LOUISVILLE — Claims made by a New Albany man that he was pulled over by officers and ordered to leave his vehicle at gunpoint were baseless, a four-month-long investigation by the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Professional Standards Unit found.
The investigation followed allegations by Tomas Montalvo that he was stopped on his way to work by plainclothes officers on the morning of April 9 just after crossing the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge from Indiana into Louisville.
Social media posts by Montalvo’s wife, Jennifer Ortiz, were widely shared and multiple local media outlets including the News and Tribune covered the story. What Montalvo told reporters occurred is nearly identical to what transcripts show he expressed to PSU investigators, but reports obtained by the News and Tribune through an open records request unveiled that LMPD didn’t find evidence to support the claims.
Described as an “exhaustive” examination, findings issued by LMPD Sgt. Cabe Crain, a PSU investigator, and signed off on by other investigators with the unit show that there was no evidence a traffic stop involving Montalvo ever happened at the time in question.
The conclusion was based on interviews with Montalvo and LMPD officers, queries to the FBI and the U.S. Marshals, as well as video captured from multiple businesses and organizations.
“Surveillance video was heavily relied on to determine the most accurate finding possible,” Crain wrote in his findings, which were preliminarily issued on Aug. 12 and officially filed on Aug. 13.
“Because no information was discovered indicating a stop occurred with members of LMPD, this investigator recommends a finding of unfounded.”
In an April 12 interview, Montalvo is recorded as telling Crain and a PSU lieutenant that he was pulled over by plainclothes officers in two unmarked vehicles after crossing the bridge between Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Second Street at about 6 a.m. on April 9.
As he told media following the alleged incident, Montalvo said during the interview that one of the officers told him he had a warrant out for his arrest from Florida.
Montalvo told the investigators that the officers ordered him out of the car. He said he became afraid and rolled up his window and that other officers approached the car and began flashing a flashlight.
After about 10 or 15 minutes, Montalvo said he asked for a supervising officer. After another 10 or 15 minutes, Montalvo said a man approached the passenger side of the vehicle, shined a light in his face and said “That’s not the guy. You can let him go.”
Montalvo told the investigators no apologies were given and that the car’s primary registration was in his wife’s name.
After about 25 minutes of the interaction, Montalvo said he began shaking because he suffers from depression and anxiety. He said an officer told him to stop moving and he responded that he couldn’t because he was having a panic attack.
“And he pulled his weapon out of his holster and I just stayed looking towards the front of my vehicle,” Montalvo is recorded as telling the investigators based on the transcript.
The investigators asked Montalvo questions about the location of the incident and any specific buildings or landmarks that he recalled. He acknowledged that he thought he was near a YMCA and a hotel.
Montalvo was also asked about how many officers he remembered seeing, and he provided general descriptions including that one was Black and three others were White. Montalvo said the supervising officer who arrived later was also White.
Montalvo is part Nigerian and part Cuban.
Montalvo also said, according to the transcript, that he believed the officers were driving unmarked sedans. Montalvo told investigators he saw both of the cars parked about a block before a hotel as he was exiting the bridge.
The investigators, according to the transcript, asked Montalvo to narrow down the area where he was stopped using digital maps.
Investigating the claims
A timeline included in the more than 150 pages of documentation released by LMPD shows the investigation into Montalvo’s claims began April 12 and concluded Aug. 13. The documents were provided to the News and Tribune on Friday, Oct. 8.
Among the documents is a calls for service log showing LMPD runs for the morning in question. There are no logs for anything related to a potential fugitive or warrant stop in the vicinity of the bridge.
PSU investigators contacted 10 businesses in the area of the alleged incident requesting security footage for the morning of April 9. Six of those locations returned footage, according to the police department.
The documentation provided includes screen shots from some of the footage. An LMPD spokesperson said the footage will be released once it’s redacted to remove any personal identifiable information of residents.
Crain acknowledges in the findings report that some of the videos don’t support or refute Montalvo’s claims because the footage doesn’t capture the entire area where the alleged incident occurred or it’s hard to view license plate information.
But videos from two cameras located on the Pendennis Club provide the best angles and most comprehensive footage, Crain stated.
The two cameras provided overlapping views of the Second Street block between West Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Guthrie Street.
“These cameras fully capture the area pointed out by Montalvo as the traffic stop location,” Crain wrote in the findings.
The footage provided began at 5:30 a.m. and concluded after two hours. PSU reviewed the footage and found that no traffic stop occurred there.
PSU requested information from the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the FBI in regard to any potential search for Montalvo or the vehicle he was driving through the National Crime Information Center for the day of, or 13 days prior to, the alleged incident.
In an April 15 email provided in the documentation, an FBI representative wrote that no matches were found in the database. The query was for all locations and agencies, the representative stated.
A representative with the U.S. Marshals Western Kentucky Regional Task Force stated in an email that the unit didn’t work any cases in the area in question on the morning of April 9.
Additionally, investigators interviewed an LMPD officer who is a member of the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force. Since Montalvo claimed he was told there was a warrant out for his arrest, Crain said in his findings it was important to interview the officer since such investigations could fall under the task force’s purview.
The officer stated on record that while he did work that morning, he had no interactions with Montalvo and wasn’t involved in a traffic stop near the bridge.
The name is redacted, but a letter that appears to be issued to Montalvo on Sept. 15 from LMPD Chief Erika Shields affirms the PSU findings.
“We looked into the complaints raised in your affidavit of April 12, 2021,” Shields wrote in the letter. “I have ascertained no rules of the Louisville Metro Police Department were violated nor were any members of the Louisville Metro Police Department involved in this matter.”
The News and Tribune had previously contacted Montalvo through his wife, Ortiz, who is the president of the New Albany Human Rights Commission and a professor at Indiana University Southeast.
After being given a brief description of what the findings stated, she said Wednesday that they hadn’t received any further information from LMPD, and that she would stand by her comments from July.
At that time, she said investigators had accused Montalvo of lying about the situation. Ortiz said during the July 19 interview that they would likely not pursue further legal action due to concerns over her husband’s mental health stemming from the incident.
The News and Tribune requested an interview with LMPD or a statement about the report findings Tuesday morning. A spokesman said he would check on the request. The newspaper hadn’t received a response as of publication.