La Junta police sued by New Jersey man who says lies led to arrest

09/19/2010

A New Jersey man jailed for making terrorist threats on an Amtrak train has sued the city of La Junta, two police officers and the chief, claiming a sergeant lied in his arrest affidavit.

Ojore Lutalo, 65, claims Sgt. Shawn Mobley falsely stated that Lutalo talked about bombing the train to get a judge to approve the charge.

“In fact, during the investigation conducted at the time Plaintiff was arrested, no Amtrak employee claimed to have heard any such statement nor did any person on the train say they had heard any such statement or told an Amtrak employee they heard such statement,” says the suit, filed Sept. 8 in U.S. District Court.

La Junta police declined to comment and referred calls to the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency. The agency did not return a call seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Police Chief Todd Quick was sued because he supervises the officers.

On Jan. 26, Lutalo was arrested by Mobley and Officer Eric Ledford on suspicion of endangering public transportation.

Lutalo was headed home after attending the Anarchist Book Fair in Los Angeles.

The arrest affidavit states Amtrak called the police after a conductor said a Missouri couple on board the train overheard Lutalo talking on a cellphone making statements that made them fear for their safety.

The affidavit states that the passenger heard Lutalo say: “Haven’t killed anyone yet. . . . Are you willing to go to jail with me?” It also says the passenger heard Lutalo mention al-Qaeda.

But Lutalo’s lawsuit says Mobley intentionally omitted interviews another officer conducted with passengers seated in the same train car who said they never heard him make a statement about bombing the train.

The suit also says Mobley filed a report that says Lutalo was born in Nigeria even though he is a native of New Jersey.

“Because Plaintiff is dark-skinned and African-American and has an African name, and the incident occurred only weeks after the arrest of the Christmas Day underwear bomber who was Nigerian, Defendant Mobley decided that he was the arresting officer in a major terrorism case . . . ,” the suit says.

The district attorney declined to file a case against Lutalo, citing a lack of evidence.

Lutalo’s arrest made news in New Jersey because of his notoriety there.

He spent 28 years in prison — 22 of them in solitary confinement — for getting into a shootout with police in 1975 and a shooting with a citizen in 1981.

“I served my time,” Lutalo said.

Lutalo is known as a prison activist who pushed for reforms that ultimately led to his release from prison in August 2009, said his attorney, Francisco Martinez.

In this case, Lutalo said he was falsely accused.

“I wasn’t doing anything suspicious,” Lutalo said. “I was talking to people on the cellphone telling them what transpired in Los Angeles, and next thing I know, I was looking down the barrel of a pistol.”

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