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News (Media Awareness Project) - US AL: Judge Throws Out Two Drug Cases
Title:US AL: Judge Throws Out Two Drug Cases
Published On:2002-04-10
Source:Mobile Register (AL)
Fetched On:2008-08-30 19:12:35

Conecuh Deputies Conducted Improper Searches, According To Ruling

EVERGREEN -- Charges against two men accused of drug trafficking in
separate videotaped, highly publicized arrests will be thrown out because
officers -- led by Conecuh County sheriff's deputies -- entered both
residences without proper no tice, according to judges' rulings.

The district attorney has said appeals of the rulings are unlikely.

District Judge Jeff Brock ruled Tuesday that officers took about five
seconds to exit their vehicles, run to the porch, knock the door in and
arrest James Odom in February 2001. State and federal law mandates officers
serving a search warrant must knock and announce their presence and ask to
enter private residences, giving occupants ample time to respond before
entering by force. Brock stated in his ruling the videotape proves that did
not happen.

Conecuh County Sheriff Tracy Hawsey had argued in a hearing last month that
he had been told Odom had a gun, and that he feared for his officers'
safety. He also said there had been no information that Odom would be
violent. Brock's ruling said there was no evidence that Odom was dangerous,
would be able to flee or destroy the evidence -- circumstances necessary
for officers to ignore the knock-and-announce rule.

Hawsey interrupted door-to-door campaigning Tuesday to say he sup ports the
decisions handed down by judges, but that he questions the timing just
weeks before the June 4 primary.

Hawsey faces opposition for the Democratic nomination from former Sheriff
Edwin Booker and from Butch Salter. Both are challenging the incumbent for
the job that pays $50,000 annually for a four-year term.

Hawsey said judging his effectiveness as sheriff on two cases in which his
officers made errors ignores many good things accomplished under his

But Monroe County District Attorney Tommy Chapman said the back-to-back
decisions are just more examples of cases fouled up by poor police work.
The officers planned and used "a swat-team styled" arrest in the Odom case
but failed to show those actions were warranted, Brock's order stated.
Officers videotaped the arrest and the discovery of 31 marijuana plants
growing in large pots inside the home, complete with artificial lighting.
Television news crews videotaped officers carrying the plants from the home
minutes later. But because that evidence came after the illegal entry, none
of it can be used in court against Odom.

Chief Deputy James Taylor testified at a hearing last month that officers
"knocked three times" and "waited one to three minutes" on Odom's porch
before entering. Brock said the videotape proved that testimony was
"grossly inaccurate."

Odom's is the second case in as many weeks to be tossed out on the same
technical point. Last week, Circuit Judge Sam Welch ruled evidence in a
trafficking case against Robert Robbins, 48, of Owassa cannot be used
either because officers failed to follow the knock and announce rule. That
December 2000 arrest was also videotaped by officers.

Officers took only a few seconds to break in the door of Robbins home,
finding him in the midst of shaving. They recovered 170 grams of cocaine
from the scene -- one of the largest amounts seized in the county.

Federal charges against Robbins were dismissed in January after the Conecuh
County Sheriff's Department could not account for a page missing from the
search warrant in the case. Hawsey said only a few paragraphs were missing,
and that the district attorney approved the warrant before it was submitted
to the judge.

Court officials said Welch encouraged deputies to consult with prosecutors
on proper procedures in arrests.

The case is the latest chapter in an ongoing friction between Chapman and
Hawsey. Chapman has accused Hawsey of incompetence and questionable
integrity. Hawsey claims Chapman is trying to undermine his re-election bid
by manipulating the timing of district and circuit court decisions.

"Now, I have no choice but to drop these cases," said Chapman. "This makes
at least three cases we have lost on knock and announce problems, all due
to the incompetent conduct by the Sheriff's Department.

"It's one thing to get in front of the cameras and claim credit for drug
busts," Chapman said, "but it is misleading to do so" when failure to
follow procedure keeps the case from even going to trial."

"Mr. Chapman should refrain from the comments he makes," Hawsey said. "If
he is so concerned about the office of sheriff, he should have paid his fee
and qualified to run against me. He could have held his comments until the
election was over. It is no secret he is not a supporter of the Tracy L.
Hawsey re-election campaign."
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