By Lauren Jaech and Sufi Sadati
Canine Finds the Clues: Police Dog Finds Drugs and Firearm in Car with Defendant
By Lauren Jaech
The trial of Sean Michael Duffy began on Tuesday morning in Department 11 with opening statements and witness testimonies. Mr. Duffy is facing charges for three misdemeanor counts and six felonies, including felony possession of a controlled substance and possession of a stolen firearm, for an incident that occurred on March 30, 2018. He is pleading not guilty to all counts.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Vroman began his opening statement by describing the incident.
Corporal Greg Elliot found Mr. Duffy around 1:00 am on the morning of the 30th, sleeping in a car parked near the Carquest Auto Parts store in Woodland. A second officer came on the scene, Officer David Shepard, and searched the car with a canine.
They found a sweatshirt on the driver’s seat, near where Mr. Duffy had been sleeping. The butt end of a loaded handgun was visible underneath the sweatshirt. Underneath the stereo in the car, they found 0.2 grams of methamphetamine.
In the trunk of the car, Officer Shepard found a case for a Glock handgun, multiple driver’s licenses from individuals who had reported their licenses stolen, and 7.1 more grams of methamphetamine.
They also found a set of keys that had been shaved down for the purpose of breaking into other vehicles.
Mr. Vroman alleged that all of these items were stolen by Mr. Duffy.
Deputy Public Defender Jose Gonzalez-Vasquez disputed Vroman’s claim, arguing that Duffy was known for vehicular theft and had never used a gun or been found with drugs in his entire 20-year criminal history.
Mr. Gonzalez also claimed that it is very possible to steal a car without knowing what is inside, alleging that Duffy was unaware of the presence of the methamphetamine and firearm in the car.
Mr. Duffy did not consent to the car being searched and, since the car had not been reported as stolen, the police brought in a dog to sniff the exterior. Gonzalez argued that the police wanted to search the car because they were aware of Duffy’s priors.
Officer Shepard’s car was parked facing the allegedly stolen car, but the dash cam footage was never reviewed. The police also never took pictures of the evidence while it was in the car.
The People called two witnesses to the stand whose stolen possessions had been found in the car with Mr. Duffy. One witness verified that her car was stolen between the 19th and 20th of March, 2018, with her driver’s license inside. Her driver’s license was shown to have been in the car with Duffy when he was found.
The second witness reported having his Glock 36 handgun, holster, handgun case, and extra magazines stolen on March 26, 2018. He also reported having other keys stolen. All of these items were identified by the witness as being the same as the ones found in the car with the defendant.
The third witness the People called to the stand was Officer Shepard, an officer with the Woodland Police Department working in the canine unit with Chase, a German Shepherd. Chase is trained to sniff out both drugs and firearms.
Officer Shepard and Chase arrived on the scene just after 1:00 am to assist Corporal Elliot. When they arrived, Officer Shepard saw Mr. Duffy standing in front of a four-door hatchback Subaru talking to Cpl. Elliot. Shepard brought Chase out to sniff the exterior of the car, starting at the passenger side of the vehicle.
Chase alerted Officer Shepard that he had detected an odor by stopping to sit at the front passenger side. Shepard had Chase continue around the car and Chase was able to push open the driver’s side door, where he alerted at the area between the center console and the driver seat.
Officer Shepard removed Chase from the vehicle and found the loaded handgun under the sweatshirt, as well as a crystal of methamphetamine visible under the stereo. He described the gun as being on the right third of the seat toward the center console. There was a bandage wrapped around both the grip of the gun and the gun’s holster.
Mr. Duffy’s wallet was found on the dashboard of the car.
Shepard testified that the handgun case was visible in the trunk from the backseat. The serial number of the case did not match the serial number of the handgun that was found on the driver’s seat.
Officer Shepard also found a red flannel sweater, with more methamphetamine in the pocket, in the trunk of the car. When he lifted the sweater, several key rings, driver’s licenses, and credit cards fell out.
Three cell phones were also found in the car, but Officer Shepard could not recall where exactly in the car he found them.
When asked to clarify where Chase alerted that there was an odor of drugs or firearms, Officer Shepard said that Chase did not alert when he passed the back of the car where methamphetamine was found in the trunk.
One of the keys was shaved, a process that Officer Shepard described as manipulating the grooves of a key to unlock other car doors. He could tell the key was shaved because it had scratch marks running perpendicular to the grooves of the key.
Shepard did not find any drug paraphernalia in the car, such as syringes, lighters, or pipes.
When asked if he knew Mr. Duffy prior to this incident, Shepard said that he knew the defendant from previous contacts and was aware of his prior vehicular theft arrests.
Officer Shepard also stated that he manually activated the car’s dash cam but never reviewed the footage.
He did not fingerprint the gun, magazine, or ammunition. He also did not take pictures because Corporal Elliot was in charge of the investigation.
The trial of People v. Duffy was set to resume in the afternoon with Officer Shepard continuing his testimony.
Drug Possession Trial Resumes
By Sufi Sadati
The continuation of the Sean Duffy trial picked up with Corporal Greg Elliott’s testimony this Tuesday.
A Woodland police officer of 13 years, Corporal Elliott was on patrol on March 30, 2018, at 1:00 am, when he was flagged down by an inconspicuous man flashing his light on and off on the corner of Main and Elm Streets.
He stopped his patrol car in between a Carquest Auto Parts shop and a Dodge dealership. There he found a turned-off Subaru truck, with the windshield wipers going, and an unidentified man seemingly unconscious in the passenger seat.
After he called out to the unconscious man from the passenger side window, the man awoke. The man exited the car and willingly identified himself as Sean Duffy. This was later confirmed by a black wallet that was found to have a California State Driver’s License with the name “Sean Duffy” printed, a name which the officer said he associated with Carquest Auto Parts.
Corporal Elliott noted he found other IDs belonging to a man from Alturas, California.
Yet, when asked if Mr. Duffy gave consent to search his car, Corporal Elliott confessed Duffy denied consent.
The cross-examination began with the defense questioning the officer’s follow up with the individual who originally flagged him down. He noted he had limited knowledge of the man, only that he was making a nearby delivery. The defense proposed, “So a man points, walks 100 feet from the Carquest dealership to Elm, and was simply hoping a police officer would just drive by?”
Regarding the search, the defense asked the corporal to note whether Officer Shepard, who had arrived just minutes after for back up, began his search while Duffy was out of the car. He stated that Officer Shepard had already taken his dog around the car while the defendant had exited the vehicle, even though Duffy had not consented to the search.
Leaning against the driver’s window, the corporal saw a wallet in the compartment next to the seat, which he then picked up to identify the defendant.
On call with the dispatch, Corporal Elliott “wanted to make sure it [the truck] wasn’t stolen.”
Upon running the vehicle’s number, he found there was no record in the system of the car being reported as stolen. However, the car was registered to an owner out of San Jose, California. However, neither officer asked for any title, paperwork, or registration to prove the car was not Mr. Duffy’s.
Running a flashlight through the front of the car, a black sweater or sweatshirt was found covering everything except the butt of a gun. A substance which appeared to be methamphetamine was also located by the steering wheel.
While the non-consensual search proceeded, the corporal subjugated Mr. Duffy to a line of questioning.
He asked if there “was anything illegal in the car,” and Mr. Duffy responded with a sound, “Umm.” If there “were any weapons in the car” received no answer from the defendant.
The corporal then queried whether the defendant was on probation or parole, as if so, he would be subject to a search at any given moment.
Mr. Duffy explained he was out on bail, while the dispatcher gave the corporal an “all clear” report, although at this point Officer Shepard had already completed his search.
Of particular interest was the issue around the use, or rather misuse, of audio and visual equipment.
Both the police car’s dash cam and audio from the officer’s belts are supposed to capture both audio and video. Except in this case, where they were turned off.
In fact, a still image from that night showed a split screen to the jury of footage from that night’s police car. The corporal previously testified the event occurred around 1:00 am that morning; the timestamp read 1:19 am when the camera was finally turned on, nearly 20 minutes after the corporal said he first had contact with Mr. Duffy.
The next witness to the stand was Kimberly Sand, a Sacramento senior criminologist of seven and a half years, who has served as an expert in over 50 cases in California.
Ms. Sand’s line of work requires her to analyze evidence of alleged controlled substances and blood-alcohol levels, specifically from crime scenes. She has a bachelor’s in chemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Walking the court through her procedure when dealing with controlled substance evidence, she explained each substance is dated, weighed, packaging and physical material examined, and put through a system known as a GC/MS (gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer).
This process separates the substance to determine if any mixtures are found in the compounds. Each result is then compared individually to any known substances of which the lab already has possession.
The People handed Ms. Sand a manila envelope, initialed by her, signifying she performed this specific analysis herself.
Gloved, Ms. Sand cut open the envelope to reveal two white baggies. The net weight of the first was 7.059 grams and the other 0.222 grams, of what was found to be methamphetamine.
Cross-examination noted Ms. Sand had not done any fingerprint or DNA sampling on the substance. She indicated it was not in her section of lab work to do so.
A rather long recess ended with the final witness testimony, a continuation of Officer Shephard’s previous accounts.
Fresh onto the stand he declared, “The more and more I think about it we didn’t activate the cameras,” which resolved his earlier statement assuring the court he believed the cameras were on.
When they ran the gun through the system, the dispatcher told the officer it was evidence in what was presumed to be a crime case in Stockton.
The gun was identified as a Glock .45 stolen from a Woodland location.
The defense quizzed Officer Shepard about whether he found an Apple iPod Touch, a computer tablet, or any currency. He did not.
He also mentioned he also did no further follow up on the ownership of the car. Adding more than Corporal Elliott had testified to, he described the car as being lived in, with “various personal items, clothes, and cluttered.” When asked to note how high the clutter reached, he replied, “Where the headrest of a car reaches.”
Both the People and the defense rested.
Closing arguments will begin 9:00 am tomorrow in Department 11, and the jury will be sent to deliberate.