Former suspect in Carina Saunders murder case suing Bethany police for wrongful arrest
BETHANY, Okla. – Authorities continue to investigate a horrific murder that shocked the city and a former suspect is now suing the City of Bethany and several police officers for allegedly violating his Constitutional rights.
On Oct. 13, 2011, officers were called to the Homeland store on N.W. 23rd St. after receiving numerous reports of a foul odor.
When they arrived, investigators found a black bag with a severed human head and other dismembered body parts inside.
Shortly after the discovery, authorities learned the body belonged to 19-year-old Carina Brianne Saunders.
Throughout the investigation, officials learned Saunders may have been tortured and killed at an abandoned house in southwest Oklahoma City before her body was dumped in Bethany.
On June 27, 2012, the Bethany Police Department filed a probable cause affidavit for the arrest of 37-year-old Luis Ruiz.
Another man, Jimmy Massey, was arrested a short time later after police learned of his alleged involvement in the crime.
For the next eight months, Ruiz remained in police custody before the charges were dropped.
Ruiz and Massey were both released and investigators continue to hunt for the teen’s killer.
Thursday, Ruiz filed a complaint against the City of Bethany, Bethany Chief of Police Phil Cole, former officer Austin Warfield, former police Capt. Jack Jencks and other unknown officers and agents.
According to the report, “Police officers indicated that they interviewed in excess of 80 witnesses and had followed up on hundreds of investigative leads. However, during the investigative process, the “defendants” employed deceptive, misleading, manipulative and illegal tactics to manipulate and fabricate the criminal case.”
He claims those actions resulted in his arrest and incarceration.
After his arrest, he claims officers attempted to cover up the flaws by interviewing known drug addicts and promising them leniency on their own cases.
The court papers also claim, “Certain witnesses were not arrested or charged with criminal conduct, and/or were allowed to keep illegal substances found in their possession, and were give favorable treatment by “defendants” individually and collectively.”
Brady Henderson, legal director of the ACLU, says in high-profile cases, it’s common for law enforcement to employ “risky” tactics, like aggressive behavior with witnesses.
Henderson says, “The officer says you’re going to go to prison. You’re probably going to lose everything in life because of what you’ve been caught doing, unless you help me out.”
Ruiz also claims the officers failed to mention that he was in police custody at the time of the murder and coerced Massey to falsely confess to the crime.
The complaint also claims law enforcement knew former Capt. Jack Jencks was allegedly committing crimes while investigating his case.
In September, Jack Jencks was fired from the Bethany Police Department and was charged with 10 felony counts of larceny of controlled dangerous substances from the police evidence room.
Warfield, another officer involved in the lawsuit, told NewsChannel 4 he was let go from the department last month.
Ruiz says the City of Bethany failed to properly train, supervise or discipline its police officers.
In the report, Ruiz claims the police department was under such pressure from the public and the media to find Saunders’ killer, they ignored facts related to his innocence and “adopted a common goal of finding a viable target.”
“If you have a high pressure investigation, it ups the incentive for officers or detectives to go after sources more aggressively,” says Henderson. “And to do things that are less reliable.”
Henderson is also concerned that this case involves the Bethany Police Department because this isn’t the first complaint the ACLU has received about the force.
“That is something that for several years is alleged to occur more frequently in Bethany than most other places,” says Henderson. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire and there’s a lot more smoke in Bethany than there seems to be for many other police departments.”
As a result of these claims and others, Ruiz’s complaint says he was, “deprived of his liberty, suffered specific and serious physical injury, psychological injury, emotional distress, immense humiliation, financial devastation and was otherwise damaged and injured as a direct result of ‘defendants’ conduct.”
He claims his reputation will never be able to be restored and his family is suffering the consequences of his name being associated with the crime.
He is asking for lost wages, punitive damages and attorney fees.
Derek Chance, Ruiz’s attorney, issued a statement, saying, “The actions taken by the Bethany Police Department in this case should be troubling to all citizens. This suit is not intended to minimize the atrocity of the homicide victim, but to hold law enforcement to a standard of due process and fair play. To simply manipulate people and evidence in an effort to calm a community that is justifiably concerned with an atrocious crime is not proper. This investigation was littered with errors, omissions and bad acts of the Bethany Police Department, as learned by the OSBI, Mr. Prater when the charges were dismissed and Luis was released from custody. As bad as it has been on Luis and his family, it has been equally harmful to our community. The Bethany Police Department wasted critical time manipulating the investigation, instead of following the evidence to the actual perpetrators of this crime. Their acts and omissions may very well result in this horrific crime going unsolved, that is inexcusable and not fair to this community and the Saunders family.”
At this time, the Bethany Police Department is not commenting on the case.