Falsely Arrested Yucca Valley Woman Suing County And Sheriff’s Deputy

A Yucca Valley woman has filed a federal lawsuit naming San Bernardino County and a sheriff’s deputy over what officials now acknowledge was her false arrest. Her arrest and incarceration occurred during the Christmas holidays in 2014 after her amended tax filing the previous year created potential legal difficulties for her former business partner who had connections to the sheriff’s department and the district attorney’s office.
Attorney Keith Bardellini in February filed the lawsuit in federal court in Riverside on behalf of Lucinda Cox, alleging Cox had been arrested without probable cause on charges that were neither thoroughly nor competently investigated and that she was subjected to abuse and mistreatment for seven days while jailed at West Valley Detention Center, where her bail had been improperly set at a quarter of a million dollars.
Subsequently, a court ruled that, indeed, there was no basis for Cox’s arrest and all charges against her were dismissed.
The lawsuit alleges that Cox’s former business partner, Holly Griffin, deliberately and maliciously launched, and a sheriff’s deputy, Heidi Hague, with whom Griffin had close personal ties, either deliberately and maliciously or incompetently carried out, a criminal investigation that erroneously and falsely concluded Cox had engaged in forgery.
The matter grew out of the business relationship Cox once had with Holly Griffin, with whom she co-owned Elite Cosmetology, a cosmetology school, licensed by the state of California, to teach cosmetology. In February 2012 Cox and Griffin sold Elite Cosmetology School to M.N.R.J.M., LLC, a Florida limited liability corporation and during the last week of March 2012 the escrow closed and ownership of the school was transferred to MM.N.R.J.M., LLC . Thereafter, Plaintiff and Griffin commenced the process of winding down their operation of Elite and completing their obligations regarding the payment of all outstanding debts, the collection of all remaining tuitions and the filing of the appropriate state and federal tax returns for 2011 in 2012. Cox, on behalf of Elite, hired accountants and attorneys to assist in completing the winding up of Elite, reviewing the accounting, and preparing the necessary tax returns.
According to the lawsuit, “The accountants retained by plaintiff reported to her that the tax returns for 2010, 2011 and 2012 appeared to be inaccurate and inconsistent with the accounting records that they had reviewed. As a result they advised that amended returns needed to be prepared for all three tax years. In an attempt to prevent Plaintiff from filing amended returns, in October 2013, Ms. Griffin filed a report with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department alleging that plaintiff had forged a check from a joint signature account. Plaintiff is informed and believes that prior to the police report being filed by Ms. Griffin, Heidi Hague was employed by the sheriff; was a personal friend of Ms. Griffin; was a personal friend of Ms. Griffin’s husband, Robert Griffin, who was employed by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office as an investigator; and [that Heidi Hague] was the sheriff’s detective in charge of the investigation of plaintiff.”
The lawsuit continues, “Hague received and reviewed the report filed by Ms. Griffin. She then subpoenaed selective records from Pacific Western Bank and selective records from Wells Fargo Bank. Hague attempted to talk to plaintiff who declined to talk to her outside the presence of an attorney. By her own admission and sworn testimony, she did no other investigation. Hague made no attempt to investigate any of the accusations made in Ms. Griffin’s police report. Had she done so she would have learned that almost all of the relevant facts alleged in that report were false. Had she asked for the complete records at the relevant banks she were to have immediately become aware that all of the relevant and important dates contained in the report were false including but not limited to the source of funds in each of the accounts, the dates that the accounts were opened, the dates that the accounts were closed, the amount of money in the accounts, the ownership of the funds in the accounts, and most importantly the timing of when she became aware that the money had been transferred to pay creditors of Elite. When Hague received a copy of the alleged forged check she made no attempt to have the check examined to determine if it was in fact a forgery. When the check was finally sent to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department document examiner, it was determined that the check was not a forgery and that Ms. Griffin’s signature was authentic. Sometime after October 2013 Hague, without any further investigation, forwarded the report and the selective documents to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution. Plaintiff is informed and believes that Hague recommended the filing of a complaint against plaintiff, knowing that she had ignored evidence, intentionally evaded collecting relevant evidence and that there was no probable cause for a complaint to issue. On May 9, 2014, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office filed a felony complaint alleging grand theft of personal property in the amount of $52,335 (Penal Code section 487 (a), forgery (Penal Code section 479(a) and embezzlement. On May 13, 2014, the district attorney sought and received an ex parte order under Penal Code section 1275.1, preventing Plaintiff from posting bail without a hearing on the source of funds used for the bail and persuaded the court to set bail in the amount of $250,000, $225,000 in excess of the bail schedule set by the court. The court file contains no declaration supporting either the excessive bail or the Penal Code Section 1275.1 ex parte motion.”
A bail schedule from 2013 for San Bernardino County shows bail for a charge of grand theft was set at $50,000, forgery was $25,000 and embezzlement was $25,000. Any single one of those could have been set against Cox. Had they been combined, they would have been no more than $100,000.
Inexplicably, no effort to arrest Cox was made for more than seven months after the criminal complaint against her was issued. On December 23, 2014, two days before Christmas, sheriff’s deputies arrested her while she was at the home of two of her cosmetology clients, a man and wife.
“Due to the excessive bail and the ex parte order under Penal Code section 1275.1 plaintiff was held in custody in general population at the West Valley Detention Center for seven days,” according to the suit. “During that time, she was in constant fear for her life, was unable to eat, was threatened by other inmates, was unable to sleep, witnessed violence between other inmates and as a result has suffered and continues to suffer from severe post traumatic stress syndrome. On July 10, 2015 the case was dismissed for lack of probable cause, lack of evidence and failure to investigate. After the hearing on July 10, 2015 the San Bernardino County District Attorney provided plaintiff with the results of the handwriting analysis establishing her innocence. This document was withheld until after the court had dismissed the case.”
Cox is pursuing a separate civil case against Holly Griffin.
Bardellini told the Sentinel, “This is a dramatic case of overreach. You have a 61-year-old grandmother who did absolutely nothing wrong, who was then subjected to this unbelievable nightmare.”
In the suit, Bardellini maintains that “At the time of plaintiff’s arrest and detention, defendants had no probable cause to believe the plaintiff had committed a crime or that in fact that a crime had even been committed. Defendants, acting under color of state law, statutes, ordinances, regulations, customs and usage under their authority as deputy sheriffs of the County of San Bernardino falsely arrested plaintiff without probable cause. Defendants, separately and in concert, engaged in the illegal conduct to the injury of the plaintiff and deprived plaintiff of the rights, privileges and immunities secured to plaintiff by the fourth amendment of the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the United States including but not limited to 42 U.S.C.S 1983.”
The Sentinel’s efforts to obtain a response from the sheriff’s department and county officials regarding Cox’s lawsuit did not achieve any results.
Cox told the Sentinel, “After nine court visits and thousands of dollars later, all the charges are dismissed. There was no apology, just a simple dismissal of charges. This experience has left me with no savings and in debt. It has stripped me of my dignity and reputation. It almost cost me my sanity. I am blessed that I stayed physically healthy through all of this. I know someone was watching out for me. It has taught me many lessons. I learned about kindness and sharing and I have learned about the plight of the poor and social injustices. I learned how cronyism is prevalent in the criminal justice system and how it has changed my life forever. This is not the end of the story.”

Leave a Reply