Did Police Botch the Search Warrant in Royal Oak Raid?

Royal Oak

Back in September, the Vanguard reported on a multi-jurisdictional force which served high-risk warrants on five residences in the Royal Oak Manufactured Home Community. The search warrants and subsequent arrests were the result of a four-month investigation into narcotics dealing in that neighborhood.

Police recovered 168 marijuana plants, 3 lbs. of marijuana, and a concentrated cannabis lab. A related search warrant carried out in Sacramento netted 1.5 lbs. of methamphetamine.

On Wednesday, two of the defendants from that raid, Kenneth Moriarty and Amanda Tibbs were in court as their defense attorneys, Bob Spangler and Jeff Raven, moved for evidence to be thrown out due to an improper warrant.

Judge Paul Richardson listened to evidence from Justin Raymond, a Davis Police Officer working with YONET who acknowledged that he has learned since the raid that, while the warrant described the residence at 1412 Morris Way, the actual residence that they raided was 1416 Morris Way.

Under questioning from Deputy District Attorney Robin Johnson, Officer Raymond testified that he had been investigating Kenneth Moriarty for around four months. He had received information about where he resided, describing the residence as a double-wide trailer.

He testified that in his four months of surveillance, he personally saw Mr. Moriarty around ten times at the location. He saw the residence another five times without him present. Officer Raymond testified that he would sometimes conduct drive-bys, and other times he was there for hours.

He also conducted aerial surveillance of the property, where there was marijuana growing behind both a chain link fence and what was described a bamboo fence in front of the chain link. Officer Raymond said they made the tactical decision to remove the fencing upon making entry on September 24.

Officer Raymond testified that Google Maps had identified the residence as 1412 Morris Way. He also obtained a map from the manager of the trailer park, who he said wrote “1412” on the map.

However, as he acknowledged, the two residences on Morris Way, as it turns out, are located within the confines of the mobile park, but are actually separately-owned properties.

On January 20, 2015, the officer and the prosecution went back out to the site and took additional photographs. It was his testimony that the residence “looked different” when they raided in September than when they returned in January nearly four months later.

Under examination from Mr. Spangler, the officer testified that numbers were not on a mailbox in front of the residence at 1416 Morris Way – the residence they searched – back in September. He said those numbers were newly-added.

The warrant describes the building as crème-colored with white trim. He testified that on January 20, 2015, he saw a partial address on the post in front of 1412 Morris Way. He said he didn’t see the full address when he came by during the investigation. He said, “Those numbers weren’t there.”

He said, “I never saw those numbers” on the vertical post, and added, “I never would have been able to see something that small.”

It was his testimony that the appearance of the two places changed from September 2014 to January 2015.

Officer Raymond acknowledged that he did not attempt to go to the court, the District Attorney’s office or the owner in order to ascertain the address.

Mr. Spangler asked if he had checked with the DMV, and Officer Raymond responded that he was not sure. Mr. Spangler then produced a traffic citation from four months prior that cited Mr. Moriarty’s address as 1416 Morris Way.

Following the conclusion of Officer Raymond’s testimony, DDA Johnson stated that she would file a legal brief responding to the motion to suppress. She stated that the case law on warrants is clear.

Ms. Johnson will file her response on Monday and the court will hear arguments on Friday, February 13.

The US Supreme Court in a number of rulings understands that mistakes will be made by law enforcement at times, and is willing to overlook these errors and allow erroneously obtained evidence to be used for criminal prosecution.

The exclusionary rule developed under court precedent applies to evidence gained from an unreasonable search or seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. A good faith exception has come out of a 1995 case that finds that evidence need not be not excluded if it is obtained by officers who reasonably rely on a search warrant that turns out to be invalid.

While we have yet to hear argument from the attorneys in this, it seems that the prosecution is attempting to set the stage that Officer Raymond simply made an honest mistake in attempting to learn the actual address of the known suspect’s home.

This was not a case where they raided the wrong home, the prosecution might argue, but simply a case where they got the number wrong.

The Vanguard was subsequently invited to the residences on Morris Way. Both residences – 1412 and 1416 – have been abandoned and are in poor condition.

Officer Raymond testified that he pulled up 1412 using Google Earth and that the residence is mislabeled.

However, when the Vanguard pulled up 1412 Morris Way and 1416 Morris Way with Google, they are correctly identified. Moreover, the images below show that the date of the photo was from May 2012, implying that nothing has been changed on Google any time recently.

1412MorrisWay
1412 Morris Way – Google Map, May 2012
1416 Morris Way - Google Map, May 2012
1416 Morris Way – Google Map, May 2012

The Vanguard went out to the site on Thursday morning and found that, while the condition of property had changed, the appearance of both the house at 1412 and the trailer at 1416 were basically the same in terms of coloring.

1416 Morris Way from the driveway
1416 Morris Way from the driveway
1416 Morris Way taken on January 29 from Morris Way
1416 Morris Way taken on January 29 from Morris Way
1412 Morris Way taken on January 29, 2015
1412 Morris Way taken on January 29, 2015

The photo below shows the mailbox in front of the home with “1416” on it. Family members and appearance would confirm that Officer Raymond was correct when he stated that the numbering was not there in September. The numbers look new.

Mailbox outside of 1416 Morris Way
Mailbox outside of 1416 Morris Way

However, when we inspected the mailbox in front of 1412 we found the “12” with the first two numbers missing, as well as the “1412” clearly marked on the side. Closer inspection clearly shows that two of the numbers had been peeled off or fell off on the badly-weathered mailbox. There is a very faded and dirty “Morris” on the right side and the “1412” across the post vertically are clearly old and weathered. Unlike the numbers at 1416, these were not recently added.

Mailbox outside of 1412 Morris Way
Mailbox outside of 1412 Morris Way

More importantly this shot was taken from the road that Officer Raymond would have had to have walked or driven by at least 15 times according to his testimony, and this camera shot shows that the address on the street would have been clearly visible to the Officer.

Shot of mailbox at 1412 from Morris Way
Shot of mailbox at 1412 from Morris Way

Officer Raymond testified that the appearance of the home changed from September 2014 to January 2015, but, other than the added address on the mailbox in front of 1416 Morris Way and the bamboo fence the police removed, there is little evidence of that.

The 2012 photos bear that out.

Moreover, we inspected the property, as well, as the officer testified that there was new paint and trim.

Garbage Can in Driveway clearly marked as 1416
Garbage can in driveway clearly marked as 1416
Old paint job on side under the window
Old paint job on side under the window
Poor condition of the trailer belies the notion that it was altered recently
Poor condition of the trailer belies the notion that it was altered recently
Photo of windows show no "trim"
Photo of windows show no “trim”
Paint chipped and wood rotting on the front of trailer.
Paint chipped and wood rotting on the front of trailer.

On the contrary, the Vanguard found crumbling and decaying wood on the side of the trailer with very old paint and no new paint job or changed coloring. What the officer described as trim around the windows appears to be a decaying and crumbling window frame.

Far from a new paint job, the overwhelming evidence is one of neglect.

The Vanguard is seeking to acquire a copy of the search warrant and possibly the transcript from the proceeding, to get a more complete description.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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20 Comments

  1. PhilColeman

    This story’s presentation has far more fascination than the content. We begin with the deliberately provocative rhetorical question that the police MAY have “botched” up a search warrant affidavit that ultimately lead to a seizure of illegal drugs and multiple arrests.  This assertion is then qualified by the correct interpretation of case law that an honest mistake by the affiant is not necessarily grounds for invocation of the exclusionary rule.

    Naturally, the defense hopes to have the judge find that the police did, indeed, “botch” the warrant by putting down the wrong address. It is not an accident of writing that the column title echoes the defense attorney argument. We who read the Vanguard regularly have yet to see a single story that puts the Yolo County Prosecutor in a positive light.

    Before proceed further I call out publicly that the Vanguard do a full follow-up story of vindication and refutation of the questionable search should the magistrate find in favor of the prosecution. There is no need to ask for a similar story should the defense prevail. That story is probably prepared in draft form already.

    No less than 13 photographs of this rather seedy area resulted from the Vanguard being “invited” to follow-up on this criminal defense claim. One assumes it was not the DA that did the inviting; rather, someone favorably disposed towards the defendants. Why a pending court ruling is being simultaneously being placed in the “court of public opinion” for analysis is intriguing in itself.

    Several photos of a mundane mailbox and its address numbering are followed by selective comment on the absence or alteration of address numbers. From this analysis, questions are raised on the veracity of the affiant officer testimony, his honesty and credibility is clearly challenged.

    One thing is for sure. Somebody fiddled with the address numbers, and recently. Who did this, and who would benefit? Why would these address alterations be made as a prelude to the Vanguard being invited to conduct an on-scene inspection? My turn to pose the provocative rhetorical question: “Is Vanguard being Manipulated?”

    Since so much energy and effort was taken to photograph a mailbox, all readers are invited to look again at the “1412” numbers on the post.  There are two photographs to see. Much was made of the fact that the investigating officer viewed this box 15 times and yet failed to see the correct address.

    But look closer, and note that the first two numbers (14) show much more evidence of exposure and weathering than the last two numbers (12).  Is this, in fact, the same address posting seen today that the investigating officer saw months past on 15 different occasions?

    Finally, did Vanguard do any due diligence and ask Google if they had recently updated their address listing for these locations in dispute?

    1. Anon

      Why a pending court ruling is being simultaneously being placed in the “court of public opinion” for analysis is intriguing in itself.

      Now why in heaven’s name would the police purposely conduct a search of the wrong address after a lengthy investigation?  What exactly is the Vanguard implying here?  And like Phil Coleman notes, why does the Vanguard never side with law enforcement (either police or DA), but instead at every turn tries to find law enforcement doing something nefarious?  Remember Aesop’s tale of the little boy who cried wolf one too many times?  If law enforcement is truly doing something wrong, or even questionable, we need to know about that.  But we don’t need sly innuendo at every turn that makes no sense – because it gets to the point where the Vanguard’s criticism of law enforcement doesn’t have much credibility after constant carping.

      And not to put too fine a point on it, I absolutely agree with Phil Coleman’s assessment, which was exactly my reaction to the issue of the two numbers “12”: “But look closer, and note that the first two numbers (14) show much more evidence of exposure and weathering than the last two numbers (12).  Is this, in fact, the same address posting seen today that the investigating officer saw months past on 15 different occasions?”  I would go so far as to say the numbers “12” look fairly recent. And by the way, those kinds of letters fall off fairly easily – I know because I had some, and replaced them numerous times.

       

      1. Davis Progressive

        “why does the Vanguard never side with law enforcement”

        doesn’t the original article side with law enforcement?  but doesn’t the vanguard seek to call out public officials – law enforcement or otherwise for misdeeds?  now we may quibble at their even-handedness or effectiveness, but it’s not like the vanguard’s entire bent isn’t to expose the dark underbelly of davis and the greater region.

    2. David Greenwald

      Phil:

      One quick point to address, the sign in front of 1412 was not altered recently and it was fairly uniformly weathered. Here I have zoomed in so you can see more clearly (hopefully). I think it was more the angle that made it appear differently.

  2. zaqzaq

    If the warrant describes the property as containing a double wide trailer along with the physical description of the property which clearly matches 1416 Morris Way what is the problem if he gets the number wrong on one digit based on the information he obtained from what appear to be reliable sources?  This is one reason why our exclusionary laws should be changed to allow the evidence to be admitted in criminal cases with a civil remedy for 4th amendment violations.  This is just one more example of a criminal trying to wiggle through a loophole.

    I would also join Phil in asking that the Vanguard report on the outcome of the hearing with the judges ruling.  There have been times when we read about a trial but never get the end result.  Am I to believe that if there is no article on the result that the defendant is guilty?  Just an observation.

     

    1. South of Davis

      zaqzaq wrote:

      > If the warrant describes the property as containing a double wide trailer

      > along with the physical description of the property which clearly matches

      > 1416 Morris Way

      Don’t forget that there are not any “real” addresses in a mobile home park.  The mobile home park has one real “address” (on title for the parcel recorded with the county) but the “address” in front of each “mobile home” (that are all registered with the DMV) is just a number that the park owner makes up like an apartment number.

  3. Barack Palin

    Who cares, in the end they got the correct location and apprehended the bad guys which is all the better for the safety of the people living in Davis.

     

    1. PhilColeman

      Somebody cares, or the motion to dismiss would not have been made. Somebody cares, or this column would not have been written. The motion by the defendant is understandable given the incriminating nature of the search warrant results. If the search warrant is judged valid, the defendants are totally screwed.

      As to why the column singularly follows the defendant’s premise, that’s left for the analysis of anybody reading this.

      1. Davis Progressive

        phil: are you suggesting that the numbers were added later on both houses?  to what end and by whom?  if you look at 1416, it’s clearly pristine.  if you look at 1412, it’s clearly weathered.  if you’re called on this, why not just fess up and say that you weren’t as careful as you should have about the description and address rather than attempting to say things have changed and that you got the wrong map from google?

        1. Anon

          Doctored after the fact to make it look as if the warrant was fatally flawed and therefore any evidence derived therefrom is the fruit of the poisoness tree and inadmissable.

          1. David Greenwald

            It didn’t look doctored after the fact. Also the warrant is likely to be good regardless of that issue. The fact that the officer testified that he had conducted a four month investigation on the place and searched the place he had intended to is sufficient. My problem is – had he just admitted all of that it would have been about a 20 minute hearing and I wouldn’t have bothered to go out to the location. But that’s not what he, he tried to argue that the place looked different than it did in September and other than the clearly new numbers on 1416, everything else looked old and undisturbed.

        2. zaqzaq

          It sounds like the officer admitted that he  made a mistake and then described the process that he took to describe the residence in the search warrant.  If the defense attorneys made certain allegations about the appearance of the properties also including the argument that the appearance was unchanged then why wouldn’t the officer go back to look at it now to see if it had been modified since the search?  The court would then have to determine if the appearance had been changed if that becomes relevant. This is why the exclusionary rule should be eliminated.  It is just a loophole the allows criminals to avoid being held accountable for their crimes.  Let the evidence in and let them sue the police in civil court.  This is a stupid waste of resources having hearings on issues like this.

        3. Anon

          To zaqzaq: When you start having a “side trial” on whether the numbers were changed after the fact, it detracts from the main trial.  Secondly, the exclusionary rule is also in place to keep police honest about what they do.  Without it, law enforcement would go back to doing business as usual, meaning warrantless searches:

          From http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Exclusionary+Rule:

          The exclusionary rule has been in existence since the early 1900s. Before the rule was fashioned, any evidencewas admissible in a criminal trial if the judge found the evidence to be relevant. The manner in which the evidencehad been seized was not an issue. This began to change in 1914, when the U.S. Supreme Court devised a wayto enforce the Fourth Amendment. In Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 34 S. Ct. 341, 58 L. Ed. 652 (1914),a federal agent had conducted a warrantless search for evidence of gambling at the home of Fremont Weeks.The evidence seized in the search was used at trial, and Weeks was convicted. On appeal, the Court held thatthe Fourth Amendment barred the use of evidence secured through a warrantless search. Weeks’s convictionwas reversed, and thus was born the exclusionary rule.

          1. David Greenwald

            “When you start having a “side trial” on whether the numbers were changed after the fact, it detracts from the main trial.”

            The hearing was a suppression hearing on whether the warrant was proper. It wasn’t whether the numbers were changed after the fact, it was due to the officer putting the wrong house number and wrong description on the warrant. Once that’s decided, there will be a preliminary hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to hold the defendants to answer and then if they don’t reach a settlement before hand, a trial. One step at a time.

  4. Davis Progressive

    you guys are missing teh story here – or at least a critical part of the story. the easiest thing to do if you make a mistake is fall on the sword and say, yeah, i didn’t check out the address as well as i should have have, but i spent four months investigating this location and we searched the place we intended to search. the law is such that that would be good faith, so why have your investigator go back out to the scene four months later and attempt to explain things away?

  5. Anon

    DG: “The hearing was a suppression hearing on whether the warrant was proper. It wasn’t whether the numbers were changed after the fact, it was due to the officer putting the wrong house number and wrong description on the warrant. Once that’s decided, there will be a preliminary hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to hold the defendants to answer and then if they don’t reach a settlement before hand, a trial. One step at a time.”

    I think you missed my point.  If there was an attempt to decide whether the evidence had been doctored, as zaqzaq seems to be suggesting, instead of having the exclusionary rule, it would make the trial unnecessarily complicated with little mini-trials going on off to the side that really have little to do with the issues at hand.

    1. David Greenwald

      I didn’t miss your point, my point for offering that clarification was to make sure the point of the hearing didn’t get lost on others reading the comments.

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