrest cost Carvajal thousands of dollars. His attorney, Lance Hendron, filed a motion on Carvajal’s behalf, seeking attorney’s fees from the state. An invoice submitted to the court by Hendron totals $10,088.
“The state acted in bad faith against Mr. Carvajal in this matter,” Hendron wrote in the motion.
“This is not a case of the state acting on the evidence it had; it was provided, at multiple junctures, with clear evidence exonerating Mr. Carvajal and simultaneously highlighting the inadequate, questionable investigative methods of the Metropolitan Police Department,” Hendron wrote.
Hendron’s motion says he implored prosecutors on multiple occasions to have Metro “revisit its investigation with an eye to another, at-large suspect. The defense’s pleas apparently fell on deaf ears, resulting in another woman being victimized before the state was forced to acknowledge that it had, all along, been prosecuting the wrong person.”
Hendron wrote that Metro, and possibly the District Attorney “had exculpatory information regarding this matter prior to Mr. Carvajal’s arrest and while he sat in custody for weeks and remained on House Arrest for two months.”
Nevada law says a “court may, in a criminal action, award to a prevailing party, other than the State, reasonable attorney’s fees and litigation expenses incurred by the party in the criminal action if the court finds that the position of the State was vexatious, frivolous or in bad faith.”
“There was an acknowledgment during our discussions that certainly you are not the individual who committed these horrific offenses,” Hendron wrote to Carvajal. “However, the DA’s office does not believe it gives rise to the bad faith standard under NRS 41.0393.”
Wolfson’s office agreed not to object to Carvajal’s efforts to seal the records of his false arrest and charges, but only if Carvajal agreed to drop the motion for attorney’s fees.
Wolfson did not respond to a request for comment.
“What’s the point of them being called ‘The People’ while in court if they can’t do what’s rite (sic) by us?” Carvajal asked his attorney via email upon learning of Wolfson’s ultimatum.
“I don’t know what happened when my attorney and investigator met with the District Attorney, but I felt they sold me out,” Carvajal says.
Mr. Carvajal withdrew his motion for attorney’s fees because he wanted to seal his criminal record immediately. Cases cannot be sealed until they are completely closed, and the motion for the fees was keeping the case open and could have kept it open for months. Mr. Carvajal withdrew his motion because he was not certain he would prevail, and it was preventing him from sealing his record.
The district attorney’s office did not oppose Mr. Carvajal’s request for having the false allegations removed from his record. My law firm did not charge Mr. Carvajal for sealing his record; he was asked to pay only the costs of filing his petition and the necessary postage for mailing the documents to various agencies, which amounted to $90.00.
Vesp declined to discuss the case.
Adding insult to injury, Carvajal was required to pay to have the records of his false arrest and prosecution sealed. Hendron says he did not charge Carvajal to have his records sealed.
“Mr. Carvajal withdrew his motion for attorney’s fees because he wanted to seal his criminal record immediately,” Hendron said in an email. “Cases cannot be sealed until they are completely closed, and the motion for the fees was keeping the case open and could have kept it open for months. Mr. Carvajal withdrew his motion because he was not certain he would prevail, and it was preventing him from sealing his record.
“The district attorney’s office did not oppose Mr. Carvajal’s request for having the false allegations removed from his record,” Hendron says.
“I went to Carson City with the ACLU of Nevada to testify for exoneration compensation, but I don’t qualify because I wasn’t convicted,” Carvajal says.
“I want to have my dogs lick me, wake up and go to Amazon and supervise my 40 drivers,” Carvajal says of his routine before his life was upended. “I’m not educated, but I was close to starting my own company through Amazon.”
Now, he can’t get rehired by the retail giant, which he says claims he abandoned his job.
In the meantime, he’s turned his attention to ensuring justice for others, beginning with the man who now stands accused of the crime for which Carvajal was arrested.
“I’ve met people who know Tommy Lee Provost. They say he’s innocent,” he says. “If that’s true, I need to help him. I’m the only person who knows what it’s like to be him.”