SAN JOSE -- A local man who was held over for trial on the basis of a phony lab report cooked up by a police officer and presented in court by a prosecutor is poised to win a legal settlement with the city for $150,000.
On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council is expected to approve the settlement with Michael Kerkeles of San Jose. Under the agreement, the city must also pay Kerkeles' legal fees, which could be at least $1 million because the federal civil rights case dragged on for six years and included a hard-fought appeal.
Kerkeles declined to comment, but one of his lawyers said the case has taken a major toll on him. Not only was Kerkeles at work when the sexual assault of a developmentally disabled woman supposedly occurred, the lawyer said, but his wife also was in her home office, steps from where the alleged rape took place.
"It's a significant sum, but Mr. Kerkeles certainly wouldn't trade the money he got for what he went through," lawyer Matt Davis said.
Fake crime report
The evidence that Kerkeles' rights had been violated was bolstered last year when prosecutor Jaime Stringfield admitted she misled the court about the lab report. She was suspended for a month by the state Supreme Court, based on a recommendation by the State Bar, which licenses attorneys. She had already resigned from the District Attorney's Office to pursue a teaching career, but is currently licensed to practice law.
However, the police officer, Sgt. Matthew Christian, remains on the job and is now assigned to the Traffic Investigations Unit, said SJPD spokesman Albert Morales.
The injustice unfolded after Kerkeles was accused in 2005 of sexually assaulting the developmentally disabled neighbor with the mental acuity of a 7-year-old.
In hopes of extracting a confession, Christian created a "ruse" crime report indicating that Kerkeles' semen had been found on a blanket, while the actual report revealed no semen. Such a tactic is legal -- at that stage of a case.
Kerkeles asked for an attorney, so the report was never actually used as a ruse. Instead, it was presented in court after the District Attorney's Office lost two preliminary hearings in the case.
On both occasions, the judge found the woman was not a competent witness and there was insufficient evidence to hold Kerkeles over for trial on charges.
But at the third preliminary hearing, then-prosecutor Stringfield elicited testimony from officer Christian regarding the contents of the ruse report. The officer's testimony was that semen had been found on the blanket, prompting the court to find there was probable cause to hold Kerkeles over for trial.
"In our view, that was a huge mistake," San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle said, referring to the presentation of the phony document in court and Sgt. Matthew Christian's testimony about it.
There were several indications that the report was false. For one thing, the officer used a phony name for the crime lab analyst. It was also dated within a day of the evidence being seized -- contrary to normal DNA examinations, which take considerably longer to complete. Stringfield had in her file a real report that did not find semen on the bedspread.
"It's a good number ($150,000) to settle the case for," the city attorney said, "given the (legal) risks."
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.