Reverse Tailgating Upends Federal Lawsuit Against Newport Beach Police

Southern California resident Arthur Lopez spent 37 days in jail for what he saw as a “bogus” criminal charge of violating a restraining order. A superior court judge didn’t think much of the case either and dismissed it before trial. That scenario gave Lopez the belief he had a solid, civil rights lawsuit against the Newport Beach Police Department (NBPD) and Josh Vincelet, the officer he blamed for false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

Lopez’s plight began on July 29, 2016, when his ex-wife, who had a restraining order that required he stay at least 100 yards away, spotted him driving ahead of the vehicle in which she was a passenger.

Disturbed by the sighting on Pacific Coast Highway in Corona Del Mar, the ex-wife–a victim of domestic violence–contacted NBPD; said she didn’t know if the incident was accidental or not; but ultimately made a police report.

Weeks later, Vincelet called Lopez, who said he couldn’t recall the day and had no recollection of seeing his ex-wife. He explained that, though he lived in Riverside County, he often visited the area near Corona del Mar State Beach to walk after regular physical therapy treatments at a nearby doctor’s office. To bolster his story, he gave the cop the name of the medical facility and its phone number. He also said surveillance camera footage at the state beach would confirm that he frequented the area.

“I had [no] way of knowing when [my ex-wife] would be in that state beach or state highway,” Lopez told the officer.

But he claims Vincelet didn’t bother to checkout his story before getting the Orange County district attorney’s office to file a charge that he knowingly and willfully violated the terms of the restraining order.

In March 2017, Lopez filed a lawsuit arguing his constitutional rights had been trampled because of his “Hispanic-Mexican heritage, male gender and Catholic-Christian religion.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael R. Wilner in Los Angeles wasn’t impressed after studying the accusations.

“The court concludes the detective is entitled to summary judgment on these causes of action,” Wilner wrote in a report. “The undisputed facts could not lead any rational jury to conclude that the detective’s actions rose to the level of constitutional violations under settled Ninth Circuit law.”

Wilner didn’t buy Lopez’s cries of innocence either, opining, “The ex-wife gave a statement to the police describing plaintiff’s undeniably suspicious behavior when driving in close proximity to her.”

The magistrate judge noted that officers understandably believed he had committed “reverse tailgating” by deliberating driving slowly on the highway in front of his ex-wife.

According to the driver of the vehicle with the ex-wife, Lopez “drove very slowly . . . going unnaturally slow [and] kept breaking as if he knew we were behind him . . . It felt uncomfortable.”

After a Ninth Circuit panel rejected Lopez’s appeal of the magistrate judge’s conclusions, U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank backed Wilner and dismissed the lawsuit this month.

It’s unclear if the plaintiff now will have to pay the legal costs for Vincelet and the City of Newport Beach.

CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; earned six dozen other reporting awards; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; featured in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.

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