A Cloquet man jailed for nearly two years for assault was released Friday, Feb. 8, in Carlton County after his conviction was vacated because of the involvement of a former police officer.
Clarence Lozoya Jr., 27, was sentenced to 36 months in prison in March 2017 after pleading guilty to second-degree assault in January 2017. Lozoya was accused of threatening and striking a man with a handgun in December 2016.
Lozoya withdrew his guilty plea Friday in Sixth District Judicial Court. Newly elected Carlton County Attorney Lauri Ketola dismissed the charges amid an ongoing investigation into cases that involved former officer Scott Beckman.
"The first thing I did was look at everyone in custody and the first one that came up was Mr. Lozoya," Ketola told the court. "It was determined Officer Beckman was a critical witness and his credibility was compromised."
Lozoya's restraints were removed immediately following the hearing and he walked out of the courthouse. Daniel Lew, chief public defender in northeastern Minnesota, told the court he planned to begin paperwork to have Lozoya's record expunged of the charges.
In December 2018, Beckman left the CPD under a separation agreement that will continue to pay him through September. Beckman was found guilty by an outside investigator of lying to a superior officer in February 2016 and falsifying an application for a search warrant in 2016.
Then-Cloquet Police Chief Steve Stracek recommended Beckman's employment be terminated in August 2016, but in a grievance process through his police union, Beckman was suspended for 11 days.
Beckman's departure from the CPD prompted a press release from the Carlton County Attorney's Office stating 18 cases involving Beckman were dismissed and another four submitted for review were not charged. The office initiated a "Brady Disclosure Policy" on Dec. 3, 2018, according the then acting-county attorney Jeffrey Boucher. Brady v. Maryland is a 1963 Supreme Court case requiring disclosure of exculpatory material to defendants in criminal prosecutions, including misconduct findings involving law enforcement officers.
The release stated there were an additional 25 cases involving Beckman under review by the County Attorney's Office. Ketola said the office has hired an outside expert to help with case review and maintain objectivity in the investigation.
Ketola said among the 25 cases still under review, Lozoya was the only one currently in custody, making him a priority. In the other cases being reviewed, if Beckman is considered a "critical witness," they will move to vacate the conviction.
"If we cannot get a conviction without his testimony, it will be dismissed," Ketola said.