While the defendant in this case, Scott Clark, has already taken a plea and copped to his conduct, the conduct by law enforcement officials from multiple agencies has to be called into question. Without the brief filed on August 30 by Deputy Public Defender John Sage, this conduct, which he calls “outrageous governmental conduct” and “police misconduct” would have gone unreported.
Writes Mr. Sage, “This motion is brought on the grounds that the conduct to be described violates Due Process and was otherwise unlawful or outrageous and the charges therefore must be dismissed.”
While the motion here was not granted, the conduct remains troubling.
During the fall of 2014 through the summer of 2015, multiple law enforcement agencies rented a commercial warehouse near Walmart in Woodland. Taxpayer money was used to rent the facility and pay utilities. The warehouse had two drive-in bays and was outfitted with multiple hidden cameras and audio recording devices.
“The operation cost taxpayers, according to testimony given to the grand jury, in the tens of thousands of dollars,” Mr. Sage writes. “This amount, however, appears a bit low considering that law enforcement personnel, under oath testifying before the grand jury, were spending $1000 to $2000 on a firearm; and, over 200 firearms were recovered in the course of the operation.”
The purpose of the operation was supposed to target people stealing firearms and then selling those firearms to criminals and gang members in other communities. “Rather than wait, just sit back and wait for people to come to the rented warehouse, law enforcement personnel went to known areas of criminal activity, that were known for gang activity, in Yolo County. Undercover law enforcement agents made contact with persons in those areas that were selling firearms or narcotics,” he explains.
Mr. Clark was brought into the operation by a confidential informant (“CI”) who gave him food, drugs and a place to stay – all the while he “was a fugitive from the State of Nevada.”
The informant then arranged for contacts between Mr. Clark and law enforcement, resulting in the sale of multiple vehicles during the course of several months.
“Mr. Clark was never arrested during this period. No one outside of law enforcement knew about Mr. Clark’s involvement until the Grand Jury heard testimony on September 14-21, 2015,” Mr. Sage writes. He details in a statement the sale of ten vehicles between January 16, 2015 and May 4, 2015 for a total of $2800.
“Mr. Clark specifically told undercover law enforcement agents that he was getting the vehicles he was selling from an unnamed third party,” he explains. “Yolo County citizens suffered harm by law enforcement’s failure to arrest Mr. Clark.”
As Mr. Sage documents, several vehicles were damaged in the process of being stolen. One vehicle would no longer drive over 45 mph. “This victim, as a result, had to use the bus for transportation and it was impossible to get to work using the bus.” As a result, the victim lost his or her job.
Mr. Sage writes that “the first unauthorized sale by Mr. Clark was in January of 2015. Consequently, the crime committed in May of 2015, should and could have been avoided completely if law enforcement had acted immediately. Their delay, whether on purpose or not, caused an additional nine victims of Yolo County instead of just one.”
Mr. Sage adds, “I have been a Deputy Public Defender for over 15 years in Yolo County and I have NEVER seen nor heard of an operation that would have harmed so many citizens based on a failure to arrest in general; and, specifically a known fugitive.”
As Mr. Sage writes, “Mr. Clark met the confidential informant a couple of years ago. This is the person who led him into the current situation in which he now finds himself.”
Mr. Clark would tell the informant that he “used to steal cars.” At the point when Mr. Clark met the informant, he was released from prison, was broke, and had just lost his mother. The CI had a motel room paid for by the month that the defense believes was purchased with taxpayer money. “Mr. Clark asked the Cl how he was to afford the motel room and he was told by the Cl, that his ‘bosses’ pay for it.” The CI had no job, but Mr. Clark “was not too concerned about how the Cl paid his rent. The one thing about the Cl, was that he always had dope, or knew where to get it. They continued to get high together.”
At one point, the CI asked Mr. Clark if he could get his hands on any guns. Mr. Clark replied, “(FU).”
Finally, at some point they ran out of dope and money to get more. “It was at this point that the Cl told Mr. Clark that there was a way they could get some more dope. The Cl said that his bosses want to buy some cars. Any year, make or model, as long as the car was running. And, they would be willing to pay a minimum of $500 and up, per car, depending on the condition.”
Mr. Clark thought about it. He would discuss the offer with a friend “who knew where a stolen Volkswagen Jetta with a blown out clutch was located. The clutch was allegedly blown out because the actual thief did not know how to drive standard transmission.”
Mr. Clark would be paid $400 on the spot for that car.
“One of the men with the CI asked Mr. Clark, if he could get any more cars. Mr. Clark wanted to know if the money was good. To which the man (law enforcement) pulled out a big wad of cash. Mr. Clark took down his number and said he would call, if something came up.”
Mr. Clark knew people who had stolen cars in their possession. “He eventually became a conduit between law enforcement and the car thieves that he knew. He kept this up for several transactions. Things were so easy; he came to realize he could be dealing with law enforcement. However, he was already into the operation too deep, and between the dope and his sense of loyalty to the CI for giving him food, shelter and drugs, he did not see any way out now.”
Mr. Sage notes that, under PC 1548.1, it “directs the Governor to have arrested and delivered up to the executive authority of any other State any person charged in that State … who has fled from justice and is found in this State.”
He writes, “Not only was Mr. Clark not arrested, he was allowed to remain free of custody until late September 2015, and given taxpayer money on ten occasions some of which was used to purchase illegal drugs.” He adds, “Law enforcement personnel either knew (he was a fugitive), or should have known this to be true.”
Mr. Sage argues, “This was not an isolated incident with an isolated defendant.” He writes, “While in this case, we are dealing with only one person, Mr. Clark, the entire law enforcement operation involved dozens of individuals, and tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars being paid to individuals who were committing crimes in Yolo and surrounding Counties.”
Mr. Sage notes, “In just one of the collateral cases, CRI5-5181, a defendant named Gomez, went into a garage while the owner was home and stole a 2011, BMW, GT, that was sold to this same law enforcement team.”
“This was not the first time Mr. Gomez had sold a vehicle to this same law enforcement team either,” he writes. “The BMW was stolen on or around April 21, 2015. Mr. Gomez was also not arrested immediately. In his case, the victim’s car, purse, credit cards, and around $200 cash, which was in the purse, were taken as well.”
The criminal complaint against Mr. Gomez was not filed until September of 2015.
“The scale of this law enforcement operation and the harm done as a result of it, to Yolo and surrounding County’s citizens, is absolutely shocking. Taxpayer money was being used to pay criminals for the crimes that were being done. No one was being arrested and a crime wave was sweeping across our County and spilling over into the surrounding counties. The BMW in the Gomez case was sold in Yolo County, but, it was stolen in Sacramento County,” Mr. Sage writes.
There is a four-part test to determine whether police conduct violates due process principles.
First, “Whether the police manufactured a crime which otherwise would not likely have occurred.” Mr. Sage notes, “Law enforcement wanted him to keep bringing those stolen cars until the operation they were running ended. There was no concern for any harm done to our citizens. Had they arrested him in January, 2015, nine people, according to law enforcement, would not have had their cars stolen.”
“Did law enforcement manufacture a crime that would not otherwise have likely occurred?” he writes. “Absolutely!”
Second, “Whether the police themselves engaged in criminal or improper conduct repugnant to a sense of justice.” Here Mr. Sage cites the fact that Mr. Clark was allowed to live in a motel room with the CI and provided illegal substances. “It was in this association, and under these conditions, that Mr. Clark agreed to sell stolen vehicles. Initially, the confidential informant asked Mr. Clark to sell firearms; however, Mr. Clark told the CI that he did not know anyone who had firearms for sale. Subsequently, the CI asked about stolen vehicles.”
He argues that “law enforcement’s actions suggest further improper conduct repugnant to a sense of justice.”
Third, “Whether the defendant’s reluctance to commit the crime is overcome by appeals to humanitarian instincts such as sympathy or past friendship, by temptation of exorbitant gain, or by persistent solicitation in the face of unwillingness to a sense of justice.”
Mr. Sage argues, “Law enforcement agents exploited his heavy drug use and relationship with the CI and to get him to agree to provide stolen vehicles to undercover law enforcement agents.”
Fourth, “Whether the record reveals simply a desire to obtain a conviction with no reading that the police motive is to prevent further crime or protect the populace.”
He argues that law enforcement ignored California law and allowed Mr. Clark to remain free. “The reason he was not arrested is that law enforcement wanted him to commit more crimes.”
Mr. Sage also notes that the DA used the Grand Jury, as they have in other cases, “to hid this case from public scrutiny.”
The Vanguard was told that this operation is probably no longer occurring. However, this is part of a much broader picture that will soon be coming into light about law enforcement operations in Yolo County.
—David M. Greenwald reporting