Like out of a movie, we recently caught a police narcotics section engaging in a coverup and misconduct. I’m not talking about theories of a coverup where people articulate or allege a coverup or misconduct and I’m not talking about an alleged coverup where the client says it happened and all of the police officers involved deny it. No, I’m talking about a police investigation, police conduct, police reports, police strategy in court, etc. that actually implodes on itself – one where a coverup is evidence by reviewing the officers’ conduct without reference to much more. Without going into details about the officers, county, etc., what follows is a tale of a police coverup that has now been exposed and that resulted in the dismissal (by an ethical prosecutor) of all of the charges once the coverup was exposed. Here is the amazing story – sit back and enjoy.
The story begins with four (4) friends from childhood. One would go on to become a police officer. The other three involved themselves in the marijuana trade: two operating, at times, popular dispensaries and, the third was growing and selling marijuana to various dispensaries. The “grower” and the officer were best friends and remained best friends despite their having taken up opposite sides of the criminal justice system.
In the end, it was the desire of the officer to help his best friend, the marijuana grower, that ultimately did them in.
As the officer worked in a narcotics unit, he was entrusted with serious and protected information. Clearly, were he to come across information and/or evidence that his best friend (the marijuana grower) was going to get in trouble, he should disqualify himself from the investigation and do nothing. Clearly, it would be illegal for him to tip off a drug dealer, target or accused with information that he learned in the course of his duties. While as a friend, he’d want to tip off his best friend, as a police officer who swore an oath, tipping off a target is illegal and unethical.
Impressively, his honor and commitment to his friend overwhelmed him. After raiding a dispensary and seeing the vendor list (of people supplying marijuana to the dispensary) he advised his friend that his friend’s name was on a list. He also advised the friend that his name would be “removed” from evidence. In and of itself, this is a crime. Yet there is more.
On a Monday morning, the officer learned that his best friend’s marijuana grow house was being targeted for investigation. Again, remaining faithful to his best friend, the officer advised his best friend to clear out the house. Under any definition of the terms, this is a (felony) crime – obstruction of justice, misconduct in office or both. No matter how much a police officer cares about a target, he cannot warn his friend, i.e., tip him off, that his grow/drug house is about to be raided. On this point, no one can seriously disagree. Yet, this is most assuredly what he did.
The Transfer Of The Plants
What happens next, the marijuana grower empties out his house of plants and moves them to a warehouse in which my client occupies a front office and out of which he operates another business. Coincidentally (maybe/maybe not), another crew of the same narcotics group/unit were in the area on the same day that the plants had been moved and claimed to have “smelled marijuana” coming from the warehouse. Sound suspicious? You bet.
As the officers were securing a warrant, they observe the best friend walking up the building and attempt to enter. As the make entry to the building, they detain the friend. This is when the coverup begins.
After detaining the best friend/grower, the cops talk with the best friend/grower for 45 minutes! They take his information, driver’s license information and actually interview him. The grower’s friend/cop comes down and participates in the matter as well. All told, the grower/friend is interviewed in the warehouse, out in the open, for all of the other police officers searching and seizing items to see. So obvious and apparent is the grower/friend’s relationship with the cop that one of the other officer’s says to the best friend/grower, “why didn’t you tell me you were the officer’s best friend? I’d have let you go from the start.”
When all is said and done, the police raid that warehouse and then raid two (2) more buildings that night. However, they don’t raid any of the homes of the any of the individuals involved in the warehouse or the home of the best friend/grower that night. Anyone familiar with search warrant executions, knows that this is suspicious.
They Don’t Ask For Permission Or Make Appointments
As it turns out, the cop, best friend/grower, my client and the person that used the warehouse for other purposes are all friends. After the cop/friend comes down to the warehouse, none of the houses or the four friends are searched. The next day, the grower/best friend gets a friendly call from the cop/friend: “you need to let us search your house later today or else they’ll get a search warrant. When can we come by?” Now anyone familiar with this process knows that police don’t make reservations to search the homes of suspected drug dealers or traffickers – they just show up. They don’t make appointments or arrange for times later in the day to search because to do so would mean that the growers/traffickers would clean out the house of all contraband.
I start hearing rumors that our client is going to catch the brunt of the charges in the case and that the friend/grower is going to skate. Concerned that out client will take the heat, I lay out what I know to the police and the head of the detective bureau. I advise them to leave this case alone – too much foul play has transpired to pursue a case. I advise them further that if the friend tried to help out a friend/grower, then leave it alone for all. I got a short response from a command officer wanting to know if my client wanted to talk. Of course, with possible pending criminal charges and an aversion to cooperation, we declined. Again, I advised them to do an investigation and they’d uncover the information on their own – the police had engaged in foul play to protect a friend’s friend.
“Expect A Whitewashing”
A couple of days later, I get word from a lawyer representing the friend/grower that 1) the police are going to whitewash the grower out of the reports, 2) the reports will just say he was “passing by”, 3) my client owes it to the friend/cop that his house wasn’t searched and 4) they will only be going after my client and the other person using the warehouse. The lawyer advised me that my letter to the police and command structure may have changed the direction of the police department but he wasn’t sure.
The Case – We Prepare To Expose Them
A full six months later, we learn that the police have actually decided to bring charges against my client and the other warehouse occupant. The grower/friend is not charged. I’m stunned. I think, “how arrogant?!” Incredibly at that point, I didn’t even know how arrogant the group was – I would learn soon enough.
The police are clever. Since there are several officers, they can assign different officer’s to do things, thus avoiding having the main actors involved in the coverup actually writing reports, etc. The officer that made the “you should have told me were his best friend” didn’t write a report; neither did the best friend/officer. Rather, an officer that has close to nothing to do with anything writes the report. Yet, he writes the report just as the lawyer predicted 6 months earlier in November:
“[name withheld] walked up, punched a number in the door and then started to walk away. We approached and talked to him. It turns out that he was ‘just passing by.’”
I couldn’t believe it. I had incredible proof of a conspiracy to conceal and coverup, i.e., to mislead. Six (6) months before I ever received a police report, I was advised (and recorded the information at that time) that the police were going to write a misleading report “whitewashing” the friend/grower out of the incident and instead say he was going just passing by. When I got the report, six (6) months later, I couldn’t believe that they had done just that – whitewashed him out. It reminded me of a scene from Quiz Show.
Quiz Show Moment
In Quiz Show, the federal government was investigating whether a Quiz Show was rigged – whether the contestants received the answers ahead of their appearance. To prove that he had received the answers ahead of time, one of the contestants mailed the answers to himself prior to his appearance. The postmark, before his appearance, proved that he had received them ahead of the show.
My notes from November, 2014 was looking like a Quiz Show moment. I have information in November, 2014 that the police would whitewash the grower’s name from the reports and 6 months later, that proved true. It was like mailing the answer to myself before I ever saw the test.
We were stunned that the police had brought this case. It was one thing to do a favor for a friend … quite another to try and pass off misleading reports and omit a possible 3rd suspect from the reports. We wanted to ensure that the police didn’t get away with it and that our clients received the best outcome possible.
Setting It Up and Springing It
For months, we hinted to the prosecutor that we had the goods on this case and on the narcotics unit crews involved. I recorded an interview with the grower in which he reluctantly spilled the beans and then later tried to assert the 5th Amendment due to self-incrimination. His attempt to protect himself made his statements admissible in court. Having the evidence in place (in the form of a tape) and a timeline that made sense, we sprung the first trap: we prepared to cross examine the detectives at a hearing. However, they involved a fourth officer in the coverup – rather than call anyone of the officers that talked to the grower or even the one that wrote the report, they called another. It was as if they were trying to avoid exposing the officers that played the biggest role and so they kept turning to others to play a role.
The officer that testified in court looked like he was training for a wrestling match – trying to make weight – during his testimony. He stammered and sweated his way through the hearing. Even the judge commented on his inconsistent answers. When I was questioning about the grower/friend, he looked like he had seen a ghost.
Soon, we filed our legal arguments – entrapment, vindictive prosecution, hiding exculpatory evidence, illegal search warrants, etc. The judge was biting on the arguments and granting us hearings and became more interested. At one point she looked at the prosecutors like, “are you really going to continue.” At first, the young prosecutor pushed on. Later, to his credit, a more senior and extremely ethical prosecutor, stepped in and after learning everything said, “enough.” This second prosecutor is among the best and most ethical around – he was concerned on many levels: why had they done this, why had the police presented this case, how many officers were involved, why had they hidden evidence and why was this case in court? He was upset about the case and concerned about the long term consequences regarding these drug detectives. Could and should they continue in their jobs, were questions that still needed to be answered.
The Dismissal And Questions Unanswered
I got the call this week that the case was being dismissed. This was the proper result. What the police did was reprehensible. This much is indisputable. But think about what happened along the way and how the checks and balances didn’t check and balance this case out until the end:
- The police officers concealed evidence and the involvement of people;
- They involved other officers;
- They deliberately involved other officers in other facets of the case to shield the involved officers from examination and scrutiny;
- The officers didn’t police themselves;
- The supervisors didn’t police the suborninates;
- The reviewing prosecutors didn’t scrutinize this case; and,
- The first assigned prosecutor didn’t scrutinize this case.
It took months and a more experienced, ethical prosecutor to realize that the police erred. But it begs the question: should this case have made it this far and shouldn’t someone along the way have stopped the coverup and its aftermath long ago. The tally is as follows:
- One officer tipped off a friend about a raid;
- The same officer told his friend he had erased his name from evidence;
- The same officer tipped off his friend that his grow house was going to be raided;
- A crew of officers happened to be in the area where the plants were moved to – the same day and within hours;
- Another officer told a potential suspect that he would call his friend a police officer;
- That same officer told the potential suspect that “why didn’t’ you tell me you were [name withheld’s] friend”;
- That same officer let the potential suspect go;
- A third officer told someone that they were going to whitewash the reports and exclude the suspect;
- A fourth officer wrote a report, white washing the grower out of the report;
- A fifth officer testified; and,
- A sixth officer sat by as the officer in chard.
In other words, an entire crew committed some form of misconduct. While my client’s case was dismissed, what happens next remains to be seen. Stay tuned for more from Rockind Law.