How a discarded license plate led to a nightmare for innocent man

Manuel Diego Soza unknowingly set off a chain of events leading to his wrongful arrest when he discarded his old Texas license plate in the trash at an AutoZone store, so he could install new Colorado plates, reports The Denver Post. Little did Soza know that this seemingly innocent act would later be used against him by Westminster police, who believed Soza was a thief that had stolen a speaker from a Walmart store because the real thief had pulled the plates out of the trash and put them on his own car.

Despite several glaring differences between Soza and the actual suspect, such as a neck tattoo and discrepancies in physical appearance and vehicle model, prosecutors, eager to carve a notch in their belts, pursued the case against him.

Soza was arrested, spent six hours in jail, and had to hire an attorney to defend himself against the false charges. The case was eventually dropped, but Soza had to pay $6,000 in legal fees and worries about the impact on his career. As an attorney, he must disclose the arrest when he applies for law licenses in other states, even though the arrest was based on false evidence.

He contemplates filing a lawsuit to seek compensation and expose flaws in the system that disproportionately target minority and economically disadvantaged individuals.

As reported by The Denver Post:

"I was lucky enough, fortunate enough to be in a position to hire an attorney, challenge the charge," Soza said. "But how many other Hispanic males are also being brought up in that court, not being able to (fight) it, losing jobs over it, losing opportunities? It just makes me really upset."

Westminster police Sgt. Ray Esslinger said Thursday that the department was reviewing the case and he could not comment further.

Andy Le, communications manager for the city of Westminster, deferred comment to police when asked about the city's prosecution of Soza.